By Tony Wittkowski | City Reporter | The Times Herald
The Port Huron Downtown Development Authority’s 2015-16 budget includes more money to improve infrastructure and cuts money for MainStreet.
The authority met Tuesday to discuss the budget, including cutting $30,000 in funding to MainStreet Port Huron — a nonprofit organization created to support the downtown area through special events and promotions.
Port Huron City Manager James Freed presented the proposed budget that includes $100,000 toward repairing downtown streetscapes, crosswalks and other infrastructure improvements. The DDA operates on a budget of $194,500. The 2015-16 budget is estimated to be $148,817.
“The DDA is going to have to refocus its priorities and that requires difficult decisions,” Freed said. “Some of the things the DDA has funded are nice, but the infrastructure is deteriorating. We need to address it ourselves and find a feasible plan for the future.”
Kristi Hazard, MainStreet Port Huron program manager, said she has had conversations with the city, and the DDA cut did not come as a surprise.
“I was not happy about the decision, but I am not surprised,” Hazard said. “We have been grateful for the funding we have received already from the city.”
Hazard said the nonprofit is looking for other funding sources such donations and fundraising.
MainStreet Port Huron has coordinated some of the city’s special events, including Blue Water Fest, Art Hop, Chilly Fest and the Lighted Santa Parade. It was formed two years ago with a volunteer staff and one paid position.
Hazard said MainStreet Port Huron’s budget is about $104,000, but its board will be approving a new one in March.
Freed said if the DDA can’t take care of the downtown’s infrastructure needs, then the agency should not be funding a program like MainStreet.
“We don’t have the money to continue funding promotions,” he said. “I believe we can fix the infrastructure with $70,000 to $100,000. Whatever is left over, we can use to fund the reconstruction of East Quay.”
Freed said he believes downtown events will survive without DDA funding, but the entrepreneurs who open businesses in downtown will suffer if the infrastructure continues to deteriorate.
“We need to send a message that the DDA is no longer the piggy bank for special events,” Freed said. “If they want to start an event, they need to find a way to do so without taking infrastructure dollars. Oftentimes the DDA was the easiest one to hit up.”
Freed added: “Our entrepreneurs are out there taking a risk. They are mortgaging their lives. The least we could do is help maintain the area.”
The authority also discussed a three-year capital improvement plan to focus on projects such as repairing the East Quay Street parking lot.
The DDA’s main purpose is to provide public assets such as the enhanced streetscape, brick pavers and old-fashioned streetlights, and large, lighted parking lots that support businesses, Freed said.
The remainder of the 2015-16 budget will go toward the DDA’s office expenses, the facade grant program and making repayments to the city’s land purchase fund.
Ed Brennan, director of finance for Port Huron, said the DDA receives its funding from $69,500 worth of taxes.
“We don’t have firm tax numbers, but we think it will be fairly close to last year’s,” Brennan said of the 2015-16 budget estimates. “The DDA’s revenue is around $70,000 a year. The difference in the budget is coming out of our savings.”
At the end of the current fiscal year there will be $195,000 left over in DDA savings.
Freed said he was not completely ruling out spending money to promote events. Past recipients, however, have been warned that they likely would not receive funding from the DDA next year.
DDA member Tom Barrett said in the past the authority has gone back and forth with what the funds are used for depending on the need at the time.
He said the DDA should at least address the most visible infrastructure areas.
“We have varied this, and I’m in support of using it now for improving the infrastructure, but when things get better, I think it should go back toward promoting the city,” Barrett said.
DDA member Rich Engle said if MainStreet’s funding was cut, the city might begin to lose the energy the downtown has built up.
“There are some years we can spend $100,000 on infrastructure and there are some years we should spend on helping promote the downtown area,” Engle said. “I have no problem improving the downtown infrastructure, but it’s going to take a long time to fix.”
Tuesday’s draft budget session was preliminary work, Freed said. The DDA will take a more formal action in the next few meetings.
DDA members Casey Harris and John Kuithe were not present.
The budget discussion complemented a roundtable meeting held in January where downtown business owners voiced what they thought needed to be done.
Projects discussed included repairs to downtown streetscapes and crosswalks, addressing parking issues at the East Quay parking lot and updating street lighting.
The DDA meeting for Feb. 17 was canceled, and the next meeting is at 8:30 a.m. April 21 in Conference Room 408 at the Municipal Office Center, 100 McMorran Blvd.
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Feb. 10, 2015)