County Likely To Send Out Transit Notice

It appears that Washtenaw County will now be the entity sending out an official letter to local municipalities in early November, informing them that the official 30-day “opt out” period for leaving the new Washtenaw Ride transit authority will start at that time. Curtis Hedger – the attorney for Washtenaw County – informed county commissioners of that news at their Oct. 17, 2012 meeting, in response to a query from commissioner Wes Prater.

Many commissioners expressed surprise at the county’s involvement in this way. Previously, the expectation was that the county would not be involved in the process after filing articles of incorporation – which occurred on Oct. 3 at the request of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The Washtenaw Ride is an Act 196 authority, and is intended to create a much broader transit system than the current AATA. The process of creating a larger transit system has been in the works for more than two years.

There’s been some confusion and differing legal views regarding the process of forming the new transit authority. Letters of notification sent by the AATA in late September to all jurisdictions in the county referred to a statutory 30-day window starting with the filing of the articles of incorporation. But Act 196 also requires that the new transit authority itself notify jurisdictions, which also triggers a 30-day window for opting out. The statute makes clear that it’s the later of the two windows that is relevant. Because the new transit authority does not yet have a seated board, it has not yet acted to notify jurisdictions countywide. For a more detailed report on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “Positions Open: New Transit Authority Board.”

At their Oct. 17 meeting, Hedger told commissioners that AATA had approached the county, as the incorporator of the new transit authority, and asked the county to send official letters instead of waiting for the new transit board to be formed. The county would do so as soon as the articles of incorporation become operational in early November, he said. That means letters would go out likely by Nov. 8, he said, which would create a 30-day “opt out” window that would close in early December. Jurisdictions are automatically a part of the new authority until they officially notify the authority of their intent not to participate. Since early October several township boards have already voted to opt out, including the townships of Salem, Manchester, Superior, York, and Augusta.

Hedger said he expects the letter, which hasn’t yet been drafted, will indicate that the new authority will honor the opt-out decisions that have already been made. But it also will inform municipalities that they could change their minds and rejoin the authority until the 30-day window closes in early December, he said.

Commissioners Dan Smith and Rob Turner, who have previously expressed reservations about the process, both noted that the county was not supposed to incur any costs in setting up the new authority – saying its only role was to officially file the articles of incorporation. They noted that this had been laid out in the four-party agreement between the county, AATA, and the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Now, it appears that staff time and postage costs will be paid by the county.

Hedger indicated that he doesn’t expect to spend a significant amount of time on drafting the letter, and will use the previous one sent out by AATA as a template. Commissioner Conan Smith noted that the county had pledged to ensure that municipalities would be notified, and if that simply means sending out 28 letters, then “I think we can foot the bill.”

There was some discussion about the need to notify each elected official individually, rather than just sending a notice to each of the township, village or city clerks in the 28 jurisdictions. That would significantly increase the number of letters that would be sent.

Hedger also noted that if the Washtenaw Ride board is appointed by early November, then that entity could take over the notification process. ”But it doesn’t look like that will happen at this point,” he said.

Before any AATA assets would be transfered to The Washtenaw Ride, voters would need to approve a funding source – likely a millage that could come as early as May 2013. The requirement of voter approval is part of a four-party agreement – between Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti and the AATA – that governs the possible transition to The Washtenaw Ride.

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor, where the board of commissioners holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]