The Development of Authority, part 9: Can't Spell Thief Without TIF

I doubt whether the Tobacco Companies like to put these on the side of their products.  Sometimes the Government makes people and groups have to publish the adverse affects of their products.  But they do the same for their own too. 


When a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) decides to increase the funding of their agency, they have a variety of options, as explained in part two of the D of A series.  There we learned of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and how the DDA in 2008 used that method to amend an old TIF which 'captured' just 2% of tax revenue from within the DDA boundaries into one that would capture 12%, a significant increase.  The TIF Chart from that link shows that they will eventually be skimming $140,000/ yr. with the new TIF from the City, the County, WSCC and LMTA, with about $80,000 and $40,000 coming from the first two that year.


The last D of A episode talked a little more of the concept of TIFs, be sure to review that if you haven't already figured out how TIFs work.  How do those taxing authorities make up that difference?  Everyone else in Mason County, especially those who live in Ludington have their taxes raised or their services reduced.  


But why does West Shore College and our Transit Authority want to lose $20,000 in funding to help 'economically develop' the downtown?  Not to mention $120,000 of the County and City who have other things to do that have priority over some of these downtown programs.  Can't they have a say on whether to lose this money or not? 


Yes, the DDA cannot just decide to take money from other taxing authorities, there is a few things the State mandates the DDA to do so that they are informed that this will happen.  Much of these are discussed in  MCL 125.1668  which I present mainly here: 

(1)  The governing body, before adoption of an ordinance approving or amending a tax increment financing plan, shall hold a public hearing on the development plan. Notice of the time and place of the hearing shall be given by publication twice in a newspaper of general circulation designated by the municipality, the first of which shall be not less than 20 days before the date set for the hearing. Notice of the hearing shall be posted in at least 20 conspicuous and public places in the downtown district not less than 20 days before the hearing. Notice shall also be mailed to all property taxpayers of record in the downtown district not less than 20 days before the hearing. Beginning June 1, 2005, the notice of hearing within the time frame described in this subsection shall be mailed by certified mail to the governing body of each taxing jurisdiction levying taxes that would be subject to capture if the development plan or the tax increment financing plan is approved or amended

(2) Notice of the time and place of hearing on a development plan shall contain: a description of the proposed development area in relation to highways, streets, streams, or otherwise; a statement that maps, plats, and a description of the development plan, including the method of relocating families and individuals who may be displaced from the area, are available for public inspection at a place designated in the notice, and that all aspects of the development plan will be open for discussion at the public hearing...


Through my research and FOIA requests, I found that all of the colored criteria were not performed by the Ludington DDA.  Each criterion is there so that the local units of government and the people can better understand what the TIF is about.  Six things that they should have done for openness and transparency were withheld from everyone outside the DDA's influence.  This is nothing more than pickpocketing that Ms. Venzke performed (with plenty of help from the Executive Johns) on the County, WSCC, the LMTA, and all Ludington taxpayers outside of the DDA in order to get this TIF through without conflict.   Here's what my research picked up on the six colored criteria:


A few hours at the library of perusing microfilm of the LDN  between May - July 2008 found no notice of the public hearing anywhere.  On June 24, a blurb about the CC meeting the previous night mentioned there would be a public hearing on the TIF but nothing else.  On July 11, three days before the hearing the LDN had a positive article on the TIF, not a notice but a glaring testimonial by Shay and Venzke with an aside that the money would not be a new tax, but come from other local taxers.  Neither mention of the hearing mentioned the necessary elements mentioned in section 2.


This would have required twenty postings in public and conspicuous places downtown during this time.  This period was June 24- July 14, 2008, post-flood and during the Freedom Festival.  I was downtown a lot during this time and saw no postings of notice anywhere, nor was there any valid notice given me in my FOIA.


No letter formatted notice or any mailing list was afforded me via my FOIA about notice to downtowners.  Nor were any referred to in all the available public record.


Certified letters to the public bodies of the City, County, WSCC and LMTA were likely not sent out.  My FOIA to Ludington had no such letter, and I currently am waiting for replies from the County and WSCC to confirm their was no such notifications. 


Here is the notice that DDA President/Community Development Director Venzke created.  Don't know where this was posted, but it lacks a date, and it also lacks a description of the area involved as per the law, and unless you call the 'revitalization of downtown Ludington' a description of the development plan, that is left out too:

And even though she does allow you to call or e-mail her, she neglects to have the TIF development plan available for public inspection at a place designated in the notice.  It looks like she can arrange for you to meet with the City Council to discuss the amendment, which is odd, since they only meet twice a month in an open meeting. 

In the  City's 2008 Tif Plan  we find their written procedure for adopting the plan:

For number 4, the DDA had a duty to inform those they were robbing from about their proposed plan at least 20 days before the public hearing-- before June 25th.  But the DDA didn't even pass the plan until June 30th at this Special Meeting of the DDA  minutes that were never properly approved.  We find in the TIF plan this nod to state law, but the DDA doesn't follow it.


In the public comment time at the CC Meeting, Al Benson, 1012 N. William, questioned why the DDA needs these funds for 5 years for a total of $340,813. He stated that it appeared to him that they DDA is robbing funds to other local government units. He would like the City to publish the amount of the tax breaks given to businesses via the DDA and tax abatements to other businesses before the City gives away any further tax breaks. He asked to hear the Treasurer’s opinion on these tax breaks.


Questions that the public hearing never addressed at that 7-14-11 Meeting, nor did anyone else show up from the other places.  If this TIF was shown in its true light, I think there may have been some lively discussion, but the thieves had help on this inside job by not following the rules.


Not following the rules, taking money under false pretenses, not reporting revenues-- seems like a pattern amongst the DDA leadership.

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Today I have received a FOIA Reply from the County.  The FOIA Coordinator has determined that the certified letter notifying them of the TIF amendment does not exist. 

Being that they have had around $60,000 or more taken just from the County Government, from this TIF since 2008, without using proper and minimal notification should have everyone in Mason County upset, from the leadership on down to those who use and pay for the County's services. 

If I agree to give you $100 that's one thing, but when you take it from my pants without my knowledge until later that's another.  Shame on you, Heather Venzke, and your enablers in the DDA leadership.

With this information, I will start notifying local and state agencies of this illegal money grab conducted by your Ludington Downtown Labor Board so that maybe the DDA can start repaying the $200,000 they owe other taxing authorities.

Ya know, one of these days they are gonna plain try to run you out of town like in an old west movie, LOL


Maybe the county will be interested in having your help in educating them on proper procedures and will welcome the assistance of an  individual who knows the rules and could help them be in compliance (if they have issues where that has not been done).


Maybe you have found yourself a career in consulting!

I would hope that the County leaders/law enforcers will have some sort of upset response to this, for there are a lot of County projects that could be better funded if they weren't losing this money to an agency whose biggest community tasks are sweeping the downtown sidewalks, and upgrading benches and trash cans. 

This is why we either get reduced services or increased taxes:  subsidizing the downtown while downsizing the subtown.  I don't need one of those fancy economic development consulting doctorates to figure that out.

X. I bet you didn't realize back in high school that the subject "Government" would affect your life so profoundly. Your situation would be a good lesson for all students on how bad government works and how it affects the citizens who pay for it and whom it's supposed to help.
I never understood the concept of 'City Manager' back then either in a democratic society.  People in a city elect a mayor, a council, a clerk, and a treasurer, and then have their positions become largely ceremonial as they allow a hack with a junior college degree in management and a willingness to be a whipping boy be put in a position to run things.  Czars belong in Russia, not running things in Washington DC or the executive branches of cities in Amerika. 

One more scandal of the Ludington DDA of colossal proportions.  The death of private enterprise happens when the government becomes involved and start picking winners and losers.  Instead of natural selection and business savvy being the factor, whichever CEO can best '"kiss the ring" of the grafters from gov'ment wind up with the consumers money.  Money gotten from coercive taxation, not from consumer demand. 


Was that one notice the only thing your FOIA request got, and, for the record, what was the request?

The FOIA reply to our request for all public records concerning TIF notifications to other taxing agencies contained only the above notice and a copy of that TIF chart from the appendix of the 2008 TIF proposal that was dated July 14, 2008, Marty. 

Also not surprising, we received a FOIA reply from WSCC who also loses a lot of money to the Ludington DDA, they report they have no such record (a certified letter of notification from the DLB/DDA).  Here's the tally:  the City of Ludington's CC received no such letter, the county received no such letter, and West Shore Community College did not receive such a letter.  Including the other 5 notification no-nos described above, highway robbery has taken place-- in that the City and County have lost funding for improving our highways, LOL.


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