Ann Arbor Greenbelt Advisory Commission meeting (Dec. 9, 2009): During a relatively brief final meeting of 2009, members of the greenbelt advisory commission got reports on the program’s finances and its preservation activity for the last fiscal year.
Also discussed was a direct rebuff to the greenbelt program from Northfield Township’s supervisor, who wrote that the township wasn’t supportive of “an outside community exerting its influence on our community.”
Peg Kohring of The Conservation Fund, which manages the greenbelt program for the city, had approached the township on behalf of landowners who were interested in participating in the greenbelt.
Commissioners strategized over how to respond, and are forming a group to talk with township officials about their concerns.
Northfield Rejects Greenbelt
During Wednesday’s meeting, Peg Kohring shared an email with commissioners that she had sent to Northfield Township supervisor Deb Mozurkewich in November:
The Ann Arbor Greenbelt has been approached by Al and Sue Honke about the purchase of development rights on their property in Northfield Township. Would you have time to meet to discuss Northfield Township’s interest in farmland preservation and potential for matching funds?
Here is Mozurkewich’s response, also via email:
Currently we do not have matching funds available but are working with the County to acquire State funds for this type of project. We have not been supportive in the past of the Ann Arbor Greenbelt and do not intend to be supportive in the future of an outside community exerting its influence on our community.
To respond to the message, Laura Rubin, who chairs the greenbelt commission, suggested forming a group to meet with township officials. Dan Ezekiel volunteered, saying it was a good approach to talk with them. Catherine Riseng also offered to go, partly as a learning experience – she is a relatively new commissioner who began serving on the commission in September 2009. Rubin asked a staff member to go along, too.
Jennifer Santi Hall asked staff to gather information about the number of applications that the greenbelt program had received from Northfield Township property owners. It wasn’t an issue of funding for Northfield, she noted. It’s that they’re not supportive of the greenbelt program itself, even when individuals from the township apply to participate in the greenbelt.
Peter Allen said he believed the attitude was coming from one of the township board members – that person (whom he didn’t identify) needs to be at the meeting as well, he said.
Gil Omenn suggested that the property owners take the initiative with Northfield Township. Kohring said that in this case the owners, who don’t live in the township, did initiate contact. Rubin added that having other township residents involved in the discussion would be a good idea. She asked Kohring to try to set up a meeting in January.
Kelli Martin, the city’s financial manager for community services, gave a report on the greenbelt program’s finances for fiscal 2009, which ended June 30. [.PDF file of full report]
Proceeds of the open space and parkland preservation millage, which funds the greenbelt as well as land acquisition for parks, totaled $2,232,550 for the year. [Two-thirds of the millage proceeds fund the greenbelt program, with the remaining third allotted to parks. The parks funding is overseen by the city's park advisory commission.]
Martin explained that the city took out a $20 million bond in fiscal 2006, that’s being paid back with revenue from the open space and parkland preservation millage. Investment income off of a $17.1 million fund balance – the combination of proceeds of a bond and the millage – totaled $815,261 for the fiscal year.
Millage revenue exceeds the amount needed to make debt service payments on the bond – the surplus is accruing in a separate account, Martin said. Of the $17.1 million fund balance, $10.225 million is the accrual of funds from the millage and $6.875 million is the remainder of the bond monies.
Other revenue came from a federal grant that totaled $681,800 for the year.
The Conservation Fund’s Ginny Trocchio, project director for the Ann Arbor greenbelt program, reported that the greenbelt closed on four transactions during the fiscal year:
- six parcels of woodland in Scio Township, purchased in partnership with Scio Township and the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation department. The city contributed $350,000 toward the purchase of the 90-acre property, which is managed by the county’s Natural Areas Preservation program.
- the purchase of development rights (PDR) for the William and Cherie Nixon farm in Webster Township, using $1,030,500 awarded to the city from the USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection program.
- the PDR of two adjacent properties – the Smyth farm and Merkel/Heller farm – in Webster Township, in partnership with the township. (These properties are also adjacent to the Nixon farm.) The city’s portion was $856,599 for the Merkel/Heller property and $156,126 for the Smyth farm. A USDA Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program grant covered 50% of the PDR cost for the Smyth property.
- the PDR for 90 acres of the Walter Hilton estate in Pittsfield Township, in partnership with Ann Arbor’s solid waste department. The property is adjacent to the city’s composting center. The greenbelt program contributed $1,269,864 to the deal.
Trocchio noted that the fund balances on fiscal 2009 financial statements show “money out the door,” and don’t reflect deals that have been approved by council, but that haven’t yet closed. For example, at its Dec. 7 meeting, council approved the $815,767 purchase of development rights for the Girbach farm – also known as the Frederick farm – in Lodi Township. That transaction will be recorded on the fiscal 2010 financial statement.
Payments to The Conservation Fund are broken into three categories – transactional ($75,523), non-transactional ($61,370) and general (2,549). Trocchio said that she and Kohring break out their time based on tasks. Transactional expenses relate to time spent on specific greenbelt projects, while non-transactional expenses are for time spent in meetings, on outreach to landowners and other general administrative tasks.
Responding to a commissioner’s query about line items for endowment expenses, Kohring explained that because the city has responsibility for certain properties in perpetuity, the staff uses a formula to calculate how much should be set aside in an endowment designed to cover those potential costs. The funds are used to monitor the properties or take legal action if owners don’t abide by agreements with the city.
Laura Rubin, chair of the greenbelt advisory commission, asked why expenditures were down so dramatically for park projects in fiscal 2009. The financial report showed expenditures of $237,444 during the year for parks, down from more than $2.5 million in each of the previous two years. Kohring explained that the city had achieved its goals as set out by the Parks & Recreation Open Space plan, known as the PROS plan. That meant there was little activity left to do for parks in fiscal 2009, she said. [The current PROS plan runs from 2006-2011, and is being updated. Amy Kuras, a city of Ann Arbor planner, gave a report on that process during the October meeting of the park advisory commission.]
Misc. Staff Updates
Ginny Trocchio told commissioners that the staff was preparing a mailing to a set of landowners in the county, with a cover letter containing information about the greenbelt program, as well as an application form. She reported that they hadn’t received any new applications recently, but that a couple of their partners had. The commission would get details about those applications early next year, she said. [.PDF files of the cover letter and greenbelt program application]
Though not discussed at the commission’s Dec. 9 meeting, a contract renewal for The Conservation Fund is on the agenda for the Ann Arbor city council’s Dec. 21 meeting. The contract calls for a one-year, $119,565 agreement, and gives the city administrator authority renew the contract over the next two years at $113,66 and $106,797.
Present: Laura Rubin (chair), Jennifer Santi Hall (vice-chair), Mike Garfield, Peter Allen, Dan Ezekiel, Gil Omenn, Carsten Hohnke, Tom Bloomer, Catherine Riseng
Next meeting: Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010 at 4:30 p.m. at the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Room, 220 N. Main, Ann Arbor. [confirm date]