At Monday night’s city council work session, councilmembers heard news from their Lansing lobbying team that had a $260,000 negative impact on the Ann Arbor city budget for FY 2010, which they are expected to adopt next Monday, May 18. The quarter-million dollar shortfall against the city’s own budget planning estimates for state shared revenue led to discussion of the possibility of accelerating an already-planned reduction in the number of Ann Arbor firefighters. A reduction of 14 positions in the fire department could be implemented in early 2010, instead of sometime during FY 2011, which was originally planned.
At the work session, city administrator Roger Fraser and the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford, indicated that their preferred strategy was not to build any firefighter layoffs into the FY 2010 budget – they wanted to see if they could squeeze the $260,000 out of the budget in the course the first part of the FY 2010, which for the city begins July 2009. There’s uncertainty still, said Fraser, about how many police officers will take advantage of the early retirement offer – a move the city is making to avoid laying off 27 officers for FY 2010. Officers have until mid-June to make a decision. That uncertainty factors into decisions on the FY 2010 budget that council will make on May 18.
Councilmembers took turns calling city staff to the podium to clarify questions on other topics of interest. That included parking meters – their possible installation in residential areas, as well as the feasibility of maintaining current levels of ticket revenues without as many community standards enforcement officers dedicated specifically to ticketing. Other topics included the Local Development Finance Authority (questions about angels), historic district consultant (likely to be cut in FY 2010, instead of waiting until FY 2011), Project Grow (fund balance seen as too high) and the civic band (has not requested funding). The East Stadium bridges question came up, too (no money from state, but possibly from feds).
No formal decisions were made at the work session.
State Revenue Sharing Reductions
Kirk Profit and Kenneth Cole of Governmental Consultant Services, Inc. presented a grim economic picture to councilmembers in terms of the state shared revenue the city can expect. Of the four means of taxation – property tax, income tax, business tax, and sales tax – it’s sales tax that figures in state shared revenues.
The concept behind the state shared revenue system is that local municipalities in Michigan have a restricted ability to levy taxes, so the state reapportions to local municipalities some revenues out of the 6% sales tax that it collects. It’s 4% out of the 6% that the state can redistribute. The reapportionment comes in two flavors: the constitutional portion (15% of the 4% gross collections of the state sales tax) and the statutory portion (up to 21.3% of the 4% gross collections of the state sales).
Budget planning by the city of Ann Arbor in FY 2010 assumed the same amount of state shared revenue as last year – based on flat dollar amounts since 2005. Those figures were more conservative than the “consensus projected” numbers from January 2009, given by GCSI. But the most recent projections – based on an Executive Order (2009-22) passed on May 5, 2009 by both the House and Senate appropriations committees – put expected state shared revenues at around $260,000 less that the number used for city of Ann Arbor budget planning.
Statutory Constitutional Total A2 budget planning $2,942,517 $7,884,545 $10,827,062 January 2009 forecast $3,233,618 $7,763,929 $10,997,547 May 2009 forecast $2,988,371 $7,576,700 $10,565,071
The reduction in projections for the constitutional portion of the total is due to flagging sales tax revenues, which are coming in at around $22 million below what economists had projected for the current year. The reduction in the projection for the statutory portion stems not just from flagging sales tax revenues. It’s due to a stipulation in the executive order that calls for cities, villages and townships (“CVTs” in state legislative parlance) to get a payment that is only equal to the FY 2008 allocation. Without that executive order, the total revenue sharing amount would have been protected from cuts, even if sales tax collections decreased and caused a reduction in the constitutional portion. That protection is afforded by Public Act 251 of 2008.
To address the shortfall of $260,000 against the numbers used for city of Ann Arbor budget planning, Tom Crawford, the city’s chief financial officer, suggested that one strategy would be to contemplate earlier layoffs than originally planned in the fire department. Those staff reductions had been planned for FY 2011. In response to a question by Leigh Greden (Ward 3), city administrator Roger Fraser indicated that the budget he wanted to put before council on May 18 would not include the fire department layoffs.
Fraser suggested a wait-and-see approach, in light of the fact that (i) it still was not clear how many police officers would take advantage of the early retirement option being offered, (ii) there was time to see how actual operating expenses played out from July 2009 to the end of the year. On the first point, Fraser said it was possible that more officers would take the early retirement than the minimum needed in order for the city to meet its budgetary goal (which might itself help cover the $260,000). Officers have until mid-June to decide, which is after council votes on the budget. On the second point, Fraser said that the city monitors its spending on an ongoing basis and would be able to evaluate whether it was managing to spend somewhat less than actually budgeted – which could mean layoffs in the fire department would be unnecessary.
On the scenario sketched out by Fraser, if it were necessary to do so next spring, the decision to lay off firefighters could be made through an amendment to the budget. A budget amendment could also be undertaken in July, if the financial picture became clearer by then, he said.
Fire protection was also the one bright spot in GCSI’s report to council. The $1.1 million grant from the state to the city to cover the cost of fire protection for public institutions like the University of Michigan would not be cut. Mayor John Hieftje, however, asked Profit to clarify that this amount did not reflect a “fully-funded” grant, but rather only about 60% of the actual cost of fire protection. Profit allowed that there were some problems with the formula – among them, vacant land can figure into it – but that the kind of fire protection required by the university, with its laboratories and larger buildings, reflected a greater challenge.
In the ensuing discussion, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked Fraser to explain where the $1.1 million could be found in the fire department’s revenue statement. Fraser said that the $1.1 fire protection grant was listed as revenue in the general fund, not the fire department specifically, because the city didn’t tie the provision of fire protection to having the grant.
Parking Meters and Law Enforcement
Barnett Jones, director of safety services for the city of Ann Arbor (police chief), was on hand to explain how parking ticket enforcement would be achieved, given the plan to reduce community standards enforcement positions (who are dedicated specifically to writing tickets). Faced with skepticism from Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Sandi Smith (Ward 1) about patrol officers’ ability to write the same number of tickets, thus preserving ticket revenue, Jones remained cheerful. Jones said that he’d be calling on his officers to respond and that they would rise to the occasion. Patrol officers had always written tickets, and they’d continue to do so.
On the topic of a police officer presence in the downtown, Jones said that he wanted to get those officers assigned to downtown areas (which they have the option to cover by bicycle or on foot) back out on patrol. That didn’t mean that downtown merchants wouldn’t see police officers walking around downtown, he said. That’s because there’s a general directive to patrol officers to spend at least an hour a day outside their cars. Some of that time could be spent downtown, when officers would park and write tickets. A parked police car could help act as a deterrent. The downtown officers that merchants had come to know, he said, would be replaced by a greater number of different officers filtering through.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) tried to get an arithmetic handle on the shift of responsibility of ticketing from community standards officers to patrol officers. If there’s 64 patrol officers, and 5 community standards were to be cut, then each patrol officer is being asked to pick up the slack of 1/12 of a community standards officer, he reasoned. “And that’s what you think they can do?” he asked Jones. Jones’ answer: Yes.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) expressed concern that the added responsibility for ticketing could have a negative impact on those officers’ ability to fight crime. Jones reiterated his belief that his officers would rise to this occasion. He also pointed out that 54% of the city’s budget is the police department and that he was operating within the reality of a situation where cuts were necessary.
It wasn’t just the ticketing at parking meters that was at issue, but also the possible installation of new meters in residential areas outside the DDA. Field services staffers Mike Bergren and Pat Cawley were on hand with maps to give the same presentation they’d given last week at the DDA board meeting.
There are an additional 208 meter locations proposed in the central business district, in many cases adjoining the University of Michigan hospitals system. Bergren said that the city would like to explore the possibility of having the DDA do the management – the DDA administers the city’s existing parking program. He also indicated that options were being considered for addressing the negative impact on free parking availability for residents in the area.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) – who had heard the presentation at the DDA board meeting because she serves on that body – pointed out that the addition of meters in residential areas was counter to the recommendation in the Nelson/Nyaagard study, which saw residential areas as appropriate for residential parking permits, but not meters. If parking is not allowed except for residents, that pushes motorists into the parking garages, according to that strategy. Bergren said that if a motorist had to pay to park anyway, then they might choose to park closer to downtown (i.e., in a downtown parking structure). Otherwise put, the goal of getting more people to park closer to downtown could also be achieved with parking meters.
Smith was joined by Briere, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) and Hohnke in expressing their skepticism of the proposal. Hohnke expressed concern that parking meters reflected a “commercial invitation” into residential areas. Rapundalo’s concerns were partly practical. He wondered if motorists would simply move to the next block down where there were no meters. From Bergren, he elicited the revenue projections per meter, which Bergren characterized as on the low end – 30% occupancy. While a meter could potentially bring in $2,000 a year, they assumed only $500 for estimating revenues for the newly installed meters, he said.
Historic District Consultant
The city’s historic district consultant was originally slated by the budget plan to be cut in FY 2011. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) called on Jayne Miller, community services director, to inquire what the impact on planning staff would be for eliminating that position a year earlier – in FY 2010. In what way was city staff poised to absorb the loss of the consultant’s services, Taylor asked. Miller described how the consultant [Kristine Kidorf] had worked with staff over the last three and a half years on the unification of guidelines across all the city’s various historic districts plus a project in one of the districts – the Old West Side – to identify contributing structures. That work, Miller said, was complete. The consultant had also worked to help train planning staff on historic district issues. Individual staff [Jill Thatcher] had furthered her professional training by taking courses at Eastern Michigan University.
Stephen Rapundalo had questions for Tom Crawford about the LDFA’s budget. [There's useful backround on the LDFA board, on which Rapundalo serves, in a previous Chronicle article on the recent LDFA retreat.] Rapundalo elicted from Crawford that he had been unable to identify other SmartZones (of which the Ann Arbor LDFA is one) across the state that used LDFA monies to fund organizational costs for private angel investing groups. That’s what is proposed for Ann Arbor Angels, as a part of the LDFA’s budget.
Rapundalo also sought clarity on the question of LDFA microloans: When they get repaid, do they get repaid to the LDFA or to Ann Arbor SPARK, the region’s economic development agency which is funded in part by the LDFA? Crawford said that was still being worked out.
Rapundalo also wanted to know if he’d be provided with any additional clarity as to the specific duties and responsibilities of the LDFA’s proposed staff person. Crawford said he had nothing detailed to report, but responded in the affirmative to Rapundalo’s request to get that information from the LDFA’s president as well as the details of the microloan situation.
Also related to economic development was a brief discussion of the city’s economic development fund. The fund was created in order to pay for the parking spaces in DDA parking facilities, which were required by Google as a part of the deal that located one of the internet company’s advertising divisions in Ann Arbor. Regarding the current fund balance of around $700,000 – the fund had budgeted for a faster hiring rate than Google has achieved – Rapundalo acknowledged that it was an attractive amount of money to be used for other purposes, but encouraged his colleagues to leave it in place to provide for the eventuality that another similar situation to Google might come along.
Project Grow and Civic Band
At Briere’s request, Jayne Miller gave some background on Project Grow and the Ann Arbor Civic Band, which are not slated to receive the $7,000 they’ve been allocated in previous years. In the case of the civic band, Miller said that the organization had not requested funds. The city and the band, said Miller, were working together on an arrangement for the band to use equipment for their concerts (e.g., music stands). Miller said that the city had worked with the band on getting fundraising efforts started.
Project Grow, on the other hand, had requested funding, Miller reported. The main consideration the city was looking at was the organization’s fund balance, which is roughly equivalent to the operating budget for one year. Briere noted that Project Grow’s explanation of the current sizeable fund balance was that their income came all at one time [plot rental fees in the spring]. [Council had heard from Sheri Repucci, former staffer at Project Grow, on the previous Monday night during the proposed budget's public hearing. She had addressed the fund balance by saying that the reserve was necessary because it took an entire budget cycle to replenish it, given the one-time-a-year income stream.] Miller said that according to Project Grow’s IRS 990 forms, the balance had persisted for four years.
East Stadium Bridges
Kirk Profit, the city’s consultant in Lansing, gave a fairly grim picture on prospects that the state could provide the kind of funding required to replace the Stadium bridges over State Street. [Council approved an application for state funding at its last meeting.] Said Profit, “There’s almost no state resource for that bridge.” But federal dollars might be available, he suggested, in the form of the Discretionary Surface Transportation allocation, which provides $1.6 billion – for the whole country. Profit said that U.S. Reps. John Dingell and Mark Schauer were working diligently to obtain funds for this area. Profit characterized Terri Blackmore from the Washtenaw Area Transportation study (WATS) as “our quarterback” on DST issues.