Development authorities scrutinized by state amid 13 Watchdog investigation

Critics have said new rules are needed because there's a belief these DDAs are spending public money with little taxpayer control.

LANSING, MICH. - Four bills have just been introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives attempting to force downtown development authorities, or DDAs, in this state to be more transparent.

DDAs were allowed starting back in the 1970s to help struggling business districts when shopping malls started springing up across the country. The original purpose for these DDAs was to fight decay and blight in downtown urban areas.

The entity can capture the money from the incremental growth of property taxes, keeping it away from libraries, community colleges and county governments.   

Back in May, the 13 Watchdog team took a close look at how DDAs are spending tax money supposedly to fight blight in their communities.

At the center of our earlier investigation was the DDA in Allendale Township, where we found taxpayers paid for the manufacture of a $5,000 Monopoly board game, construction of a private baseball field and a water reuse study among many other big purchases some believe weren't necessarily related to fighting downtown blight.

Outgoing Allendale Township Supervisor Jerry Alkema wrote in an email to us in May he believes all of the spending the Allendale DDA made during his time was legitimate.
Other townships and cities across the state have also made questionable purchases yet we found few DDA's in Michigan send in mandatory reports to the state on how money is being spent.

Now, this new package of legislation (HB 5851-5855) introduced would make these governmental entities not only do reports but also create web sites with full disclosures of information for the public.

The sponsor of the bills is Rep. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering.

"As my grandfather always told me, people do what you inspect and not what you expect and this is the state inspecting how these dollars are being spent," Chatfield said.

There's some teeth to the original legislation as introduced. If passed as written, DDAs can be punished for not complying with reporting requirements. The state would prevent the entities from being able to capture some money. 

Other changes to DDAs seem unlikely, considering the power some have to lobby against any kind of alterations of the current law.  Critics say new rules are needed because there's a belief DDAs have the power to siphon off money from direct public control. 

Others say DDAs are one of the few tools cities have to keep tax money local.

(© 2016 WZZM)


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