By Diane Madigan
Independent Special Writer
“When asked, our response is simply: We are just following the law,” said Van Buren Township Downtown Development Authority member James Richter in response to a Jan. 21 Channel 4 TV news report called, “Where’d the money go?”
The report showed a map of communities that are “keeping a piece” of the voted zoo millage and pinpointed Van Buren Township in the middle of the map of “offending” communities.
The report was followed by a Detroit News editorial on Jan. 22 titled “Taxation by Misrepresentation” which said all the communities in Oakland and Macomb counties have returned all tax dollars to the zoo.
Referring to the Wayne County communities who are capturing the zoo millage for their DDAs, The News editorial said: “This is a violation of the public trust. When voters approve a tax for a specific purpose, their tax dollars should be used for that purpose.”
At the Jan. 22 afternoon meeting of the VBT DDA, Pastor Richter continued his statement.
“The very wrong thing to say is, ‘We need the money,’” he said. “This is the law that is on the books. If Lansing wants to change the law, change the law. What we are doing is following the law. That’s it.”
The discussion on the zoo millage began with the report of DDA Executive Director Susan Ireland who said she will continue to monitor the situation between the Wayne County Treasurer and the Township Treasurer regarding capturing the zoo millage and, now, also the Detroit Institute of Arts millage.
According to Ireland, as of Jan. 11 several communities have taken this zoo millage issue before their boards or commissions asking for a resolution of support to continue capturing the millage.
Although never publicly taken to the VBT Board of Trustees for support, Ireland lists: Van Buren, Belleville, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Wyandotte, Romulus, Plymouth Township, Flat Rock, Huron Township, and Taylor. Northville was planning to present it to its board soon.
Ireland pointed out there is a provision in the law that allows them to say “can we talk about this?” and that was not done.
“We are following and complying with the law,” Ireland said. “The DIA millage is also included. Within the next week the DDA is expecting Moynihan PC to file for a declaratory judgment for the group of communities” listed.
“If it’s ruled against us, we’ll deal with that,” Richter said. “Otherwise, if the judge upholds it, then we are doing everything in accordance with the law.”
Diane Madigan asked for clarification on Ireland’s statement that the DIA funds were going to be included in the tax capture.
Ireland said the County Treasurer has sent a letter to all the treasurers in Wayne County that includes reference to the DIA as well as the zoo. The DIA millage will be included in the legal action, Ireland said.
In other business at the Jan. 22 meeting, the DDA:
• Heard a report on the Ecorse Road project by Matt Stacey from Wade Trim engineers. He said the eastbound lanes are completely paved and the water main is 95% completed, needing just a small stretch across Belleville Road that needs to wait until they shift traffic. The sanitary sewer is about 60% complete and the Service Drive will go in after the sewer is complete. The county has concerns about maintaining traffic west of Sheldon along Ecorse Road, wanting extra detours through the subdivision up Van Born. Work is scheduled to restart in March;
• Heard a report on the claim filed by the DDA on dead trees at Fifth Third Bank. A response was received from the DuPont Imprelis Claim Resolution Process. The DDA does not apply herbicide and does not have any documentation demonstrating application, therefore DuPont is closing the claim. The six trees in front of the bank that the DDA planted were sprayed by the bank’s landscaper and they have documentation. The problem now is there has been some management changes at Fifth Third Bank and additional follow-up is needed. The trees are planted on the Wayne County right of way. Ireland said she would like assurance that the bank will replace their trees with the settlement it received;
• Heard Ireland report that there are between 18 and 24 trees that need replacing in the streetscape and she will bring a tree replacement request to the DDA board in the spring. She would also like to “spruce up” the streetscape and take down all the mounded-up mulch around the trees. She also reported that the Emergency Sirens item will remain in abeyance until information is received from the Public Safety Department. Also, she said, the Quirk Park scoreboard has yet to be ordered and will remain on hold pending a request from the VBT Recreation Department;
• Heard DDA member Carol Bird ask about whose job it is to plow the snow on the sidewalks. Ireland replied that technically it is not the DDA’s job, but there have been times when the township has done it. Generally, the businesses take care of their own, she said. Ireland did not know if the township has the equipment to do snow removal and Bird said she didn’t know how you can offer the people a sidewalk and not shovel it. Apparently, the police have told people they cannot walk in the road and DDA member Ron Blank asked the township to write an ordinance that requires businesses to keep their sidewalks maintained. The sidewalks are in the Wayne County right of way;
• Learned with the pullout of Menard’s, the DDA project list now includes obtaining easements for sidewalks from two property owners on the North Service Drive from Quirk Road east for about 1,550 feet. Also, the DDA continues to work on acquiring the rights of way on two parcels on the east side of Belleville Road, from Tyler Road north to 8701 Belleville Road. Wayne County is reviewing the appraisals;
• Heard Ireland say she heard a lot of nice comments about the holiday lights on the trees at the north side of the Belleville Bridge. Unfortunately, Santa came up missing and the disappearance was reported to the police departments;
• Was informed about 17 spots along the curb on Belleville Road need repair and this is expected to be finished in 2013, hopefully, with the sidewalks; and
• Formed an ad hoc committee to do a performance review of Executive Director Ireland. Members are Mark Laginess, Carol Bird, and Joe Baskin.
The DDA meeting had a bare quorum to meet. Present were Chairman Jere Dolph, Joe Baskin, Carol Bird, Ron Blank, Ed Miller, Jim Richter, Director Ireland and the new recording secretary Karin LaMothe. Absent and excused were Kurt Atchinson, Sophie Zoller, Robert Bechtel, Mark Laginess and Supervisor Linda Combs.
By Diane Madigan