On Oct. 5, 2011 the local League of Women Voters (LWV) hosted candidate forums for Ann Arbor city council candidates in all four of the city’s five wards that have contested races.
This report focuses on the forum for Ward 3, where Republican David Parker is challenging Democratic incumbent Stephen Kunselman. A replay of the forum is available via Community Television Network’s video on demand service. [Ward 3 CTN coverage]
The Ann Arbor council is an 11-member body, with two representatives from each ward, plus the mayor. All members of the council, including the mayor, serve two-year terms. In a given year, one of the two council seats for each ward is up for election. In even-numbered years, the position of mayor is also up for election.
This year, the general election falls on Nov. 8. Readers who are unsure where to vote can type their address into the My Property page of the city of Ann Arbor’s website to get that information. A map of city ward boundaries is also online.
Although the election in Ward 1 is not contested – Democratic incumbent Sabra Briere is unopposed – voters in that ward will have a chance to vote on three ballot proposals, along with other city residents. The first two ballot questions concern a sidewalk/street repair tax; the third question concerns the composition of the city’s retirement board of trustees.
Ballot questions were among the issues on which LWV members solicited responses from candidates. Kunselman indicated he would support the street and sidewalk repair millages, but only reluctantly. Parker said he would not support the sidewalk millage. They both supported the proposal to change the composition of the retirement board.
Other topics, presented in chronological order below, include the proposed Fuller Road Station, city finances, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, human services, public art, and the planned Allen Creek greenway.
Each candidate had a minute to give an opening statement.
Kunselman introduced himself by saying he’s a Democrat who won the Democratic primary this August. He’s seeking re-election, because there’s a lot to do and he thinks it’s important to have independent-minded councilmembers who pose questions and pursue answers that will result in better policies and will promote public health, safety and welfare for residents.
Parker introduced himself as a certified public accountant who’s lived in Ann Arbor since 2000. He described Ann Arbor as an eclectic, evolving and rich city. He said Ann Arbor is a rich city, both financially and culturally. Yet Ann Arbor has some of the highest property tax rates in the country and in the state.
On expense side, we’ve had cutbacks in police, Parker said. In 2001 the city had 232 FTEs in the police department – in 2010 there were 152. He asked if we are 35% safer with 35% fewer police – he didn’t think so. Ann Arbor should get back to the basics and make public safety our top priority, he said. He would be someone who would watch the bottom line, make basic services and public safety our top priority, and would fight to lower taxes, he said.
Retirement Board Charter Amendment
Question: On the Nov. 8 ballot, voters will be asked to approve a city charter amendment that removes the city administrator, currently Steve Powers, from the city retirement board of trustees. Explain the purpose of approving this amendment.
Retirement Board Charter Amendment: Background
The composition of the nine-member body as currently set forth in the charter is as follows: “(1) The City Administrator and the Controller to serve by virtue of their respective offices; (2) Three Trustees appointed by the Council and to serve at the pleasure of the Council; (3) Two Trustees elected by the general city members from their own number (general city members being members other than Policemen and Firemen members); and (4) Two Trustees elected by the Policemen and Firemen members from their own number.”
The proposed change would retain nine members but would distribute them differently: (1) the city controller; (2) five citizens; (3) one from the general city employees; and (4) one each from police and fire.
If the measure passes on Nov. 8, it will still need to be ratified by the city’s collective bargaining units in order to take effect.
In 2005, a “blue ribbon” commission – tasked to make recommendations about the city’s retirement board and the city’s pension plan – had called for a change in the board’s composition to be a majority of trustees who are not beneficiaries of the retirement plan and, in particular, to remove the city administrator’s position from the board.
In 2008, a member of the retirement system’s board of trustees, Robert N. Pollack, Jr., resigned from the board in part due to the city’s failure to enact recommendations of the blue ribbon panel. [.pdf of blue ribbon panel report] [.pdf of Pollack's resignation letter]
Under the terms of new city administrator Steve Powers’ contract, he will not be a beneficiary of the city’s retirement plan, but will instead have a 401(a) plan.
The city’s retirement program is supported in part by the levy of a retirement benefits millage [labeled CITY BENEFITS on tax bills], currently at a rate of 2.056 mills, which is the same rate as the city’s transit millage. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.
Retirement Board Charter Amendment: Kunselman
Kunselman said the primary purpose of the amendment was to remove the conflict of interest that results from having a city administrator who also receives a pension, from engaging in policy making on the pension board. It should have been done long ago, he said, because it was recommended by a blue ribbon task force formed six years ago. Finally it’s coming to the community for a vote, so he hoped the community would support it.
Retirement Board Charter Amendment: Parker
Parker agreed that conflict of interest should be eliminated.
Street Repair Millage
Question: Proposal 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot requests up to 2.0 mills for street and bridge reconstruction. Proposal 2 allows an additional 0.125 mills for sidewalk repair outside the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority TIF district. Please explain the mechanics of the two proposals’ interdependent passage. Tell voters in your ward how you plan to vote.
Street Repair Millage: Background
At its Aug. 4, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved language for the Nov. 8 ballot that would renew the street and bridge reconstruction millage, at a rate of 2.0 mills. It was last approved by voters in November 2006 for five years beginning in 2007 and ending in 2011. A tax rate of 1 mill is equivalent to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.
As a separate proposal on the ballot, voters will be asked if they support an additional 0.125 mill to pay for sidewalk repair. Up to now, sidewalk repair has been the responsibility of property owners.
The ballot language for the street repair millage will read:
Shall the Charter be amended to authorize a tax up to 2 mills for street and bridge reconstruction for 2012 through 2016 to replace the previously authorized tax up to 2 mills for street reconstruction for 2007 through 2011, which will raise in the first year of levy the estimated revenue of $9,091,000?
The ballot language for the sidewalk portion of the millage will read:
Shall the Charter be amended to authorize a tax increase of up to 0.125 mills for 2012 through 2016 in addition to the street and bridge resurfacing and reconstruction millage of 2 mills for 2012 through 2016, which 0.125 mills will raise in the first year of levy the estimated additional revenue of $563,000, to provide a total of up to 2.125 mills for sidewalk trip hazard repair in addition to street and bridge reconstruction and resurfacing? This Charter amendment shall not take effect unless the proposed Charter amendment to authorize the levy of a tax in 2012 through 2016 of up to 2 mills for the purpose of providing funds for the reconstruction and resurfacing of streets and bridges (Proposal 1) is approved.
The sidewalk repair portion of the millage would be levied only if the street repair millage were also approved by voters. But the levy of the street repair millage is not dependent on the authorization of the sidewalk repair millage.
If both millage proposals were to be approved by voters, the money would be collected under a single, combined millage – but accounting for reconstruction activity would be done separately for streets and sidewalks.
The separation of the question into two proposals can be explained in part by a summary of responses to the city’s online survey on the topic of slightly increasing the street repair millage to include sidewalk repairs. Sidewalk repairs have up to now been the responsibility of property owners. The survey reflects overwhelming sentiment from the 576 survey respondents (filtered for self-reported city residents) that it should be the city’s responsibility to repair the sidewalks.
The survey reflects some resistance to the idea that an increase in taxes is warranted, however. From the free-responses: “Stop wasting taxpayer money on parking structures, new city buildings, and public art. You are spending money like drunken sailors while we’re in the worst recession since the Great Depression.” Balanced against that are responses like this: “I strongly endorse the idea of the city taking responsibility for maintaining the sidewalks and am certainly willing to pay for it in the form of a millage in the amount cited in this survey.” [.pdf of survey response summary]
An amendment to the resolution approved by the council on Aug. 4 directs the city attorney to prepare a change to the city’s sidewalk ordinance relative to the obligation of property owners to maintain sidewalks adjacent to their property.
Street Repair Millage: Parker
Parker contended that years ago, the city of Ann Arbor paid for sidewalk repair, then started having individual homeowners pay for repairs. In his opinion, the sidewalks can become the responsibility of the city without enacting the sidewalk millage.
Street Repair Millage: Kunselman
Kunselman noted that Ann Arbor residents have, from what he can remember, always supported the street repair millage. He said he’d support it, but hesitantly this time around, due to concern about how it’s been managed. There’s a great amount of money that was not spent out of the street millage fund, he noted, in anticipation of spending it on the East Stadium bridges project [when it appeared that the federal funding would not be forthcoming, which has since materialized].
The millage that is up for a vote, Kunselman said, includes the word “bridge,” whereas the previous one did not. He said he did not think it would have been possible to spend that street millage money on the bridges, because it was not authorized for that purpose by residents who voted at that time. Kunselman said he would also hesitantly support the sidewalk repair millage. The program as previously administered does not work, he contended. Having individual property owners contract out makes for a complex and difficult process.
Question: The Fuller Road Station will require parkland for the purpose of providing a parking structure, which will be used primarily by the University of Michigan. For this the city will pay 22% of the initial cost. Down the road, how will the parking revenue be split? Who will pay the maintenance? Who will provide safety measures and protection? How do you personally feel about the project? What is the long-term vision for this station and the probable timeline?]
Transportation: Fuller Road Background
The introduction of the Fuller Road Station concept to the public can be traced at least as far back as January 2009, when the city’s transportation program manager, Eli Cooper, presented a concept drawing at a meeting of neighbors at Northside Grill. At the time, the city was trying to encourage the University of Michigan to reconsider its plans to build parking structures on Wall Street.
The city’s strategy was to get the university to consider building its planned parking structures on the city-owned parking lot, just south of Fuller Road, near the intersection with East Medical Center Drive. It would allow the university to participate in the city’s hoped-for transit station at that location. The university has leased that parking lot from the city since 1993.
The transit station is envisioned as directly serving east-west commuter rail passengers. A day-trip demonstration service that was to launch in October 2010 never materialized. But an announcement earlier this year, that some federal support for high-speed rail track improvements would be forthcoming, has shored up hopes by many people in the community that the east-west rail connection could become a reality. That hope has been further strengthened by the recent acquisition of the track between Dearborn and Kalamazoo from Norfolk Southern by the Michigan Dept. of Transportation.
The council has already approved some expenditures directly related to the Fuller Road Station project. It voted unanimously on Aug. 17, 2009 to approve $213,984 of city funds for an environmental study and site assessment. Of that amount, $104,742 was appropriated from the economic development fund.
On Nov. 5, 2009, on separate votes, the council approved additional money for the environmental study and site assessment and to authorize a memorandum of understanding with the University of Michigan.
Controversy on the project includes the status of the land where the proposed Fuller Road Station would be located. It’s designated as parkland, but formally zoned as public land (PL). In the summer of 2010, the possible uses for land zoned as PL were altered by the council, on recommendation from the city planning commission, explicitly to include transportation facilities. Any long-term use agreement with the university is seen by many as tantamount to a sale of parkland. A sale should, per the city charter, be put to a voter referendum.
Recent developments have included an indication from mayor John Hieftje that a work session would be scheduled to update the council. When the city council subsequently added a July 11, 2011 work session to its calendar, it left the expectation that the topic of that session would be Fuller Road Station. However, that session did not include the proposed transit station on its agenda.
A letter from Hieftje sent to constituents in late July 2011 reviewed much of the information that was previously known, but appeared to introduce the possibility that the University of Michigan would provide construction costs for the city’s share of the parking structure up front, with the city’s portion of 22% to be repaid later.
Kunselman began by saying that the prompt had a bunch of questions for which there are no answers. Information may be there, which has not been provided to some members of the council, but has been provided to others, he said. He did not have the information. He described the conversations as negotiations at the mayoral level.
In August before the primary election, he said, new information had come from the mayor to the effect that the University of Michigan would provide some manner of a loan to the city for its share of the construction cost. Kunselman said he was not sure where that information came from – it had not yet been considered by the UM board of regents.
Kunselman described himself as reluctant about the project, unless it includes a train station. If there’s no train station, then it is not a Fuller Road Station, it’s a structure with a bus stop, he said. So far, he’s only seen elevation drawings for a parking structure, but not for a train station.
Parker agreed with Kunselman that there hasn’t been enough information on the project. Until you have more information, you don’t know, he said. His default answer when there is not enough information is no.
Question: Is there a deficit in the city budget and how large is it? If cuts were to be made, how would they be made? Is citizen safety being jeopardized? Is a city income tax being considered?
Finance: Background on Budget, Income Tax
The Ann Arbor city budget for fiscal year 2012 was approved by the city council with $77,987,857 in revenues and $79,105,945 in expenditures, and drew down the fund reserves by $1,118,088 to balance the budget.
In Michigan, local municipalities have four sources of possible revenue: (1) property taxes; (2) fees for services; (3) state shared revenue – apportioned from the state sales tax; and (4) a city income tax.
The city of Ann Arbor does not levy just one kind of property tax. Ann Arbor tax bills include separate taxes to support: general operations, employee benefits, the solid waste system, debt, street repair, city parks, open space acquisition, and mass transit.
An example of fees for service is the drinking water utility – residents pay for the amount of water they use.
It’s not an option for a city to levy any kind of sales tax in addition to the state sales tax. For example, the city of Ann Arbor is not legally empowered to apply an entertainment tax that could be added to University of Michigan football tickets. Part of the rationale behind the state shared revenue system is for local municipalities to have their inability to levy extra taxes balanced out by revenue that is shared with them by the state. However, the future of state shared revenues is unclear, and local municipalities aren’t sure if they’ll continue to receive those revenues in coming years.
A feature of the Ann Arbor city charter that distinguishes Ann Arbor from other Michigan cities is the relationship between the general operations property tax and a city income tax. Per the city charter, Ann Arbor can enact one, but not both kinds of tax:
City Tax Limit SECTION 8.7. (a) … In any calendar year in which the Uniform City Income Tax Ordinance is in effect on the day when the budget is adopted, the City may not levy any part of the three-fourths of one percent property tax previously mentioned …
But if the city of Ann Arbor were to enact a city income tax, it’s only the general operations property tax that would disappear – the other city property taxes would remain.
Cities can enact a city income tax under the state statute Uniform City Income Tax, which allows an income tax of up to 1% to be levied on residents of a city, and on non-residents up to 1/2 of the percentage levied on residents. For example, if a city enacted a .5% income tax on residents, then non-residents would pay no more than .25%.
Supporters of a city income tax for Ann Arbor typically defend against tax burden arguments by pointing to the fact that the city charter stipulates that a city income tax replaces, rather than supplements, the roughly 6 mill general operations property tax for residents. [For readers who wonder how much property tax they would save, the line item, on summer tax bills, is labeled CITY OPER].
Supporters also typically point out that 40% of the real estate in Ann Arbor is not subject to property tax – due to the large city park system and the presence of the University of Michigan, whose land is not subject to property tax. So funding operations from property taxes is more challenging than in cities where a greater percentage of the property is subject to a tax.
Supporters also typically point to the large number of workers who have jobs in the city of Ann Arbor – many of them at UM – who live outside the city. That translates into larger potential revenue from an income tax than in cities that have a smaller number of commuters.
Detractors of a city income tax typically point to the potential barrier such a tax might represent to businesses choosing to locate in Ann Arbor, or to the inequity of the income tax with respect to resident renters – who may not see the reduction in their landlord’s property tax passed along to them in lower rents. Some oppose the idea on philosophical grounds, arguing that applying the tax to non-resident workers amounts to taxation without representation. Income taxes as a source of revenue are also somewhat less stable than property taxes.
Finance: Income Tax – Previous Discussions
Two years ago, at the Ann Arbor city council’s January 2009 budget retreat, then-councilmember Leigh Greden advocated for an exploration of replacing the general operating millage with an 1% city income tax. The budget retreat discussion resulted in the dissemination of a previous, 2004 city income tax study. The 2004 study had been preceded by a 1997 city income tax study.
In July 2009, the city released a more current study. But in August of that year, it became clear at a city council work session that there was no enthusiasm on the part of councilmembers to place the issue on the ballot in the fall.
Yet at that year’s budget retreat on Dec. 5, 2009, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) again raised the issue of exploring a city income tax. And at a Feb. 16, 2010 meeting of the city council’s budget committee, which included [and still includes] Taylor, members gave then-city administrator Roger Fraser the green light to conduct a survey of voter attitudes on the city income tax.
Finance: City Income Tax – More Recent Discussions
Through the city council and mayoral election season in 2010, the idea of a city income tax received some discussion as an issue. During his campaign, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) in particular expressed support for the idea. He’s now part of a working group on the council, which also includes Taylor and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), that is taking a closer look at revenue questions. At the Dec. 4, 2010 budget retreat, former city administrator Roger Fraser had expressed the same sentiment he’d conveyed to members of the budget committee back in February 2010: He thought he had an obligation to ask the citizens to consider the income tax question before cutting services.
Parker noted the on-again-off-again discussion of a city income tax and said he would be against such a tax. He said he grew up in Detroit, which has a city income tax, and he thought it drove people and businesses away. As far as the budget goes, he said he was looking at the city’s comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR) with a total of $184 million in all 51 funds. At this point, he said, he thought the city has enough money, and he’d be against a city income tax.
Kunselman said he’s been opposed to a city income tax “from the get-go.” He characterized a city income tax as a transfer of burden from commercial property owners to working families inside and outside the city. He said a city income tax never been approved by a community since the state legislature took away the ability of city governments to impose a city income tax without voter consent.
With respect to public safety, he allowed that the city budgets have included cutbacks in the public safety area. He said he was not going to express his personal opinion, because it was not appropriate to promote fear in a venue like a candidate forum. He said he will work diligently to make sure there are no more cuts. He acknowledged that the general fund has a projected deficit for next year. He said he would cut funding for public art before he cuts police.
Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority
Question: The city has recently moved towards greater transparency with its A2OpenBook. What about the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority? Please explain the relationship between the city council and the DDA, and between the DDA and the Ann Arbor voters. Beyond increasing downtown parking rates, how does the DDA impact the lives of Ann Arbor citizens? What is their contribution to the community?
Ann Arbor DDA: Background
The Ann Arbor DDA has been the focus of heavy Chronicle coverage over the last year. One reason for that focus is the recently renewed contract between the city and the DDA, under which the DDA manages the city’s public parking system. It was ratified in May 2011.
However, the DDA’s raison d’être is not to administer the public parking system, but rather to make “public improvements that have the greatest impact in strengthening the downtown area and attracting new private investments.” The streetscape improvements that are currently nearing completion on South Fifth and Division in downtown Ann Arbor are one example of the kind of projects the DDA can undertake.
The funding mechanism for those improvements is tax increment finance (TIF) capture in the downtown district. In broad strokes, the taxes on an increment – between the initial value of a property and the value after new construction – are captured by the DDA, instead of being distributed to the authorities that levy the taxes. Those taxing authorities include the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor District Library, Washtenaw County and Washtenaw Community College.
This spring, city staff noticed that the ordinance establishing the Ann Arbor DDA appears to provide a kind of cap on the amount of taxes that the DDA is allowed to capture in its TIF district. Up to this year, that cap had not been observed. When that aspect of the ordinance was highlighted, it resulted in a repayment by the DDA of over $400,000 to other taxing authorities. In the future, a need to return TIF captured revenue to other taxing authorities could continue or be eliminated, depending on how the ordinance is interpreted. [See Chronicle coverage: "Column: Tax Capture is a Varsity Sport"]
After making repayments to other taxing authorities earlier this year, the DDA board subsequently took the position, at a special meeting held July 27, 2011, that the repayments it had made were not actually required.
The repayments, plus the conditions of the new parking agreement – which calls for transferring 17% of gross public parking revenues to the city of Ann Arbor – have put the DDA under considerable financial stress.
DDA board members are nominated to four-year terms by the mayor, and must be confirmed by the city council.
Ann Arbor DDA: Kunselman
Kunselman said it was a very long question and not one he could answer completely. However, he said he’s been disappointed in the DDA, in its management. The DDA had not provided the TIF annual status reports for the last four or five years until he’d asked for it. The most recent one shows $140 million of outstanding debt from the projects they’ve undertaken.
He contended the DDA had not been forthright with the finances of its organization. He described the board as a “hotbed of political cronyism,” because mayoral appointees steered the DDA in a direction that is not in the interest of the neighborhoods and residents, he said. The DDA has focused on generating revenues through the parking system – the DDA thinks they are a business and not a public service, he concluded. He would be working hard to make sure that changes, he said.
Ann Arbor DDA: Parker
Parker said that he was, of course, for transparency. The A2OpenBook has just happened, but it’s a good move. As far as the DDA, there are a lot of complaints about it, based on his talking to people. He said he had not done deep research but felt that the long-term contract [between the city and the DDA on the DDA's operation of the city's public parking system] needs to be looked into.
Parker said he knew that the DDA is thinking about raising parking rates based on relative demand. But he agreed with Kunselman’s conclusion that the DDA just seems to be interested in making money. It needs some oversight, he concluded.
Question: The proposed Washtenaw County budget includes major cuts in human services. The Delonis Center homeless shelter will suffer from this. Is the city prepared and able to make up the shortfall? If not, it would seem to exacerbate the problem of homelessness in the city, particularly downtown.
Human Services: Background
For background on the recently-proposed budget for Washtenaw County, see “Proposed County Budget Brings Cuts”
The city’s support for human services is allocated in coordination with other entities: the United Way of Washtenaw County, Washtenaw County and the Washtenaw Urban County. For background on the coordinated funding approach, back when it was still in the planning stages: “Coordinated Funding for Nonprofits Planned.”
Human Services: Parker
Parker said times are tough and we’ll need to cut back on things. This is one of the areas that’s very tough. Being homeless is a tough thing, he said. Fortunately, there are some charities that are helping out. He said some services are continuing. He said churches are doing a good job.
Human Services: Kunselman
Kunselman said the city is not prepared in a number of ways. The city is having problems right now dealing with panhandling. He said the city would not be able to handle additional people out on the street. When he returned to the city council in 2009, Kunselman said, he sent a letter to the city attorney asking: If we have a Percent for Art program, can we have also have a Percent for Human Services? He’d received no response publicly, he said, about the legality of the city’s public art program. There’s a conflict of priority, he said. The city can’t make up the shortfall due to reduced county funding, he noted – the city needs to put police on the street before spending money elsewhere.
Question: The city council is reconsidering the previously approved Percent for Art program, which sets aside 1% of each capital improvement project to be used for public art in the city. The process appears to be slow in producing art. Should it be reconsidered? Do you have suggestions for improvement?
Public Art: Background
At the city council’s Aug. 4, 2011 meeting, councilmembers voted to place ballot language before voters for a street repair and sidewalk repair millage. Before the meeting, some councilmembers had indicated they were prepared to modify the ballot language to make explicit that millage funds would not be subject to the public art ordinance. The ordinance, which establishes the Percent for Art program, stipulates that 1% of all capital improvement projects must be set aside to be spent on public art.
Mayor John Hieftje effectively preempted that conversation by nominating Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) as a replacement for Jeff Meyers on the public art commission and assuring the council that the question of public art could be taken up at the council’s Sept. 19, 2011 meeting.
However, at the Sept. 19 meeting a proposed revision to the public art ordinance, brought forward by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), was postponed until after a working session to be held on Nov. 14, after the election on Nov. 8.
The proposed revision would change the Percent for Art program by explicitly excluding sidewalk and street repair from projects that could be tapped to fund public art.
Some councilmembers had previously understood the public art ordinance already to exclude replacement of sidewalk slabs from its definition of capital improvement projects. But based on additional information from the city attorney’s office, the proposed ordinance revision was meant to spell that out explicitly.
On two previous occasions in the last two years (Dec. 21, 2009 and May 31, 2011), the council has considered but rejected a change to the public art ordinance that would have lowered the public art earmark from 1% to 0.5%. The city’s Percent for Art program was authorized by the council on Nov. 5, 2007. It is overseen by the city’s public art commission, with members nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council.
The most recent regular Chronicle coverage of the city’s public art commission is “Art Commission Preps for Dreiseitl Dedication.”
Public Art: Kunselman
Kunselman said that the fundamental flaw in the Percent for Art program is the lack of a written opinion by the city attorney as required by the city charter. The guidance that the city administration has asked for on the legality of the program must have been received verbally or via information classified as attorney-client privileged info. Part of the reason that the program is slow in producing results, he said, is that when the public art commission receives a proposal, it has to consult the city attorney – is it okay to use public art funds on a mural, or for performance art, or for landscaping?
Kunselman described government is a book of rules, not a set of verbal assertions. That’s the significant problem Ann Arbor’s public art program has, he said. Other public art programs have strong standards and guidance, but Ann Arbor’s does not.
Public Art: Parker
Parker said he was against the public art program. Art is a very individual eye-of-the-beholder type of thing. But the city is using taxpayer dollars, he said, and picking certain artists. He didn’t think that’s a fair or wise use of money, especially during recessionary times. One percent can add up to a lot of money, he said, and he didn’t agree with the program.
Allen Creek Greenway
Question: Please tell voters your views on the proposed Allen Creek greenway how it will affect the city.
Allen Creek Greenway: Background
At its Aug. 4, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution that expresses general support for the idea of constructing a greenway along the Allen Creek corridor. The idea has been around for several years, but was resurrected around 2005 in response to a proposed 3-Site Plan put together by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority.
That plan would have built a parking structure on the First and William parcel, leaving only a small portion of the land as green open space. Opposition to the 3-Site Plan was successful and ultimately led the council on July 6, 2009 to rezone the First and William parcel as public land and set forth the council’s intention that the property (currently a parking lot) would eventually become part of a greenway. [Additional Chronicle coverage: "First & William to Become Greenway?"]
The single “resolved” clause from the Aug. 4, 2011 resolution reads: “That the Ann Arbor City Council is fully supportive of the creation of the Allen Creek Greenway, and hereby directs City staff to continue to work with and to assist the Allen Creek Greenway Conservancy during the Greenway’s development and implementation phases.” [.pdf of Aug. 4 greenway resolution]
During public commentary at the Aug. 4 meeting, the council heard that various key property owners – like the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor Railroad – are interested in hearing a clear statement from the city expressing its commitment.
Allen Creek Greenway: Parker
Parker said that when you’re dealing with waterways, different studies have to be done. The city has to do more research to see if this greenway should be allowed, he said.
Allen Creek Greenway: Kunselman
Kunselman allowed that the greenway has been talked about for some time and there’s a lot of community support for it – he had to respect that support, he said. As far as the city’s involvement, it would entail using three parcels along the greenway – he agreed with that. But he would not support using city dollars to purchase other properties. He was opposed to daylighting Allen Creek near downtown. He was adamantly opposed to that, based on the turbulent flow of stormwater, which would pose a danger, he said.
Each candidate had two minutes to give a closing statement.
Parker repeated the sentiment from his opening statement that Ann Arbor is an eclectic, evolving, rich city. The CAFR (comprehensive annual financial report) shows 51 funds of the city government with $184 million in revenue and $155 million in expenses – a surplus of $30 million.
Even though Ann Arbor is a rich city, it has some of the highest tax rates, he said. He reiterated the fact that in 2001 Ann Arbor had 232 police officers, but was down to 152 in 2010. We’ve all driven on the roads, he said, and we can see they’re not being maintained properly. The city wants to raise more money to pay for sidewalks, as if there is not already enough money to pay for that. City resources are not being put to wise use, he said.
Parker has lived all his life in southeast Michigan and said he’s seen firsthand how increasing taxes, regulations and fees drives business away. He did not want to see that happen to Ann Arbor. He would do his best to keep the city council from raising taxes, he said.
Kunselman thanked the League of Women Voters and thanked his supporters in the Democratic primary in August. He also thanked his family and named them off: his wife Letitia, his daughters Sabrina and Sophia, his son Shane and his stepson Hannon. They have put up with his absence at the dinner table and the absence of his mind as he thinks about city issues.
His main focus is public safety, health and welfare, Kunselman said. He would continue to support the police department, the fire department and union members. He’d continue to support parks and recreation programs. He is very proud to serve Ward 3 because it’s diverse socially and economically.
There are a significant number of low- to moderate-income families. In his neighborhood, he said, Habitat for Humanity has constructed a house and renovated another. Ward 3 welcomes diversity.
He said he’s from Ann Arbor, and graduated from Pioneer High School in 1981. He received three degrees from the University of Michigan: a bachelors in natural resources, a masters in urban planning, and a masters in landscape architecture. He worked at the city of Ann Arbor as an intern in the forestry department, and was a driver for Recycle Ann Arbor. He previously served on the planning commission and was the city council liaison to the Ann Arbor Housing Commission board.
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