At their final meeting to discuss the city’s FY 2011 budget before its adoption next week, Ann Arbor city councilmembers focused on the East Stadium bridges reconstruction project and safety services – the possible layoffs of firefighters and police officers. While reconstruction of the bridges will be funded with money outside of the general fund, safety services account for around half of the city’s roughly $78 million general fund budget.
Margie Teall (Ward 4) and mayor John Hieftje had indicated at the council’s May 3, 2010 meeting that they hoped a $2 million payment to the city from the Downtown Development Authority would be authorized by the DDA’s board later that week. They’d said they intended to use that payment to stave off as many layoffs in safety services as possible, as well as to keep human services funding at last year’s levels.
Although the DDA approved the $2 million for the city two days later on a 7-4 vote, details were scant on Monday night about how the money might be used – how many positions would still need to be cut, and where those cuts would come.
Dominick Lanza, the city’s fire chief, and Barnett Jones, the chief of police, spoke about specific negative impacts on services that would result from the layoffs scheduled in this year’s budget, unless amendments are made next week.
How grim does the situation look from inside safety services? At one point, Jones paused nearly 10 full seconds before responding to a question from Sandi Smith (Ward 1). She’d asked him to comment on how community standards positions might be filled. When he finally did answer, Jones began by saying, “I really don’t want to.”
East Stadium Bridges
Heading east on Stadium Boulevard past Main Street – with the university’s football stadium on the left and the Golf and Outing Club’s course on the right – takes you over two bridges. First is the bridge over the railroad tracks, owned by the Ann Arbor Railroad. About 350 feet past the railroad bridge is another bridge, which spans South State Street.
The bridge over State Street is currently just half there – the five beams supporting the two southern lanes were removed in November 2009 due to safety concerns. The city has struggled over a period of several years, with greater intensity over the last year, to secure non-local funding sources to repair the bridges.
On Monday night, city administrator Roger Fraser indicated that the reason the topic of the Stadium bridges replacement would be addressed at the council’s working meeting was because of the many questions that had been raised in the community about it – from design to financing. He described it as a very significant project, having both a physical and financial impact on the community. Fraser said it was important for the council to be clear about the nature of the project before consideration of the capital improvements plan (CIP) next week.
Homayoon Pirooz, head of the project management unit for the city of Ann Arbor, handled the bulk of the presentational duties on the bridges. Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, as well as Michael Nearing, a senior engineer with the city, also weighed in from time to time. Although he was available to answer questions, the city’s transportation program manager, Eli Cooper, was not called to the podium.
Much of the material that Pirooz presented was ground covered with councilmembers fairly recently – at the city council’s April 19, 2010 meeting. At that meeting, councilmembers had been asked to authorize the city’s new application to the state’s local bridge fund for around $3 million.
Stadium Bridges: Background
Pirooz reviewed much of the history of the bridge project – a timeline which The Chronicle has previously published:
- 1917: Bridge is built.
- 1973: Voters approve a millage to fund a bond to repair the East Stadium bridge. The proposed bond sale on the ballot included $800,000 for creation of a citywide bicycle system using existing streets and new pathways, and $360,000 designated for repair of the Stadium bridges. At the time, the debate centered on whether the new bridge design should accommodate a wider roadway for State Street. On the same ballot was a transit millage, which passed as well – the same millage that supports today’s AATA.
- 2006: The city of Ann Arbor is awarded $766,000 from Michigan’s local bridge program (MLBP), but the city allowed the award to expire a year later, because the amount did not go far enough towards funding the project – the alternative to expiration would have been to spend the MLBP money towards bridge reconstruction.
- 2006: The city pays $1,249,467 to Northwest Consultants Inc. (NCI) for preliminary design engineering for the comprehensive bridge project that included bridge replacement, a transmission water main, storm sewer, and a South Main non-motorized path.
- 2007: After a biannual inspection of the bridge, weight limits were reduced on the span. The limits were set as follows: 31 tons (reduced from 38 tons) for one-unit trucks (e.g., school or AATA buses); 39 tons (reduced from 48 tons) for two-unit trucks (e.g., a single-trailer semi); 44 tons (reduced from 54 tons) for three-unit trucks (e.g., a semi with two trailers)
- 2007: On Sept. 18, 2007 and Oct. 2, 2007 at Pioneer High School’s cafeteria, informational workshops are held on a comprehensive project to address replacement of the span over State Street as well as the one over the railroad, including non-motorized improvements (i.e., sidewalks) extending along Stadium Boulevard to Main Street and south along Main to Scio Church road. Those workshops are well attended, especially by members of the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club, which is located near the bridges.
- 2007: On Dec. 29, 2007 there are reports of “medium-sized pieces of concrete” falling off one of the 16 pre-stressed concrete box beams supporting the roadway.
- 2008: Early January re-inspection by city staff and bridge engineering consultants leads to the short-term recommendation of a traffic control order further reducing weight limits: 19 tons for one-unit trucks (e.g., school or AATA buses); 24 tons for two-unit trucks (e.g., a single-trailer semi); 26 tons for three-unit trucks (e.g., a semi with two trailers).
- 2008: In March, the vision for a comprehensive renovation of the bridges plus the corridor from Main to White streets meets with a funding setback. The Michigan Department of Transportation awards only $760,000 for the project, though the total cost was estimated at that time at around $35 million.
- 2008: On Oct. 22, 2008 Northwest Consultants Inc. performs biennial inspection.
- 2009: In early February, Northwest Consultants – the engineering consultant for the bridge – is called back to re-examine the bridge. A 7/8 inch deflection of the beam is found. [Chronicle coverage: "Discontent Emerges at Caucus" and "Building Bridges"] The bridge safety rating has dropped to 2 on a scale of 100.
- 2009: In March, traffic is rerouted so that it’s limited to the northern lanes, and does not pass over the beams showing deflection. [Chronicle coverage: "How the E. Stadium Bridge Gets Monitored" and "Council Gets Update on Stadium Bridges"] The project scope is reduced from the more ambitious work on the corridor to just replacement of the two bridges.
- 2009: On Sept. 15, 2009 the bridge inspection consultant, Northwest Consultants Inc., inspects the East Stadium bridge over South State Street, and recommends removing the five southernmost beams.
- 2009: On Oct. 5, 2009 the city council authorizes expenditure to remove five beams.
- 2009: On Oct. 28, 2009 and again on Dec. 1, 2009, public meetings are held to discuss design.
- 2009: In November, five beams are removed from the bridge.
- 2009: In November, the state’s local bridge advisory board awards no funds for the Ann Arbor bridge project, citing the lack of any other non-city funding available for the project. [Chronicle coverage: "State Board: No Funding for Stadium Bridges "]
- 2010: In February, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation announces the final recipients of the federal TIGER grant – they do not include the city of Ann Arbor.
Pirooz pulled out some highlights from the bridges’ recent history.
Pirooz described the current situation on the bridge as one lane in each direction on the north side of the bridge and “a large hole” on the south side. In 2009, Pirooz said, the bridge had a safety rating of 2 out of 100. The five box beams had been removed, he reminded the council, in November of 2009. Currently, he said, the bridge is categorized as a “temporary bridge.”
Pirooz reminded the council that they had started a project before 2009 much wider in scope than the current bridge replacement project. The more ambitious project had encompassed work from the intersection of Main Street and Stadium Boulevard all the way to the intersection of Stadium Boulevard and White Street. In 2005, he said, the application had been made to the state of Michigan local bridge fund, and in 2006 preliminary design of the larger project had begun.
At the beginning of 2009, the city heard of the possible stimulus funding from the federal government might be available, Pirooz said. It was in March 2009 that the project scope was reduced to just the replacement of the two bridges, he said. The city again applied to the state’s local bridge program in 2009. [That application was not approved. See Chronicle coverage: "State Board: No Funding for Stadium Bridges"]
Stadium Bridges: Two-Bridge Geography
The close proximity of the two existing bridges, which stand only 350 feet apart along the Stadium Boulevard roadway, has consequences for the range and timing of possible replacement options.
Theoretically, either one of the bridges could be eliminated in favor of an at-grade crossing – in one case that would mean a regular road intersection at State and Stadium, and in the other it works out to a railway crossing with gate arms and warning lights to stop traffic for passing trains. But due to their close proximity, it’s not feasible to contemplate eliminating just one of the bridges – both would need to be at grade in order for it to work.
Pirooz addressed the scenario with one bridge and one at-grade crossing as he was ticking through various alternatives that the city had considered besides reconstructing the two bridges. The alternative of leaving a bridge over the railroad track, but creating an at-grade crossing for State Street and Stadium Boulevard, he explained, would be physically impossible.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked for a more precise explanation of why it was physically impossible. Engineer Michael Nearing explained that there is a minimum height requirement of 23 feet above the railroad track to maintain freight rail standards. Taking into account the thickness of the bridge, he said, would put the bridge around 30 feet above the track.
It was about 350 feet, Nearing said, from the centerline of the railroad track to the centerline of an at-grade Stadium-State intersection. That would amount to a 10% road grade with a very sharp vertical curve. It would not be possible to maintain sight distance across the bridge, and large vehicles would not be able to get up and down the slopes in the wintertime, Nearing said. He concluded that it would simply be unsafe. It would not even come close, he said, to meeting any engineering “standards of the day.”
The two-bridge geography also has implications for the possibility of reconstructing just one or the other of the bridges at a time. There are cost savings that can be realized because of their close proximity, which involve economies of scale and total duration of construction. In today’s dollars, Pirooz told the council the total cost of a sequenced reconstruction – first the State Street bridge and then the railroad bridge at a later date – would be around $26.5 million. With a price tag of $23 million as the all-in-one-go option of reconstructing both bridges, the savings would be around $3.5 million, Pirooz told the council.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) added some support for the idea of handling both bridges at the same time by introducing the notion of the “mushroom factor” that owners of old houses might be familiar with. When you start to open things up to work on the house, you discover that the project necessarily becomes larger due to the impact that some work has on neighboring fabric of the structure. Pirooz indicated that this could be a factor for any decision about whether to replace just the State Street bridge versus replacing both bridges at the same time.
Pirooz noted that the bridges are only about 300 feet apart, there was no scientific way to estimate what the damage might be to the other bridge, and moving heavy construction equipment back and forth over the bridges. Margie Teall (Ward 4) inquired as to whether the one bridge replacement option would result in the State Street bridge being higher than the railroad bridge. Pirooz indicated that there would be a slight grade difference – it would not look or feel right, but it would be within the allowable standards.
Stadium Bridges: Railroad Bridge Safety
The conversation about the railroad bridge focused briefly on bridge safety. Safety concerns for the railroad bridge are not as acute as for the State Street bridge. The need to replace the State Street bridge is uncontroversial. It had a safety rating of 2 out of 100 before five box beams were removed on the south side of the bridge, leaving a two-lane-wide gap, and is now classified as a “temporary bridge.”
What about safety issues connected with the railroad bridge?
Given the likelihood that a significant portion of local street millage dollars will be required for the reconstruction of the bridges, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) wanted to get a clearer idea of how pressing a safety concern it was to replace the railroad bridge.
Hohnke asked what the Federal Sufficiency Rating (FSR) safety rating for the railroad bridge was. Pirooz’s answer: 58. Pirooz noted that it was eight points higher than the standard for bridge replacement. Pirooz indicated that as of today, the city had no reason to believe that the bridge over the railroad is unsafe.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked how fast the FSR rating had changed for the State Street bridge. Pirooz indicated that it had changed very rapidly. Three years ago, the safety rating on the State Street bridge was 21.5, and over a period of less than two years it had fallen to a rating of 2. He explained that those ratings were derived from the city’s annual inspection reports submitted to the Michigan Dept. of Transportation (MDOT). Pirooz indicated that there is no formula for predicting how fast a bridge might deteriorate once it falls below 50, which is the safety standard for bridge replacement.
Noting that the railroad bridge no longer meets modern engineering standards, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) asked if the proposed reconstruction would accommodate standards that might change in the future. Nearing indicated that 23 feet of height clearance has been the standard for the last 20 years. Saying it was not possible to know for certain what might happen in the future, Nearing indicated there was a practical maximum on the height of railroad cars, and a bridge designed to accommodate a 23-foot maximum width would meet future standards.
Stephen Kunselman inquired whether the possibility of tunneling under the railroad tracks had been explored. Pirooz replied that it was not a practical option.
Stadium Bridges: At-Grade Rail Crossing?
The most fundamental argument given by Pirooz against eliminating the Stadium bridge over State Street in favor of an at-grade crossing was the fact that it would also require an at-grade crossing for the railway, which the Ann Arbor Railway refused to grant.
In the course of discussions, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) emphasized the fact that there are several at-grade railroad crossings around town, including one at State Street just south of the State and Stadium bridge. Anglin suggested that if the railroad knew there was going to be a football game with a lot of congestion and streets full of traffic on a Saturday morning, it might be a “concession” they would consider.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) picked up on the idea that “concessions” could be won from the railroad. He said flatly they don’t have to do it, and characterized it as incredibly naive to think of the railroad granting “concessions.”
In his remarks, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) noted that the railroad currently crosses State Street at grade very near to the Stadium bridge location. Taylor wondered whether it so very difficult to contemplate an at-grade railroad crossing for Stadium. Pirooz explained that every other at-grade crossing in the city involved one railroad track and one street. In the State Street and Stadium Boulevard configuration, he explained, it would mean interrupting the traffic flow of two streets, having their traffic interrupted at the same time. With that kind of traffic volume, Pirooz said, it was a “recipe for failure.”
Taylor followed up by saying it seemed “instinctive” to someone who’s uneducated in the matter, that if both Stadium Boulevard and State Street were to have some kind of pause because of a passing train, that having both traffic flows interrupted at the same time would be a good way to take care of both situations at the same time. But Taylor confirmed that Pirooz was saying the contrary is true. Namely, it’s much more difficult for the traffic slowdown to work itself through, because both streets are connected.
A brief discussion of the frequency of train crossings on that line unfolded. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked if it was twice a day, and if so, what time they came through. Margie Teall (Ward 4) indicated that the trains passed through town in the morning. Kunselman added that they also came through at three o’clock in the afternoon. Higgins noted that at 3 p.m., traffic to Pioneer High School would also be affected. Pirooz also added that the Ann Arbor Railroad was hoping to have more freight traffic in the future.
Regarding future rail traffic, Pirooz stressed that this bridge reconstruction plan was a 50-75 year plan, not a six-month to two-year plan. Pirooz also said that the cost of an at-grade crossing would not be significantly less once the added cost of the additional signals for surrounding intersections was factored in. Pirooz concluded that there was “no bright spot” in the at-grade crossing scenario.
Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) asked Pirooz to address the issue of the safety of an at-grade crossing. Pirooz answered that most accidents occur at intersections and that fewer intersections are always better, from a safety viewpoint. He also pointed out that, obviously, train-car collisions are always very serious. He noted that for pedestrians, wide intersections of the kind that would be required at Stadium and State Street represent an additional challenge.
Higgins picked up on the pedestrian thread by pointing out that the corridor is a major walkway in connection with University of Michigan sporting events. Asked how that might play out in moving all of those pedestrians through multiple intersections, Pirooz responded by saying, “I’ll let you use your imagination.”
In response to Anglin, who stressed that there are various other at-grade rail crossings throughout the city, Sue McCormick noted that there are currently 20,000 cars daily that travel over each of the two streets – State Street and Stadium Boulevard – but that currently they never interface.
So the first thing an at-grade scenario would require, explained McCormick, is to create an intersection for that interface to happen. And in addition to that, she said, on two of the four legs of that intersection, a passing train can stop traffic. That means all four of the legs would back up any time a train goes through, she said. And once the train passes, all of the cars in each of the four legs will be approaching the intersection, trying to make a turn movement or proceed straight through the intersection. And that’s the crucial difference, she explained, between this situation and any other situation in the entire city. “I don’t know how to have it described in a way that at its very essence makes it clear how different the situation is than any other situation.”
Pirooz indicated that under an at-grade crossing scenario, if both roadways were blocked by a passing train, it would take around 30-45 minutes to restore the traffic balance.
Sabra Briere drew out the fact that the at-grade scenario would require easements from several property owners, in addition to the university, along the State and Stadium Boulevard corridors.
Stadium Bridges: Funding, Timing
Pirooz presented the funding strategy for reconstructing the two bridges – including for some design work already completed – as follows, in millions of dollars [* denotes funds applied for but not yet secured]:
Prior FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 Total Federal STU Funds 1.19 2.35 2.82 1.64 8.00 Trans. Enhancmnt.* 1.50 1.50 MDOT Local Bridge* 3.00 3.00 A2 Water .06 .90 .96 A2 Storm Water .18 1.22 1.40 A2 Sanitary .13 .13 A2 Street Millage .60 .25 3.49 2.87 7.21 A2 Major Street .51 .51 A2 Alt Transport .32 .32 Total 23.03
The STU (surface transportation urban) funds are part of the federal surface transportation funds for urban areas.
For the four-year period from 2011-2014, Pirooz said, the city had asked the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) to include the city of Ann Arbor in a surface transportation application for the Stadium bridges replacement project. Even though WATS has approved its part of the process, he said, there are still many steps left to go. Still, Pirooz had indicated at the April 19, 2010 city council meeting that he considered the funds all but secure.
Sue McCormick stressed that the STU funds were not considered “new” money – the city typically received such funds and they were put towards the major street reconstruction program. In that light, McCormick stressed that what would help the city most is “new” money, namely the potential $1.5 million from the state under a transportation enhancement grant and the $3 million from the state’s local bridge fund. The transportation enhancement (TE) grant, said Pirooz, is typically used for non-motorized components of a project.
In 2010, Pirooz continued, the city will also apply for a second round of TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) funding – the so-called “TIGER 2″ grants. He said that the city was confident that they could begin construction in 2011 and that the project would take around 18 months.
Stephen Kunselman confirmed with Pirooz that the city would have “shovel ready” plans ready this year. Pirooz indicated that by the end of the summer, the construction plans should be ready. Kunselman inquired whether construction could start regardless of whether the funding applications came through, which Pirooz had described.
Pirooz replied that construction could start when they had any “sensible funding plan.” At that point Sue McCormick chimed in, saying that in the capital improvements plan (CIP), the city staff had indicated to the city council that they had identified local funding sources, namely the street millage funds. When the bridge project was identified on the horizon, she said, the city had been very careful in expending the street millage funds. She indicated that the city could move forward and fund the bridge reconstruction project purely with local money – but it would take every dollar of local resources that the city had.
On that scenario, there would be very scaled-back programs and local resurfacing for this year and the following year, McCormick cautioned. “We can do that, if that’s the council and the community’s desire.” But it would have a significant impact, she continued, on the city’s ability to fund local street programs. That’s why the city was continuing to seek state and federal funds with the hope that some of those funds would be awarded and the city could minimize the amount of local dollars expended.
Kunselman noted that if the $4.5 million in new money was not forthcoming, then there would be $11.5 million needed – not just the $7 million from the local street millage funds. Kunselman wanted to know: “When will you ask us for a decision?” McCormick indicated that each of the grant applications has its own timeline. The announcements of the availability of TIGER 2 funds had just been made, she said. “At this point, we don’t have a trigger to pull.”
The original schedule of November or December of 2010, she said, had been tied to the first TIGER grant application. But currently there was nothing that compelled the city to start construction at any point, other than their own concerns about traffic management and the potential for continued deterioration of what is now a temporary bridge.
In response to a question about how much revenue was collected through the street repair millage, Pirooz indicated that it generated between $8-9 million a year. So the funding strategy for the two-bridge replacement scenario reflects about a year’s worth of that millage. Higgins wondered whether that might change the timeframe in which the council wanted to put a renewal of that millage before the voters. Pirooz indicated that the street repair millage would be collected in July 2010 and July 2011 – without a renewal, it would not continue for 2012.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wanted to know what would happen if the city went forward with local dollars and then later the federal and state funds became available. Would the city be able to replace the local dollars with that money? Pirooz indicated that the short answer was no. McCormick provided an example: STU funds could replace local funds once the STU funds have been approved, but the approval is necessary before the local dollars can begin to be spent, she said. Though the city is confident those STU dollars are forthcoming, they have not yet been officially approved.
Once approval was obtained, she said, in most cases it’s possible to “advance fund” a project with local dollars and seek reimbursement. But it’s crucial that the approval of the funds comes first, she stressed.
Pirooz indicated that by the latest, in December of 2010 they would have a clear idea of how the applications for the various funding sources had turned out.
Higgins asked if it was certain that sometime in 2011 the city would in fact pull the trigger on reconstructing the bridges. McCormick answered that it was entirely council’s decision, but that was consistent with her expectation.
Stadium Bridges: What’s the University of Michigan’s Role?
The possibility that the University of Michigan might shoulder some of the cost related to bridge and road repair came up a couple of times on Monday night.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that there was a certain amount of cost in the bridge replacement project related to rebuilding some of the university’s infrastructure. She wondered if the university had been asked about their willingness to cover those costs or if they had indicated any willingness at all to participate in the project.
On that question, Pirooz deferred to city administrator Roger Fraser. Fraser indicated that the city continued to have dialogue with the university about ways that the university could work with the city. However, he indicated that the university was very, very good at not answering the city in a quick way. But all of those things were on the table, he assured Smith.
Margie Teall (Ward 4) asked if UM officials had indicated any willingness to help pay for the damage done to Stadium Boulevard in the course of the football stadium reconstruction. She asked if the university was planning to pitch in to help with reconstruction of those roads. Pirooz replied, “Not as of this moment.”
After discussion of the Stadium bridges, the council turned its attention to the city’s FY 2011 budget, which it must amend and adopt at its meeting on May 17. As currently formulated, the budget would eliminate 20 firefighter and 12 police officer positions.
Budget Talk: Fire Department
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) led off the discussion by asking fire chief Dominick Lanza to provide an update on staffing levels. Lanza said he was working on the assumption that the budget would pass “as is” and that the fire department would have to deal with the cuts that are recommended in the budget this year. That meant 20 full-time employee positions – one which is currently vacant, he said. Losing that number of people, he continued, would mean closing down a fire station. Depending on the outcome of collective bargaining, he said, the closing of a station might be forestalled.
If the fire department were required to close a station, then Lanza said he would recommend moving to what’s known in the business as a “rolling blackout” in the department. That would mean keeping the main fire station – Station Number 1, across from city hall – open at all times. But other stations would be staffed on a 12-hour or 24-hour rotating schedule.
Lanza indicated that it would be a fair way to lessen the impact on the community. It would, he allowed, lengthen the response time for parts of the community where a fire station might be close to a given neighborhood. It was a way of spreading the risk, he said. In some communities, he said, rotations of a week or month at a time were used, but he was not comfortable with that. He preferred to have blackouts based on 12- or 24-hour schedules.
Smith asked how confident Lanza was that he could get four firefighters on the scene within four minutes of a call. Lanza indicated that it’s a National Fire Protection Association standard, which the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) has adopted.
But for a “working fire” – which means that everybody on scene there has a specific task – Lanza said the standard is to have 18 people at the scene within 8 minutes. Currently, he said, the city has the ability to put 19 people at every fire on any given day – as long as there is only one fire going. If there are two fires, they have to rely on assistance from other agencies that surround Ann Arbor.
Smith noted that other communities surrounding Ann Arbor are equally stressed. She asked how that might play out with respect to mutual aid agreements. Lanza indicated that Ypsilanti Township had just made a decision to offer buyouts to reduce their firefighter workforce and that the city of Ypsilanti was in the process of looking at cuts. Ann Arbor Township, he said, was not looking at cuts. However, Ann Arbor Township already had a very small force – one person is assigned to each of their two fire trucks, with 40 people “paid on call.” Their only guaranteed response is two firefighters, he said.
Lanza allowed that he was a firm believer in regional response and the regional sharing of resources, but said that he was very concerned that the city of Ann Arbor – unless they planned it correctly – would come out on the short end of those kind of deals. That was simply a fact of everybody else being in worse condition than Ann Arbor is, he said. Even with the reduction in workforce, the city of Ann Arbor would still have the largest fire department in Washtenaw County, he said.
Mayor John Hieftje told Lanza that the council wanted to keep the current stations open and to make sure that they got four firefighters on the scene as quickly as possible. He asked if there was a “magic number” for firefighters that would allow the stations to be kept open and that could still achieve the 18-people-in-8-minutes standard.
Lanza began his answer by saying, “That’s tough.” He said part of the problem in the fire department is that there’s no long-range plan. Part of the long-range plan would include streamlining the operation and spreading the workload a little further with administration and “doing more with less.” All of that factored into the picture of exactly how many cuts the fire department could absorb, he said.
The No. 1 mission of the fire department, Lanza stressed, was to put trucks and firefighters out into the streets to fight fires. He said a lot would depend on whether there were concessions made in the contract negotiations. He noted that Michigan labor laws are extremely strong. The chief indicated that he would get back with the mayor on the number of firefighters needed to keep the stations open, to provide the rapid response with four fighters in four minutes, and the 18 people on the scene in 8 minutes response.
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked about the fire department’s ability to fight fires in the kind of tall buildings that are being built and planned in the city. The chief indicated that those site plans are reviewed for compliance with the fire code. He stressed that a 100-foot ladder truck would actually only reach to about 80 feet, given the angles involved. A lot of defense against fires, he said, was achieved through built-in suppression systems and public education.
Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked about the impact of reduced fire protection on insurance rates. The chief indicated that it could have an impact on insurance rates if the city were to call for a ISO (Insurance Services Office) review – he wouldn’t recommend that, he said. Kunselman wanted to know what prevents them from doing it on their own. Lanza indicated that a review can only be called for by a municipality.
Budget Talk: Police
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) led off the questioning of Barnett Jones, chief of police. She told the chief that she wanted to know how reduced numbers of officers would affect the community. The previous year, she reminded Jones, some of the discussion had centered around the reconfiguration of the policing strategy for downtown. The dedicated foot patrol had been eliminated, with the idea that officers would spend their one hour per day out-of-car time in the downtown area, by parking their police cruisers downtown and policing the downtown that way.
Smith asked Jones to walk the council through the various scenarios for a further reductions in force. Jones told Smith he’d anticipated her question. The two then provoked some chuckles when Smith kidded the chief: “Really?” Jones replied, “I’m a Michigan grad.”
Currently, the department has 134 sworn officers, he said. Sixty-four of those are in the patrol division, and 22 are on “special assignments.” Special assignments are as follows: five are on traffic; five are in the critical response unit (CRU); three are school liaison officers; two are transport officers; two are in-service detective officers; one is assigned to LAWNET; one is assigned to AATA; one is a property officer; one is a training officer; and one is a court officer.
If 12 officers are laid off, Jones said, then traffic enforcement would be reduced by four officers. One officer would remain in traffic for licensing, taxi cabs, and investigations along those lines. Those traffic officers would shore up the patrol division in order to spread the workload out among the remaining officers on patrol.
The CRU, Jones said, which represents the proactive part of the force, would be eliminated – the department would go from being a proactive to a reactive department. The CRU includes surveillance, uniformed and plainclothes work, and they make warrant arrests, among other duties, Jones said. Those CRU officers would have to be moved into other areas.
Summarizing, the chief said 12 layoffs meant four positions from traffic, five from CRU, with the other three reduced out of the patrol division. That would leave 61 on patrol. The total number in special assignments would be as follows – in some cases due to contractual obligations: traffic (1); school liaison (3); transport officers (2); in-service detective positions (2); LAWNET officer (1); AATA contract (1); property officer (1); training officer (1); and court officer (1). That’s a total of 13 officers in special assignments. The detective bureau would stay at 13, Jones said, reasoning that “core services have to be maintained.”
With respect to the LAWNET officer, Jones said if that unit ever folds, they would have $2 million in the bank. He wanted to make sure that after all the years of Ann Arbor’s service, the money is equally divided and the city will be able to get its share. He also said that he was open to rethinking the training officer as well. Jones clarified that when he spoke of contractual obligations for special assignments, he did not mean the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the police union, but rather a contractual agreement between the city and the Ann Arbor Public Schools and the AATA.
Asked by Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) if those contracts covered the cost of the patrols, Jones said that they did for the schools, and that they were “playing catch up” with the AATA.
Smith wanted to know if a contract for downtown beat patrol officers by the Downtown Development Authority would help the chief’s scenario. [A preliminary funding plan had been floated at the DDA board's last meeting by Newcombe Clark, but the resolution was tabled and referred to the DDA's partnerships committee.]
Jones’s response was “You want me to put my brown hat on?” The allusion was to his previous service in the Oakland County sheriff’s department, when part of his role was to “sell” safety services to other jurisdictions. As he described it, at the city council’s December 2009 budget retreat:
Chief of safety services Barnett Jones said that when he worked for the Oakland County sheriff’s department, it was actually his job to put on his brown uniform with all of his regalia, and to sell safety services to the townships.
He could do that, he said, because the sheriff’s department was the best provider of safety services in Oakland County.
On Monday night, Jones indicated to Smith that the DDA’s proposal would be similar to the situation that the AATA and the Ann Arbor Public Schools currently have. Pressed to answer the question of whether contracting with the DDA for downtown beat patrols would help, he said, “Yes and no.” Hieftje was somewhat dismissive of the idea of the DDA funding beat patrols, saying that DDA’s recent proposal wasn’t even funded for more than about six months – it was $60,000 a month, to be allocated out of a fund that had around $350,000 in it, he observed. Smith countered that the proposal had been referred to a committee for further discussion.
Hieftje also emphasized that he meets with the police chief every Wednesday morning to go over crime statistics. He said at the most recent meeting, which he had with the deputy chief, there had been a problem with aggressive panhandling downtown, but no one had called the police to tell them. He drew out from Jones his opinion that a foot patrol may not be the best way to police a downtown area. Jones said that a mobile beat, with an associated vehicle, might be a better strategy.
Hieftje then indicated to Jones that there would be a budget amendment brought forward at the May 17 meeting to eliminate or minimize layoffs in the police department. He said he was interested in keeping the department proactive instead of simply reactive.
Hieftje asked Jones how many people were out on patrol on a given day. Jones hedged a bit by reminding the council that a few months ago he told them there was a “greater community” out there. That reminder had come at the council’s third meeting of the year on the budget. From Chronicle coverage “Budget Round 3: Where’s Your Emergency?“:
Jones told Higgins that he was hoping no one would ask that question – there are a lot of people out there, he said, “who don’t have our best interests in mind.” Because of that, he said he was reluctant to talk about how exactly they did things in terms of how many police officers were deployed and where they were assigned within the city. However, he did say that a shift consisted of 20 patrol officers.
But on Monday night, Jones went into greater detail than he had previously. There are 20 officers on each shift. Of those 20, he said there would be 5-6 that would be off on any given day, due to regular days off, vacation and sick time. So the total number of officers available for any given shift, he said, could fluctuate between seven and 14 officers.
Kunselman asked about the DDA’s proposal to take over the enforcement of parking violations in the downtown area. He asked the chief how it would affect the department and how he felt about having non-city employee deputies enforcing parking rules. Though Jones indicated he was not enthusiastic about the idea, he noted: “There is a smile on my face!”
Jones said that the DDA wanted to manage the entire parking system, including enforcement, and that they wanted to handle enforcement in their specific way. He said he felt that his department could have handled it in the way that the DDA wanted to handle it. That, however, he characterized as a “business decision.” In response to Kunselman’s question about whether it could legally be done, he stated that it could be.
And in response to some discussion by Mike Anglin (Ward 5) about some break-ins on the west side in the last year that had been handled in a proactive way, Jones stressed that part of the strategy for keeping the community safe was to make sure it was clear to everyone that Ann Arbor was a hardened jurisdiction. He stressed that Ann Arbor is a “have” community. That means residents have to do basic things to eliminate crimes of opportunity, Jones said – like trim their bushes to improve lines of sight, or add outside lights. The message from Ann Arbor, he said, needs to be that Ann Arbor is not a community to come and play with.
Before Jones had taken the podium, the city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford, had answered a question from Smith about revenue from fines and forfeitures. The FY 2011 budget shows increases in revenue from fines and forfeitures. However, Smith noted that the additional revenue from the increased fines for parking violations, which the city council had considered but postponed at its April 19, 2010 meeting, had not been factored into the budget.
So Smith wondered what accounted for the increase in revenue. The increase in fines and forfeitures revenue, explained Crawford, was due to the filling vacancies in the community standards office – there would be more enforcement. [The council will vote on the new parking fine schedule at its May 17 meeting, along with the budget.]
With Jones at the podium, Smith came back around to a question of the increase in fines and forfeitures, and Crawford’s explanation that the increase in revenues was attributable to vacancies being filled in community standards. She noted that she hadn’t recalled hearing the police chief talk about those numbers, and asked Jones to comment.
Nearly 10 seconds went by before he replied: “I really don’t want to.” If the department were to go through the targeted reduction, he said, then his intent was to take officers who had police experience and to “coax” them into the vacant community standards positions. That way he’d be able to fill those positions – as a safety net, so that he could use their experience at a different position.
Budget Talk: Miscellaneous
The council addressed a variety of other budget concerns, besides safety services.
Sandi Smith (Ward 1) led off the initial discussion of the budget by asking about a $20,000 revenue increase due to loading zone fees. She asked for an update from city administrator Roger Fraser on that. Fraser indicated that the discussion had come to a standstill. He characterized the direction he’d received from council as “not so direct direction,” namely, to wait and see what the city had received from the DDA.
Smith also asked about an item on page 78 of the budget book. In the FY 2010 budget there’s a forecast of a $2.5 million expense for risk management that increases to $4.2 million in 2011. The city’s chief financial officer, Tom Crawford, wasn’t immediately available to answer the question, but he was eventually tracked down.
Crawford indicated that the risk fund differences reflected the final transfer needed with the police/courts building. There was a transfer of $4 million originally, from the risk fund, and there was a $1.3 or $1.6 million difference left, and that’s what the difference is, he explained. In sum, it had been part of the police/courts building funding plan, said Crawford.
Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wanted to know how many departments use the Track It software, other than planning services. Crawford said he was not sure, but it was envisioned that the tracking software would become more pervasive in the organization. Briere secured an assurance from Crawford that he would eventually let the council know how costs of the software are applied across departments
Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked about a $975,000 item for the security system in the police/courts building. He asked if that was in the original budget for the building. [Note: During public commentary at the council's previous meeting, which included a public hearing on the FY 2011 budget, Karen Sidney had raised the question of the $975,000 security system, contending that it should have been part of the original budget.]
The explanation provided by Fraser on Monday was that the $47 million for the police/courts building was the cost to actually build the building and everything that is “built into” the building. The security system components covered by the $975,000, he said, were items that were comparable to pieces of furniture that could be removed from the building, such as TV cameras, monitors, and speakers. They were not part of the construction budget, he explained.
Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) noted that for another recent major facility the city had constructed – the Wheeler Center – similar items were also not included in the construction budget. Because the Wheeler Center had come in under budget, he said, some of those items were purchased from the budget surplus.