For the past 16 years, Diann Becker’s labor of love has been taking care of other people’s pets. She also loves her location on the Mishawaka Avenue business corridor.
“The first reason is because I live [in River Park], the second reason is because it’s reasonably priced, it’s a family-oriented neighborhood,” explained the owner of For Pet’s Sake Grooming.
In the past, the city paid for new street lights and outside improvements to businesses like Becker's and others in the River Park business district.
Burton’s Laundry and Fast Signs owner David Nufer said at one time, the district was actually a line item in the city’s budget.
But tough economic times forced the Luecke administration to cut all that. Now, Becker and Nufer say it’s tough to watch downtown South Bend get hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars for things like flower planters and ambassadors who keep the streets clean when River Park’s business association held its own fundraiser to buy planters and flowers and uses volunteers to pick up trash.
“River Park is very important not only to the business district but to the residents,” Nufer said. “And so goes the business district, so goes the neighborhood.”
Common Councilwoman Valerie Schey represents River Park, which falls in the city’s 3rd district. She’s working with the River Park business association to get other council members and the mayor’s office on board with what she calls “a more equitable distribution of city resources.”
“I realize that the downtown business district is a key business district for the health and well being of our city. However, abandoning and basically neglecting the other community corridors and neighborhood based business districts is not the right thing to do either,” Schey said.
She also pointed to a series of recent and on-going expenditures made on behalf of South Bend’s Central Business District – citing a $38,000 urban development study for downtown, a $15,000 economic impact study for downtown, a $281,000 two way traffic study for downtown and over $540,000 a year in taxpayer subsidies to support the DTSB (Downtown South Bend) office and staff.
Schey wants more money for River Park and other business corridors and hopes to include that funding pitch in 2014 budget talks, slated to begin in May.
But At-Large Councilman Gavin Ferlic said it’s important for the city to spend money strategically.
“If you look at it this way, if we took our city streets budget and spread that out over all city streets for each year – for example, in theory – and each city street received $100, that wouldn't be enough for repairs, that wouldn't be enough for improvements,” he added.
Ferlic also said he believes oversight in where the city spends its money is important.
Mayor Buttigieg’s chief of staff told WSBT, “Every year, we invest all across the City to improve services, infrastructure, and safety. It's natural for a Council member to focus on her district, but the administration also must find strategies that benefit the whole city. Smart investments must often go beyond the district level. Because thousands of people work in and visit the heart of our city every day, all of us depend on downtown as a major economic engine, and some investments will focus on downtown. For any part of the city to succeed, we need to think very broadly about the development of our neighborhoods and businesses."
Ferlic also pointed out some of the money going downtown has to go there and can only be spent downtown.
“Downtown spends money from the TIF [tax increment fund] district within its own TIF district so it's a little bit like comparing apples to oranges because you’re comparing a TIF district to an area that's just supported by the general fund,” he added.
Money for other business corridors such as River Park has to come from the general fund.