By Rosemary K. Otzman
March 1 is the deadline for community groups to ask for money from the Belleville Downtown Development Authority for downtown events this year.
And, that’s a firm deadline.
The DDA had $15,050 in its budget last year for approved applications. (The Central Business Community returned $900 it had been given by the DDA since Twisted Rooster had agreed to sponsor the Taste of Belleville.)
At the Jan.16 meeting of the DDA there was much discussion on how the DDA has been too lenient in the past with last-minute requests for money and they vowed to tighten up the grant rules.
The requests need to be filed when the DDA is preparing its annual budget.
The DDA will be requiring the group that gets the grant to report back at the next DDA meeting after the event to let the DDA know how it went.
DDA Coordinator Carol Thompson proposed revisions for the new budget year, including requiring a letter of support from a participating local business as part of the application.
The DDA turned that down after discussing how the businesses on Main were against the Cruisin’on the Bayou car show at first and now support it. They didn’t want opposing businesses to be able to scuttle a request to the DDA.
Thompson said they are working on how to encourage more events that bring people into the downtown and into the stores. She said the budget committee wants relationships with the businesses to be established and to grow.
She said they want to work on getting groups to seek funds from businesses and “in a couple of cases we’re the only one they are seeking funds from.”
“Seems like we’re always lacking information,” said DDA chairman John Hoops, “and the due date should be emphasized. There’s no reason to be dragging in a month later with ‘Oh, I forgot.’”
DDA member Gary Snarski said, “They come to us for seed money…”
“And there’s a drought every year,” Hoops finished the thought.
Hoops said if there was more detail given on the application the committee could see the whole picture.
DDA member Denise Baker said last year the DDA was the sole giver of funding to some groups.
“We’re to help, not be the only provider,” Baker said.
Mayor Kerreen Conley, who sits on the DDA, said how the grant from the DDA is publicized is important. She said it’s not good enough to put it on the Community Events sign, since Carol Thompson does all the work on the sign postings.
“Cruisin’ on the Bayou didn’t ask for money, just for the road to be closed,” Conley said. “Businesses were fit to be tied and they would not have written letters of support.”
Councilwoman Kim Tindall spoke from the audience asking about those receiving grants, “Did they report back? Did they publicize the way they said they would? …You need to hold them to that, with proof.”
Conley said they could ask on the application if this event has been funded before by the DDA and, if so, what’s different about it this year?
“It drives me very crazy when people come in after the deadline,” Conley said. “We’ve been very lenient.”
“I think we should adhere to the deadlines this year,” said DDA member James Higgerson.
Conley said there could be an exception when something turns up that they didn’t know would be happening.
Someone gave as an example the 100th anniversary of the Belleville Fire Department last year. That request for funds came very late, just before the event.
Everyone agreed that was a bad example because the fire department knew for a long time the 100th anniversary was coming – like 100 years.
Last September, the Friends of the Belleville Area District Library asked for $650 for a petting zoo and pony rides for the Oct. 13 Harvest Fest. For the 2011 Harvest Fest, the Friends submitted their request before the set deadline and received $500.
The 2012 request from the Friends was received at 4 p.m. on Sept. 18, the day before the DDA meeting and two weeks before the event.
No one from the Friends attended the meeting to support the request. The DDA took no action on the request which meant no money was approved, but the pony rides went on as scheduled at Harvest Fest.
Thompson said while reports on the funded events have been requested, she has no final reports from last year. She said the old reports come in after the new application forms are sent out.
It was suggested that the DDA not give them next year’s money if they don’t report on the previous year’s grant.
Thompson said she works with the organizations filing for grants and since they are all volunteer organizations the same person doesn’t file every year.
“Final reports at the end, make it possible for the future,” Hoops said.
In other business at the 50-minute DDA meeting, the DDA:
• Heard a synopsis of the DDA audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012 as presented by Molly Goike of Plante Moran, who said the DDA got an unqualified opinion (which is like an A+) and is available on the state’s web site for study. She said there was a fund balance of $1.4 million as of June 30 with $797,550 unrestricted. The tax revenue of $881,565 was down from previous years. “I hope to hear pretty soon where we’ll be in the years of 2014, 15,” Goike said;
• Re-elected John Hoops as chairman and Sabrina Richardson-Williams as treasurer. Gary Snarski was elected vice chairman and James Higgerson secretary. Ken Voigt, whose term has expired, asked not to be reappointed because of his busy personal schedule and he was not present at the meeting;
• Approved keeping the meeting time of 6 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at City Hall;
• Heard City Manager Diane Kollmeyer said she planned to drive the streets after the meeting to get a list of all the street lights that aren’t working. She was informed some of the lights over the water at Doane’s Landing were out; and
• Heard Snarski tell of his concerns over the current downtown zoning that requires retail sales on the first floor of buildings that are less than 6,000 square feet. He said the building owners should have been informed since they may not be able to sell their buildings with such rules. “We need to work a little together and let people know,” Snarski said. That Downtown Overlay District requires all properties within the boundaries of the district to adhere to requirements in the B-2 District. It was passed by the Planning Commission March 11, 2010 and by the City Council on July 6, 2010.
By Rosemary K. Otzman