City Council Debates Utility Connection Costs

Also: Council briefed on transition of dispatch to sheriff's office; new residential parking district OK'd; residents lobby for dog park

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 22, 2013): One item on the consent agenda was responsible for extending the city council’s meeting by at least 40 minutes – the annual setting of fixed charges for water main and sanitary sewer improvements. The council chose not to approve the increase that had been calculated by city staff. That left the charges at their current levels – $15,552 and $24,665 for water and sewer, respectively – instead of raising them by just under 3% to $15,967 and $25,370, respectively.

Ann Arbor Water Main and Sanitary Sewer Fixed Charges: 2004 to present.

Ann Arbor water main and sanitary sewer fixed charges: 2004 to present. The proposed increase indicated for 2013 was not adopted by the city council at its Jan. 22 meeting.

The charges are due when a single- or two-family property connects to water and sewer for the first time. The charges are paid by either the contractor/developer or the property owner, depending on who makes the request for a connection.

Consent agenda items – a subset of the council’s business – are by definition voted on as a group, but councilmembers can choose to pull out items from the consent agenda for separate discussion.

That’s what happened at the Jan. 22 meeting. After an attempt to postpone the item failed, the council simply chose not to adopt the increases. But councilmembers were split on the question, with Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje voting for the increased charges. Arguments against the increase were based on the amount of the increases, their possible impact on the likelihood of infill development in lower-income neighborhoods, and the fairness of charging new connections for depreciation costs.

The other major chunk of the council’s meeting was devoted to a briefing from Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton on the transition of police dispatch operations for the city to the sheriff’s office – Washtenaw Metro Dispatch (WMD). Highlights of that presentation included benchmark metrics. For example, WMD answers 97% of all calls within 20 seconds (4 rings). Total call processing time – from when the call is received until some unit is dispatched – ranges from 2.2 minutes for robberies to 5.16 minutes for disorderly conduct calls. According to Clayton, over the last six months since operations have been shifted to WMD from Ann Arbor police dispatch, the cost per 911 call has been decreased by more than half – from just under $40 per call to around $16 a call.

The council also established a project planning budget for a sidewalk on a quarter-mile stretch of Newport Road just north of Wines Elementary School. In other business, the council approved establishing a residential parking district off Washtenaw Avenue southeast of the University of Michigan campus, because streets in the neighborhood were being effectively used as a commuter parking lot for students taking the bus further into campus.

The new residential parking district is located in a neighborhood in the vicinity of the Beth Israel Congregation. Beth Israel came up during communications time as Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) responded to public commentary critical of him for not yet bringing a resolution to the council table on the topic of Palestinian rights. Warpehoski essentially indicated he would not be contemplating such a resolution as long as demonstrations continue outside Beth Israel on Saturdays during worship services.

Half of the public commentary at the start of the meeting was on the topic of a proposed dog park – in West Park, across the street from the New Hope Baptist Church. The proposal had been expected by supporters to be on the council’s agenda, but it had not been included. So some turned out to urge council to pursue a dog park at that location. Others simply advocated for establishing a centrally-located dog park somewhere in the city.

The decision to pull the item from the agenda had come after the city’s park advisory commission had voted in December to recommend establishing a dog park in the West Park location for a one-year trial period. But subsequently, parks staff and commission leaders were convinced by members of the New Hope congregation not to push the proposal ahead for consideration by the city council.

Sewer, Water Connections

Included as part of the consent agenda was the annual setting of fixed charges for water main and sanitary sewer improvements. The charges are due when a single- or two-family property connects to water and sewer for the first time. The charges are paid by either the contractor/developer or the property owner, depending on who makes the request for a connection.

The council was asked to adopt the result of a calculation – which has a methodology prescribed by city ordinance – to raise the charges from $15,552 and $24,665 for water and sewer, respectively, to $15,967 and $25,370. That’s an increase of a little under 3%.

The methodology prescribed by city ordinance for water mains is as follows:

“Water main improvement charge fixed charge” shall mean the charge per residential unit for water main improvements, set by city council annually by resolution and calculated on the basis of the city’s average actual cost per residential unit for the 10 most recent publicly constructed water main improvement projects preceding the date the fixed charge is set by city council, with the costs of said projects adjusted as needed to be brought current, using the most recently published Handy-Whitman Index for “Distribution Plant Mains, Average All Types.”

The methodology for sewer connections is similar.

Consent agenda items – a subset of the council’s business – are by definition voted on as a group, but councilmembers can choose to pull out items from the consent agenda for separate discussion. Items on the consent agenda are supposed to have certain characteristics – for example, the consent agenda includes all contracts under $100,000. From the city council rules:

The Consent Agenda shall consist of ordinances and resolutions considered routine. Items on the Consent Agenda may be approved by a single motion. The motion to approve the Consent Agenda shall not require the reading of the titles of items on that agenda other than ordinances. If any member of the Council objects to consideration of an item as part of the Consent Agenda, that item shall be moved to the end of the appropriate portion of the regular agenda. All contracts under $100,000.00 will be listed in the consent agenda for council approval. Contracts over $100,000.00 will be listed in Motions and Resolutions under the DS section for staff.

The item on fixed charges for water and sewer was pulled out for separate consideration by Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

Sewer, Water Connection: Initial Deliberations

Lumm led off discussion by observing that the charges had increased by almost 50% over the course of nine years – reasoning that it amounts to about a 5% increase per year. She observed that 5% is higher than the general inflation rate: Why is that?

Called to the podium to explain the connection charges were public services area administrator Craig Hupy and Elizabeth Rolla, a senior project manager with the city.

City of Ann Arbor senior project manager Elizabeth Rolla

Elizabeth Rolla, senior project manager with the city of Ann Arbor.

Rolla pointed to the Handy-Whitman Index for water mains, which aggregates labor rates and material rates. Those rates typically increased about 3% per year, she said. For sewer charges, the guide is the Engineering News Record-Construction Cost Index. Any additional increase in the charges is due to the projects the city has actually done. The costs for the most recent projects are averaged, she explained. Rolla ventured that one of the reasons the costs of completed city projects have increased is that the city’s infrastructure is already built out to a certain point. The places where it is not built out are those areas where it’s more difficult to extend the infrastructure – and that might explain why there’s been an increase in the projects themselves.

An inquiry from Sabra Briere (Ward 1) drew out the rationale for calculating the charges, even when the pipe to which the property is connecting already exists.

Hupy explained that when the connection is first made – no matter how old the pipe is – that’s the first time that property owner is making an investment in the pipe. They get the same service as if it’s new. Their neighbor next door, who’s been connected all along, has been paying for depreciation. The charges put the two parcels on equal footing, and that makes it equitable for existing ratepayers, he said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) responded to the contention of equity by recalling conversations he’d had with Hupy’s predecessor, Sue McCormick. He’d always remembered hearing about costs that went up dramatically, but didn’t hear about the unintended consequence of lowering the value of unimproved property. He pointed out that the total of the connection charges – around $41,000 – would have to be factored into the cost of acquiring and developing the property, which meant that the value of the property was less. Lower property value meant that its taxable value is less, which means less revenue for the city, he said.

Kunselman wondered how the city would promote infill development in a neighborhood like Springbrook, where houses have been torn down. Kunselman questioned the rationale for the connection charges, saying the pipe to which a property owner is being charged to connect is already in the ground and paid for. “That’s where we disagree,” Hupy responded.

Sewer, Water Connection: Deliberations – Postponement

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) observed that every year the council is asked to approve the fixed charges before the budget is approved in May. She wondered why it was not synchronized with the budget. Hupy explained that the timing is keyed to the construction season that starts in the spring. Higgins then observed that the city already has fees in place – so she wanted the setting of the fees to be based on the budget cycle. She indicated she would be willing to postpone the vote. Mayor John Hieftje confirmed with Higgins that she wasn’t actually moving for postponement at that moment.

Briere said she’d support postponement. It would also give the council time to discuss whether the fees should be raised at all. Higgins then moved for postponement of the item to the council’s first meeting in April.

Lumm wondered what was going to happen between now and April. Would the council get more information about the capital improvements plan (CIP)? Sally Petersen (Ward 2) said she already knows of a water main she would like to see replaced in Ward 2, which is not recommended in the CIP for replacement in the next construction season.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

From left: Councilmembers Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) did not see a need to postpone. While he understood the rationale for aligning the budget process and the setting of fixed charges, the data is aggregated based on the construction season. And he saw a risk that the city would be put “behind the cycle.”

Kunselman indicated support for postponement, but asked how many parcels actually had to pay such charges in the past year. Cresson Slotten, the city’s systems planning unit manager, told Kunselman it was on the order of a couple of dozen – not hundreds.

Hieftje indicated that he agreed with Taylor but said it didn’t bother him if the item was postponed. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) wasn’t clear about the nature of other councilmembers’ objections – was it because the new connections included the depreciation costs? Hupy reviewed how the fixed charges for the new connections put a property on “equal footing” with existing ratepayers. Anglin seemed to indicate agreement with that basic approach, but indicated he’d vote for postponement.

Hieftje described the fixed charges as “buying a share” in the infrastructure system that’s been built and paid for. Briere ventured that the motion to postpone reflected not so much the question of how the charges were calculated, but rather on the timing of the cycle for approval.

During this discussion, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) had looked up the city code and noted that the mechanism is set forth in the city code. The code instructs that council that it approves the rates by annual resolution. He saw the value in coordinating with the budget from a planning perspective – but not so much that he wanted to change things now. As he thought about the work ahead of the council, he didn’t see the issue as a high priority. He suggested that the council should set the rates and move on.

Lumm expressed some concern that a reduction in the charges would result in a reduction in revenue that might have an impact on the city’s ability to undertake improvement projects. Hupy confirmed that any reduction in revenue would have some impact, but he didn’t think it would eliminate or save a project.

Outcome: The motion to postpone the vote on the fixed charges for water and sewer connections failed, with only Marcia Higgins, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sabra Briere and Stephen Kunselman voting for it.

Sewer, Water Connection: Final Deliberations

Higgins said she wouldn’t vote in favor of raising rates. She felt that the rates for 2012 were sufficient. An increase of 5% every year is a lot, she said. Kailasapathy also wouldn’t vote to support an increase. She said that if an asset is 10 years old, and someone buys into it in the ninth year, even though that person didn’t use the asset, they have to contribute nine years’ worth of depreciation. She ventured that the city needs to rethink how it determines these rates. One approach might be to consider a longer period for taking the average – not just the 10 most recent projects. That might smooth out the costs.

Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1)

City councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1).

Taylor indicated he would vote in favor of increased rates. He felt that increasing rates in response to increased costs makes a great deal of sense. He ventured that someone will be on the short end of the arrangement. When there’s an improvement, Taylor said, if a property owner doesn’t pay for the depreciation, then the owner of the new connection will be “freeloading” on the other residents.

Briere sought additional clarification about whether the connection charge reflected a prospective or a retrospective payment. Responding to Hupy’s explanation that the improvement charge paid for the pipe to serve a parcel, Briere abandoned her line of questioning, saying, “I’m not getting any more than confused.”

Kunselman drew out some of the history of the city’s water and sewer improvement projects. Specific projects mentioned included one in the Arbor Oaks neighborhood and one on Baylis Drive. Kunselman questioned whether the city of Ann Arbor was charging for depreciation on a pipe placed by the former municipality of East Ann Arbor. Hupy responded by saying that the city of Ann Arbor has been maintaining it and has paid depreciation on it, and is responsible to replace it. Kunselman reiterated his view that the connection charges are a disincentive for infill development. The amount of the charges, he said, is “getting out of hand.” He called the fees punitive.

Warpehoski came back to the point that the methodology for calculating the charges is laid out in the city ordinance. He saw little discretion for the council – except perhaps on timing.

Lumm called Warpehoski’s point a good one. She was not happy that costs have been increased. She felt that the funding model needs to be addressed, but given that the amounts presented are what the city code dictates, she indicated that’s what the council should vote on.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4)

City councilmember Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

Hieftje said he’d appreciate it if people would support the rates as proposed as a result of the staff calculation.

Kunselman noted that the city code does not say that the council must do anything – indicating that only the methodology is prescribed. The council has to vote on the increase, but the code doesn’t say the council has to vote yes. He wouldn’t vote for a rate increase, he said. He wanted to encourage some infill development. Higgins said Kunselman was absolutely correct – that the council can say yes or no.

Lumm briefly put forward an amendment to the resolution saying that the existing rates would be retained. Higgins indicated that voting no on the existing resolution would have the same effect – so Lumm withdrew the amendment.

Outcome: The new rates failed on a 4-6 vote. Voting for the rate increases were Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje. Voting against it were Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Margie Teall (Ward 4) was absent.

County Dispatch Services

As part of the city administrator’s communications, Steve Powers introduced Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton to give an update on the first six months of operations since the city began contracting for 911 dispatch services with the sheriff’s office. [.pdf of slides presented by Clayton]

Clayton led off with an historical overview.

  • 2010 January: City of Ypsilanti contracted with the sheriff’s office for dispatch services.
  • 2010 May: Sheriff’s office and Ann Arbor police department co-located dispatch operations. Agreement for the co-location came at a Dec. 9, 2009 meeting of the city council. Authorization to fund technology related to the co-location came at the council’s Jan. 19, 2010 meeting.
  • 2011 March: First strategic discussions between sheriff and police chief.
  • 2011 April: Joint city/county task force formed.
  • 2011 June: First public discussion of opportunity for consolidation. Chronicle coverage: “Ann Arbor, Washtenaw Joint 911 Dispatch.”
  • 2011 September: Ann Arbor city council working session.
  • 2011 December: Ann Arbor city council approves contract proposal at its Dec. 6, 2011 meeting.
  • 2012 January: Washtenaw County board of commissioners approves contract proposal at its Jan. 18, 2012 meeting.
  • 2012: WCSO assumes full responsibility for Ann Arbor dispatch services.

Joining Clayton at the podium were Spring Tremaine and Rochelle Noonan. Tremaine was hired as dispatch operations manager in 2012 upon retiring as a lieutenant with the Ann Arbor police department after 25 years of service. Rochelle Noonan is dispatch operations coordinator, and has worked for the sheriff’s office since 2003.

Highlights of the presentation included a change in the staffing model. A large part of the cost savings stem from eliminating the duplication of a position – that of the LEIN (Law Enforcement Information Network ) officer. Clayton also highlighted the labor union’s agreement to add part-time staff, which allows for more scheduling flexibility.

Staffing levels before and after Washtenaw County sheriff office started providing 911 dispatch services for the city of Ann Arbor.

Staffing levels before and after the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office started providing 911 dispatch services for the city of Ann Arbor.

Clayton stressed that the emphasis is on quality of service. The sheriff’s office is tracking various metrics, in order to establish benchmarks for operations, service quality, financials, and training.

Through the first six months, 97% of calls are being answered within 20 seconds (four rings), which compares favorably to a NENA (National Emergency Number Association) standard.

By way of additional background, the NENA standard also calls for 90% of calls to be answered within 10 seconds – for the hour of the day with the busiest call volume. Washtenaw Metro Dispatch is achieving call answer times of less than 10 seconds for 86% of all calls. From the NENA standard:

3.1 Standard for answering 9-1-1 Calls. Ninety percent (90%) of all 9-1-1 calls arriving at the Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) shall be answered within ten (10) seconds during the busy hour (the hour each day with the greatest call volume, as defined in the NENA Master Glossary 00-001). Ninety-five (95%) of all 9-1-1 calls should be answered within twenty (20) seconds.

Time to answer emergency calls: Washtenaw Metro Dispatch

Time to answer emergency calls: Washtenaw Metro Dispatch.

Speed to compete dispatching – from the time a call comes in to the time an officer is sent to the scene – was also broken down by incident type.

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch: Time to Dispatch by Incident Type

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch: Time to dispatch by incident type.

Complaints about how 911 dispatch is handled are also logged and tracked. Some come from responding officers, while others come from the 911 caller. Each one is investigated to determine if it was founded or not. Examples of founded complaints include data entry mistakes (e.g. a wrong license number), notifying the wrong wrecker company, or dispatching an officer who was not the nearest available for that incident.

The number of founded complaints by agency for which Washtenaw County Metro dispatch provides services correlates roughly to the call volume per agency:

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch: Founded Complaints by Agency

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch – founded complaints by agency: Michigan State Police (MSP), Northfield Township Police Department (NTPD), Ypsilanti Police Department (YPD), Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) and Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO).

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch: Call Volume by Agency

Washtenaw Metro Dispatch – call volume by agency: Northfield Township Police Department (NTPD), Ypsilanti Police Department (YPD), Ann Arbor Police Department (AAPD) and Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO).

Questions from councilmembers included the basics of how dispatching works, especially with respect to fire dispatching, which has been handled by Huron Valley Ambulance since Dec. 1, 2009.

Here’s a sketch of how it previously worked:


[911 center]
[fire-protection-related] → [send firetrucks]
[any of 5 "auto-send" medicals] → [send firetrucks]
[any of 28 other medicals]

[as medical information dictates] → [send ambulances]
[as medical information dictates]

[911 center]
[based on HVA request] → [send firetrucks]


Since Dec. 1, 2009 the dispatching is handled roughly like this:



[911 center]
[fire-protection-related or medical-related]

[as medical information dictates] → [send ambulances and/or firetrucks]
[as fire protection information dictates] → [send firetrucks]

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) ventured that it might be worth re-examining the contract with HVA and considering a further consolidation of dispatch operations. City administrator Steve Powers indicated that putting all dispatching in the same room would be a “significant undertaking” and would take “more than a memo from the administrator.” Powers based his assessment on his experience having overseen a complete dispatch consolidation as county administrator in Marquette County. [Powers served in that position for over a decade before being hired as Ann Arbor city administrator in 2011.]

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers signs agendas for students so they can prove they completed a class assignment.

Ann Arbor city administrator Steve Powers signs agendas for students so they can prove they completed a class assignment.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) passed along a concern from a resident who had called 911, and HVA was dispatched. The resident had been surprised to get a bill. Had the resident known there would be a charge, they wouldn’t have called. The explanation offered to Lumm was that the HVA dispatcher makes a judgment about who to send to the scene – a fire truck or ambulance. The Washtenaw Metro Dispatch operators aren’t in a position to quiz a caller to determine and convey information about possible costs.

John Seto, Ann Arbor’s police chief, added that this is an issue that Ann Arbor fire chief Chuck Hubbard is looking at, with an eye toward educating residents about what they can expect when they call 911.

Kunselman added that he knows it’s possible to call 911 and state clearly that “This not an emergency,” and that the call taker would then route the call appropriately. He asked if an educational effort could be made through the Community Television Network (CTN) so that residents could improve their role as citizens when they call for service. Seto indicated he’d follow up with the city’s communications unit.

Outcome: This was an informational update, and did not require a vote by council.

Residential Parking Permit District

The council was asked to approve funding for signs and to authorize a new residential parking district in Ann Arbor – in a neighborhood about a mile southeast of the University of Michigan campus, off Washtenaw Avenue. [.jpg of map showing relation of district to campus]

According to the staff memo accompanying the city council’s agenda item, the rationale for the district is that residents in the area have “extreme parking problems due to the students parking in their neighborhood and then bussing into campus.” Sixty percent of residents in the area signed a petition requesting that the district be established.

Signs for each of the 12 block faces in the district – which includes sections of Austin Avenue, Norway Road and Fair Oaks – will cost a total of $1,800, an amount that was not previously included in the city’s FY 2013 budget.

Permits are sold annually only to residents of the parking district. Without a permit, it will not be lawful to park on the street for more than two hours from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. Fees are $50 per permit, per calendar year. Replacement permits are $15.

The city council was asked to approve the $1,800 appropriation from the city’s general fund balance. Because the action changed the budget, it required eight votes to pass.

The city’s ordinance empowers the city administrator to designate a residential parking district, after notifying the city council. From Chapter 126 Article 6 10:66 on residential parking districts:

If a residential area has excessive parking of vehicles not owned by residents of the area, the Administrator may, after notice to City Council, issue a traffic control order designating a residential parking district. The city shall install signs in a residential parking district indicating that parking time limits do not apply to vehicles with permits. After receiving evidence of residency within a parking district, the city shall issue permits for the vehicles of residents of the district. If a permit is displayed on a vehicle in accordance with the rules of the transportation department, it shall not be a violation to park it in excess of the time limits in the residential district named on the permit. The city council may establish permit fees by resolution.

In addition to the district in the area of Austin Avenue, Norway Road and Fair Oaks, the city has at least eight other residential parking districts.

The minimal council discussion consisted of a brief remark from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who said he was happy to see the residential parking district come to pass. The city streets in the area had effectively become a commuter lot. He was glad residents got together and, with the help of city staff, established the district.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the new residential parking district.

Sidewalk Repair Inside DDA District

The council was asked to approve an agreement with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority covering sidewalk repair inside the geographic district of the DDA. Under terms of the agreement, sidewalks inside the district will be repaired by the city of Ann Arbor – using funds captured by the DDA from the city’s sidewalk repair millage, under the DDA’s standard tax increment finance (TIF) mechanism.

Voters approved the 1/8 mill sidewalk repair millage in November of 2011. The city council resolution placing the question on the ballot that year excluded certain properties inside the DDA district – those that are not one- and two-family houses – from the city’s sidewalk repair program that’s funded with the millage proceeds.

The council subsequently enacted an ordinance, on June 4, 2012, that assigns responsibility for sidewalk maintenance and repair to the city of Ann Arbor. But for the excluded properties within the DDA, the ordinance provides the option that the DDA itself handles repair of adjacent sidewalks or that the DDA pays the city to do the work.

It’s an agreement related to the second of those two options that the city council was asked to approve.

Outcome: The council vote unanimously, without deliberations, to approve two one-year agreements with the DDA.

Newport Sidewalk Planning Budget

The council was asked to approve a planning budget of $15,000 for a quarter-mile stretch of Newport Road – from Wines Elementary School northward to Riverwood. The stretch of road might see construction of a public sidewalk by the summer of 2014. The preliminary $15,000 budget includes preliminary design and construction cost estimates, an evaluation of different funding scenarios, and gathering additional public feedback on the project.

The project has a background that dates back at least to Nov. 15, 2011, when the city held the first of two meetings in response to requests from residents who live in the neighborhood to consider construction of a safe walking path to the school.

A staff memo accompanying the resolution indicates that the city considered a much longer project that would have extended roughly a mile – all the way to the city limits near Holyoke Lane. But based on feedback from public meetings, the city opted for a reduced version of the project. There had been concern about the impact of a non-motorized sidewalk  on natural features and on the “rural character” of Newport Road along that stretch.

Some residents whose property does not front the section of the sidewalk that’s being contemplated have nevertheless indicated a willingness to pay a special assessment to fund the project. That sentiment was conveyed in a 79-signature petition received by the city in late 2012. Special assessments typically apply to just properties immediately adjacent to the sidewalk.

Funds generated from the sidewalk repair millage, approved by voters in 2011, can be spent only on repairing existing sidewalks, not to construct new sections of sidewalk to fill in gaps.

The timeline indicated in the staff memo provided for four months – from February to May – to perform a topographical analysis, prepare preliminary alternatives/cost estimates, and investigate special assessment and other funding opportunities. The month of June would be used to get additional feedback from the public. In August, the city council would authorize final design, construction and funding. From September this year through February 2014, the project would be designed and the multiple, sequenced special assessment resolutions would move through the city council, then the construction would be bid out. Following that general timeframe would allow construction sometime in the summer of 2014.

This is the second sidewalk design project budget that the council has authorized in the last two months. On Nov. 19, 2012, the council approved a $15,000 project budget to design alternatives for a stretch along Scio Church Road. That also came in response to a petition submitted to the city with over 70 signatures.

On Sept. 17, 2012, the council had considered but rejected a proposal added late to that meeting’s agenda to establish a five-year plan to eliminate sidewalk gaps in the city.

Newport Sidewalk Planning Budget: Public Comment

Kathy Griswold spoke in support of the two sidewalk resolutions – especially the one for Newport Road. She called it a good first step. But she encouraged the city to look at a comprehensive system for identifying gaps in the sidewalks – which she believed was taking place now. She also wanted the city to prioritize which gaps to fill and to find funding. She mentioned an post that generated 305 comments, which she attributed to confusion about the city’s crosswalk ordinance language. When she tried to find the ordinance language online, she visited the city’s Walk Bike Drive, which she contended had a link to the old ordinance. So she understood why people are confused. She said she was appreciative of the Ann Arbor police department’s efforts and the safety they provide to the community, saying that neither they nor the traffic engineers should be blamed. She asked the council to take the political element out of transportation safety and engineering in this community.

By way of background, the wording of the current ordinance – after two revisions in two years by the city council – reads as follows:

10:148. – Pedestrians crossing streets.
(a) When traffic-control signals are not in place or are not in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop before entering a crosswalk and yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian stopped at the curb, curb line or ramp leading to a crosswalk and to every pedestrian within a crosswalk when the pedestrian is on the half of the roadway on which the vehicle is traveling or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the roadway as to be in danger.
(b) A pedestrian shall not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into a path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield.
(c) Every pedestrian crossing a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway.

Griswold has previously pointed out the tension that results from motorists following the ordinance while school crossing safety patrol members follow the AAA safety manual for school crossing guards, which includes the directive, “Never allow students to walk in front of a car that stops to allow them to cross.”

Newport Sidewalk Planning Budget: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off deliberations on the agenda item by describing how residents along Newport Road have requested installation of a sidewalk for over a year. That was stimulated in part by concern that public school busing might become “a thing of the past,” she said. If their children have to walk to school or to a park, then they would prefer to do it off the street instead of on the street.

Briere noted that despite the fact that the project had been reduced in scale, many residents haven’t given up hope that the sidewalk would eventually go all the way to the city line. She thanked everybody who’s worked so hard. She encouraged the council to improve sidewalks in the city by filling in this gap on Newport. She noted that the project budget now is for design – and actual construction costs would be borne by residents who live in the neighborhood of Newport Road.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2)

From left: City councilmembers Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

Addressing the general city-wide issue of sidewalk gaps, mayor John Hieftje indicated that each gap would require a unique solution. Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked if there would be cost savings to the Ann Arbor Public Schools – because AAPS wouldn’t need to provide busing services to the neighborhood. City administrator Steve Powers indicated by way of responding to Petersen that he did not know that level of detail about the AAPS budget, but it was not part of the city staff analysis for the Newport Road sidewalk project. Powers noted that as far as AAPS reviewing its transportation plans, that’s part of a larger strategic direction that the district might be taking: providing safer routes to school for children.

Craig Hupy, the city’s public services area administrator, added that AAPS had identified two sidewalk gaps as priorities – the one on Newport and one near Clague Middle School, which is located on Nixon Road. The Clague sidewalk is being constructed as part of the Safe Routes to School initiative, Hupy said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked if the petition that residents had submitted was the initial step in starting the special assessment district to provide funding for the project. He wanted to know if the $15,000 design budget that the council was voting on would be wrapped into the total project budget to be funded through a special assessment. Hupy told Kunselman that if the project comes to fruition, and a special assessment provides the funding, then the $15,000 for design would be part of the project budget and the general fund would eventually be “made whole.” But that might take five, ten or fifteen years to happen, Hupy cautioned.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) thanked Briere for her work on this. He’d attended the first public meeting when residents were trying to get a sidewalk installed all the way up Newport to the city line.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) followed up on Petersen’s comment about school busing, asking if parents would find the cessation of busing acceptable. Briere responded to Higgins by saying that she’s gone out to Wines Elementary School to enjoy their First Friday walk, and stood there in cold weather watching the kids walk and bike with parents over the bridge. The neighborhood is supportive of this project, she said. It’s not a long distance, and parents seem happy to have their kids walk to school, she noted, but they want them to be safe.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the $15,000 budget for the design of the Newport Road sidewalk.

Rezoning of Limited Geddes Area

The council was asked to give initial approval to rezoning six parcels in the northeast Ann Arbor Hills neighborhood. The sites are to be rezoned from R1B to R1C. Both are types of single-family dwelling districts. The locations are 2014 Geddes Ave.; 2024 Geddes Ave.; 520 Onondaga St.; 2025 Seneca Ave.; 2023 Seneca Ave.; and 2019 Seneca Ave. [.jpg aerial view of parcels] These are six parcels in a block of 10 sites – the other four sites are already zoned R1C.

The planning commission had recommended the rezoning at its Nov. 20, 2012 meeting. The planning commission had considered the rezoning after the city council directed the planning staff to study the issue of rezoning the parcels. That direction came at the council’s Sept. 17, 2012 meeting.

According to a staff memo, the direction on the rezoning came from city council at the request of property owners: Raymond Maturo and Ann Mulhern; Joseph and Suzanne Upton; Rishindra and Gwendolyn Reddy; Shahrzad Vazirzadeh and Chad Patterson; Vassilios Lambropoulos and Artemis Leontis; and the Clan Crawford Jr. Trust.

R1B zoning requires a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet and a minimum lot width of 70 feet. Three of the parcels don’t conform with that zoning. Under the proposed R1C zoning, all parcels would conform with required lot size and width. The rezoning would potentially allow three of the parcels – each lot size currently about 17,500 square feet – to be divided in the future, if other city code requirements are met.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to give initial approval to the rezoning requests. Because a change to zoning is a change to the city’s set of ordinances, to be enacted it will require a second vote after a public hearing at a future meeting of the council.


The council acted on two appointments at its Jan. 22 meeting.

Appointments: Environmental Commission

The council considered a resolution re-appointing Christopher Graham to serve on the city of Ann Arbor’s environmental commission. The resolution was attached to the previous council meeting’s agenda as a communication item to alert councilmembers that their vote to confirm him would be forthcoming.

Graham was initially appointed in 2006 and has served two three-year terms on the commission. Graham is also a member of the executive committee of the Michigan Environmental Council.

During the brief council remarks, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), who serves as one of two city council representatives to the commission, said Graham had recently been elected chair, so she hoped that the council would agree to his re-appointment.

Outcome: The city council voted unanimously to re-appoint Graham to serve on the city environmental commission.

Appointments: Taxicab Board

At the conclusion of the meeting, mayor John Hieftje announced several nominations to boards and commissions, including that of Eric Sturgis to the taxicab board. Ordinarily, appointments take place in a two-step process: (1) names are nominated at a meeting of the city council; and (2) at a subsequent meeting, the council votes to confirm the appointment.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

City councilmember Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

However, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) – who serves as the city council representative to the taxicab board – asked that Sturgis be appointed in a one-step process with the vote taken that same evening. Kunselman pointed out that the taxicab board had a meeting on Thursday that week, and it would be useful to have Sturgis attend. [It turned out that Sturgis was not able to attend that meeting, but the board still achieved a quorum.]

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) ventured that it would be useful if Sturgis would update his resume, because the one he’d included with his application indicated he didn’t live in the city of Ann Arbor (though the application itself indicated he did).

Outcome: The city council voted unanimously to appoint Eric Sturgis to serve on the city taxicab board.

Communications and Commentary

Every city council agenda contains multiple slots for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about important issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.

Comm/Comm: Council Public Art Committee

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) gave a brief update on the work of a city council committee that was formed to review the city’s Percent for Art ordinance – in the context of a failed public art millage in November 2012. Briere reported that the committee had met four times so far, including just before that evening’s council meeting. [The group consists of Briere, Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). They were appointed at the council's Dec. 3, 2012 meeting, when the council voted to temporarily halt the expenditure of funds accumulated as a result of the city's Percent for Art ordinance.]

Briere reported that the committee has discussed concerns with the existing ordinance. At this point, the committee is considering changes to the Percent for Art ordinance and to the ordinance on boards and commissions that defines the public art commission – which are the two tasks identified in the council resolution appointing that committee. The committee is also looking for creative ways for art to be administered in the city, although the committee didn’t have a mandate to do that, Briere allowed.

Comm/Comm: Urban Core Transportation

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) noted that meetings were occurring between Ann Arbor Transportation Authority staff and Ann Arbor councilmembers. She described other meetings the AATA was having, with elected leaders from the city of Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township, among others. She seemed to indicate some skepticism that the description of “urban core leaders” was apt, saying that some of the jurisdictions included were those that had opted out of the newly incorporated Act 196 transit authority.

Lumm wanted to make sure that resources are not wasted in planning for expansion of services. She questioned whether it made sense to proceed with this more local effort while the impact of the newly created regional transit authority (RTA) is not yet clearly understood. [The RTA covers the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland, as well as the city of Detroit. For more detailed background on Lumm's remarks, see Chronicle coverage: "AATA OKs Labor, Agency Fee Accords."]

Lumm made an appeal for a city council working session to be held on the topic.

Comm/Comm: Solid Waste Plan

Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), who is one of two city council appointees to the city’s environmental commission, announced that the environmental commission would hold hearings on the updated city solid waste plan. Those hearings were to take place on Jan. 24. The plan would be coming before the city council in a few weeks, he said.

Comm/Comm: Cold Weather

In the context of the recent cold weather, mayor John Hieftje indicated that it had been reported that no one had been forced to sleep outside who didn’t want to be sheltered – anyone who wanted to be sheltered had been sheltered, he said. He indicated that he got data back from the Delonis Center on that. The Delonis Center had also figured out how to accommodate those who are under the influence of drugs and alcohol, he said.

Comm/Comm: Five-Parcel Plan

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) followed up on a Jan. 14 city council work session, which included a presentation from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority on the five city-owned parcels that are part of the Connecting William Street project. The DDA had undertaken the project under the council’s direction, Anglin said, to come back to the council after receiving public input on the future use of the city-owned land.

Anglin felt the DDA did a good job of presenting its perspective, but he felt there was a gap in the presentation. He noted that a number of councilmembers had responded at the working session to that gap. The city’s park advisory commission had urged that there be more open green space in the downtown, he said – saying that was a clear mandate from PAC. So he urged the public to make their voices heard in the new year, suggesting that members of the public might like to consider that a New Year’s resolution. He encouraged people to contact the DDA, PAC, and the city council, to let those public bodies know what should happen on the five downtown city-owned parcels. “You should speak up and tell us what you want,” he said.

At its meeting on Jan. 15, 2013, PAC had decided to study for the next four to six months the views they’d heard from the council and within their own body regarding downtown parks and open space, in order to make recommendations to the council. Anglin indicated a preference for confining the discussion to just the five parcels – because that was the scope of the Connecting William Street project. The CWS project had not included all the land in the downtown area.

Anglin encouraged people to speak up so that the council could hear what the “townspeople really do want.” He appreciated the efforts of groups who had spoken about the use of the space on the top of the underground parking garage as a park. [That space, on South Fifth Avenue, is the focus of advocacy by the Library Green.] Anglin said a group advocating for leaving the space open was looking into whether the top of the garage was actually “build-able,” as had been envisioned by the DDA.

Comm/Comm: Dog Park in West Park

Two members of New Hope Baptist Church had addressed the council at its Jan. 7, 2013 meeting about a proposed dog park in West Park, directly across from the New Hope Baptist Church on Chapin Street. The proposed location had been recommended by the park advisory commission (PAC) at its Dec. 18, 2012 meeting. The item had been expected to be on the council’s Jan. 22 agenda, but it was announced at the Jan. 15, 2012 meeting of PAC that the West Park dog park would not appear on the council’s agenda. At a meeting with church leaders – after PAC’s December vote – it had emerged that the church concerns were more deeply rooted than concerns about noise, safety and smell, and reflected cultural differences about what it means to have a dog park so close to their place of worship.

During public commentary at the council’s Jan. 22 meeting, Aina Bernier introduced herself as a member of the dog owners community. She urged the council to establish a dog park somewhere in West Park. Citing concerns about the size of her carbon footprint, she said she would never drive to one of the two dog parks on the outskirts of town to walk her dog. She read aloud a written statement from another dog owner, Christopher Hewitt. His statement commended efforts of PAC to address the need for a dog park. Ann Arbor lacks a sizable central dog park, and the need for amenities in the central area will only decrease, Hewitt’s statement continued. The lack of a dog park in the central area was one reason he and his wife decided against living there. Dog owners need a practical alternative for exercising dogs, the statement continued, and existing parks aren’t fully utilized – given the amount of money that the city spends on them.

Also addressing the council on the topic of a West Park dog park was John Lawter, who just recently concluded his service on PAC. In December, Lawter had voted as a member of that body to recommend that a provisional dog park be established at the West Park location. He told the council he was there because he’s dismayed that the dog park had been pulled from the agenda based on concerns expressed by New Hope Baptist Church. He contended the concerns stemmed from a gross misunderstanding of canine behavior.

Lawter told the council that as a former member of PAC who’s worked on the issue for years, he was skeptical that the commitment to find an alternative site in the central area would be found. He then ticked through some of the objections to the proposed location inside West Park. As for the contention that the proposed area was too small, he pointed out that playgrounds come in all sizes. Two similarly-sized dog parks could be found in the city of Saline, he said. [Mill Pond Park has an area described on the city's website as a one-acre facility. The proposed area in West Park was described as about a quarter acre. One of the city of Ann Arbor's two existing dog parks is 10 acres, while the other is slightly smaller than a soccer field, or about an acre.]

Lawter took on the idea that a dog park land use is incompatible with a church use by pointing to a dog park in Pinckney, north of Ann Arbor, where the Arise Church owns and operates a dog park that’s open to the public. The church credits it with increasing the size of its congregation. Addressing the concern that the site might become crowded, Lawter asked if the city would not build a playground out of concern that there are too many kids in the neighborhood. Of course not, he said, answering his own question – and the city would begin looking for an additional site after building it.

If people had a concern that dogs smell, bark incessantly and are dangerous, then Lawter suggested they visit the city’s two existing dog parks to see for themselves what goes on there. People who take the time to go to a dog park are not the kind of people who own dangerous, dirty or obnoxious dogs, he contended. People who use dog parks self-police for picking up after their own dogs.

If the site was rejected because of cultural differences, then he argued that no decision should be based solely on one culture’s desires compared to those of another culture. Ann Arbor is a culturally diverse city, he said, and Ann Arbor’s dog owners are also culturally diverse – and parks should be open to all cultures, including “the four-legged variety,” he added. If members of the New Hope congregation are afraid of dogs – and Lawter said he believed they were sincere in that fear – then he said to the members of the congregation: “Please be open to change. Let us put our dog park in. Let us show you there’s nothing to be afraid of.” Fear is an ugly thing, he said, and it should be “put down” whenever possible. The proposal as a temporary facility that could be removed after a year if it’s a problem was, Lawter felt, a fair compromise.

Another speaker with a connection to PAC was Melissa Stults, a recently-appointed commissioner. She was speaking, however, as a resident of Ann Arbor and a dog owner, who was relatively new in town. She wanted to speak to show her support for more dog parks in the city. She pointed to the social benefits of providing amenities for dog owners – saying that after eight months in Ann Arbor, she’s made connections in her neighborhood only to people she meets walking their dogs. That group is an important reason that makes her feel like she belongs here.

Virginia Gordan told the council she’s been a resident of Ann Arbor for more than 30 years, and she was speaking in support of more dog parks. The item establishing the dog park area in West Park was supposed to be on the city council agenda that night, she noted. The last action taken had been PAC’s resolution in December recommending that the dog park area be established. She was dismayed that somehow it had been removed from the agenda.

Gordan said she was very perplexed by the city’s continued reluctance to establish neighborhood dog parks. Other cities have such parks or have parks with off-leash hours. Other cities have had such amenities for 10-20 years – so the concept is not new. But establishing dog parks in Ann Arbor is very difficult, for reasons she did not understand. Out of all the parks in Ann Arbor [157 total] only two were dog parks – and they were on the outskirts of town. There needs to be some proportionality, she said. She certainly wholeheartedly supported other recreational facilities provided by the city, which she described as very expensive but which she has no interest in – like golf, swimming, or baseball. She was happy to pay taxes to support those activities for those who enjoy them. But she contended there should be the same kind of respect for dog parks.

Harold Kirchen introduced himself as one of the Ann Arbor dog owners. Like John Lawter, he pointed to the Arise Church dog park in Pinckney as an example of the possible coexistence of a church with a dog park. A dog park is not just a place for dogs to get exercise, he said. Like Missy Stults, Kirchen also pointed out that dog parks were a way for dog owners to make friends. He called on PAC to allay the fears that people had about dog parks and not to be swayed by NIMBY complaints.

Comm/Comm: Israel/Palestine

Blaine Coleman led off by alluding to remarks made by Thomas Partridge during his turn of public commentary (see below). Partridge had implicitly criticized Coleman’s choice of topic, but had asked the council to pass a resolution calling on the federal government to appropriate funding to provide affordable housing, transportation, health care and education throughout the country. Coleman told the council that Partridge’s proposed resolution makes a lot of sense – because it makes sense to spend billions on infrastructure, and the city council should be jumping to pass a resolution like that. But Coleman contended that the council would not pass a resolution like that, and quoted writings of Martin Luther King Jr. in support of that contention, which were recorded during the Vietnam War: “… and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today – my own government.” Coleman drew a comparison of the inability of the U.S. simultaneously to provide for domestic needs and fight the Vietnam War, and current conditions that have the U.S. in continued military engagement abroad. The U.S. is “gobbling up the resources of the planet,” he said.

Coleman continued by contending that Israel has massacred thousands of Arabs and Palestinians. In that context, Coleman asked why Warpehoski would promise not to make a vote as a councilmember that is critical of Israel – given that Warpehoski is the executive director of a peace group [Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice]. Coleman wondered if anyone had asked Warpehoski to make such a promise and if Warpehoski had received anything in return for making that promise.

Mozhgan Savabieasfahani told the council she was there to speak about what she always does – to ask the council to boycott Israel, which she called a “Nazi, racist state” throughout her remarks. Israel receives billions of dollars a year in U.S. aid to maintain colonial, violent conditions, she said. Israeli soldiers, she claimed, would shoot children dead on sight. Ann Arbor councilmembers drink their coffee and read their emails but do nothing to stop what she described as genocide. She called for stopping aid to Israel. She contended there was a global movement toward a boycott of Israel, and she asked people not to buy things that are made in Israel. She noted that she’s been addressing the council since 2002. Of the councilmembers who have served, only one person – Chuck Warpehoski – has indicated he is against some of the violence Israel commits. Warpehoski has said he’s against military aid to Israel, Savabieasfahani said. She wanted Warpehoski to act on that. Instead, she said, he sits quietly and does nothing.

Councilmembers typically don’t respond – either directly or indirectly – to public commentary remarks. However, during council communications time, Warpehoski responded to the comments of Coleman and Savabieasfahani. He began by comparing them to two-year-olds – saying that his daughter is two years old and sometimes acts in ways that are designed to get attention and that generally he does not respond to that kind of attention-seeking behavior. But in this case, he indicated that it was important to respond. When he ran for office, he continued, he did a lot of “discernment.” He felt his duty as a councilmember is to serve the community. And he’d come to a personal decision that the best way he could serve the community – given the “noise” around the Israel-Palestine issue – would be to stay away from it as long as the demonstrations continue outside the Beth Israel synagogue.

Comm/Comm: Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Reads

During communications time, Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) said he’d been impressed with sheriff Jerry Clayton. Warpehoski mention that he and Clayton had attended a meeting where Clayton had recommended that people read Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” The book is part of the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Reads program this year.

Comm/Comm: Corrections to the Minutes

Sally Petersen (Ward 2) asked that the minutes of the Jan. 7 special session be revised to reflect the fact that Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) was present for the closed session, arriving about 6:15 p.m., and present when the meeting reconvened at 6:47 p.m. [Kailasapathy had not been present when the attendance roll call was taken or when the roll call vote to enter into a closed session was taken.]

Comm/Comm: Energy

A U.S. Department of Energy grant accepted by the council at it previous meeting on Jan. 7, 2103 was the starting point for remarks made by Kermit Schlansker during public commentary. The problem with getting money for a bad project is that it takes money away from a good project, Schlansker said. He noted that the DOE’s award of the wind turbine grant to Ann Arbor illustrates his contention that DOE does not know how to spend its money – and needs to be led by local units of government, like cities. There’s nothing new about windmills, he said. He cited the rooftop of Mitchell Elementary and Scarlett Middle schools as a good place to install solar panels. He mentioned that last summer during a heat wave, the amount of power had dwindled in his part of the city. He said the DOE money would be better spent buying land to construct an energy farm.

Comm/Comm: Affordable Services

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a resident of Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor, Michigan’s 18th senate district and 53rd house district, noting that he’s run for office to represent those districts. He said he still has finance committees from those campaigns and will be a candidate in 2014. He said he was there during an important week celebrating the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. – not to talk about dog parks or about trying to cause turmoil in Ann Arbor by using international controversy. He asked the council to pass a resolution calling on the White House to fund affordable transportation, health care, housing, and education and to end homelessness throughout the country. He asked for the recall of Gov. Rick Snyder and mayor John Hieftje.

Partridge also addressed the council during public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting. He was critical of the city that its offices were closed on Jan. 21 in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when other organizations like the University of Michigan had scheduled a full two weeks of events that were related to MLK Day. Partridge reported that he’d attended the keynote address by Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, but had not seen any city councilmembers at that event. He called on the council to reset its moral and public policy compass to advance the cause of the most vulnerable. Partridge found it inexplicable that Hieftje appeared to ignore the personal attacks against Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) by those he ventured might be paid representatives of Palestine. He contended that Warpehoski was being criticized because he appears to be a Christian who ran on an agenda of peace and justice, not on causing more conflict in the city of Ann Arbor.

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Sabra Briere, Sumi Kailasapathy, Sally Petersen, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Chuck Warpehoski.

Absent: Margie Teall.

Next council meeting: Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [Check Chronicle event listings to confirm date]

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  1. January 26, 2013 at 6:43 pm | permalink

    The question of how new connections to the water utilities system are handled is rooted in custom and history, but also has legal implications. I’m not sure that I agree with the action the Council took in this case, but I do think that the rationale for the entire price structure could use a second look.

    The system is treated like a cooperative, in that the owners of parcels buy in to the system when the property is first developed, then simply pay the ongoing usage fees thereafter. This is best suited to the incorporation of large new subdivisions, when an entire new infrastructure is being developed. I am somewhat familiar with this from service on the county’s Board of Public Works. The BPW oversaw the development of systems for several lake communities. There were special assessment districts developed for these; property owners paid for the systems both with upfront fees and assessments over a period of time. Obviously, anyone seeking to be added to the system later had to match this initial investment by others. This often entailed running more pipe or even increasing capacity. (Bigger treatment plants.)

    The logic is less obvious when we are adding parcels surrounded by member parcels, since most of the infrastructure is already there. And as indicated by some councilmembers, there might be social or land use considerations that we would like to apply. However, it is important to remember that this is a user fee-paid system, not a tax department. In other words, the Bolt decision applies. So we need to be cautious if we begin subsidizing new service through the user fees paid by all other users. With services paid for by taxes, we could assign societal values so that some services are offered at less than cost, with the pooled taxes paying for the difference. That is not really appropriate here, unless we create a separate tax-funded “charity” application.

    I recall that the city increased hook-up fees noticeably under the administration of Sue McCormick. She stated that we were not recovering the cost of this new service. It would be valuable to audit those cost evaluations now that the new system is in place. Are the new fee levels merited by actual cost, or are they simply a programmed increase?

    Additional note: I believe that the city also offered a number of township island properties an amnesty on the new rates whereby they were allowed to hook up at the old lower rate if they applied for annexation to the city in a certain time frame. This presumably increased the taxable value of the city, providing some tax revenue for other worthy uses.

  2. By Blaine Coleman
    January 26, 2013 at 8:13 pm | permalink

    Councilmember Warpehoski campaigned on his leadership of a peace group with a heavy international focus that included Palestine.

    Furthermore, since January 1984, Palestinian human rights campaigners, and their allies, have made enormous efforts to ask Ann Arbor City Council for sanctions against Israel.

    In fact, Councilmember Warpehoski’s own group supported those efforts with their own divestment resolution against the Israeli military.

    So I have to ask:

    1. Why does Councilmember Warpehoski dismiss those efforts as “noise”?

    2. Who asked him to promise that he won’t vote for any resolution critical of Israel?

    3. How can he dismiss Ann Arbor’s entire Palestinian populaton so easily?

    It should be elementary for a peace executive, like Councilmember Warpehoski, to discern the difference between a superpower occupier (Israel) and an occupied people pushed to the brink of starvation (Palestine).

  3. By Mark Koroi
    January 27, 2013 at 8:26 pm | permalink

    The City Council voted unanimously to appoint Eric Sturgis to the Taxicab Board.

    Interstingly, the first thing Sturgis does as a member of he Taxicab Board is fail to appear for the first meeting as a board member two days later. Did he have an excuse?

    An there is still confusion about his residence as there was when he ran for City Council. His resume does not reflect an Ann Arbor residency.

    Was this Hieftje nomination just a political payback for his opposition to Sumi Kalasapathy?

  4. January 27, 2013 at 8:58 pm | permalink

    Re: [2] ” … the first thing Sturgis does as a member of the Taxicab Board is fail to appear for the first meeting as a board member ”

    I attended the taxicab board meeting, and hope to offer a report out on that meeting. During the conversation about attendance and scheduling, it emerged that Sturgis had actually applied for an appointment with the understanding that the board regularly met at 8:00 a.m., which it did when he applied. The board has since changed its meeting time (in an effort to achieve a quorum more easily). Even with Sturgis, there’s a vacancy on the five-member board. That means it’s still somewhat of a challenge to achieve a quorum. If two members are absent, they can’t conduct business. On Jan. 24, however, they had three members and were able to handle an appeal from a driver who’d been denied a license. (Spoiler alert: The appeal was granted.)

    Based on Briere’s comments reported in this article, the issue with residency is that the resume should be updated to reflect his actual residency in the city of Ann Arbor.

    Regarding a possible analysis of any appointment to the taxicab board as a political reward, I’m skeptical – regardless of the personalities involved. It’s long been a challenge to find people to sit on the taxicab board. If anything, I’d say the appointee is doing the appointer a favor, not the other way around. I think service on the taxicab board probably epitomizes “thankless public service.” I was glad the stars happened to align so that I was able to wedge it into my schedule last week.

  5. By Gill
    January 27, 2013 at 10:13 pm | permalink

    I see the connection fee for a 1.5″ water service in Ypsilanti (YCUA) is $2,800, and the City of Ann Arbor is $5,900. The connection fee for a 4″ sanitary service in YCUA is $1,600, and the City of A2 is $35,700. Why the large difference in sanitary fees?

  6. By Alan Goldsmith
    January 28, 2013 at 9:47 am | permalink

    “I see the connection fee for a 1.5″ water service in Ypsilanti (YCUA) is $2,800, and the City of Ann Arbor is $5,900. The connection fee for a 4″ sanitary service in YCUA is $1,600, and the City of A2 is $35,700. Why the large difference in sanitary fees?”

    If this information is correct, it’s a clear indication that Ann Arbor isn’t interested in affordable housing for middle class families and individuals. All these costs add up as we move towards a city more interested in the Ann Arbor One Per Cents and less about everyone else.

  7. January 28, 2013 at 11:28 am | permalink

    The two systems are entirely different and have different cost structures. YCUA buys water from the City of Detroit (a whole nother story) and Ann Arbor must obtain and treat its own drinking water. I’m not current on this, but at one time YCUA was incinerating its sludge, while we have been spared that environmental insult.

    I might add that the City of Ann Arbor Wastewater Treatment Plant has been under EPA interdiction for some time and we are at some stage of planning for its expansion or replacement. I haven’t kept up with this, but I’m sure it would have an impact on the costing for adding new service.

    I’d love for some investigative reporter to slog through all the expansion costs (to the system) for downtown development and see whether that has been adequately charged back. I learned during the (last) conference center exercise that the downstream sewer from the Library Lot has capacity problems. People don’t consider when these big residential buildings are being built downtown that the “existing infrastructure” wasn’t constructed for hundreds of showers and toilet flushes every morning. I suspect that a large FOIA budget and tons of time would be required.

  8. By Gill
    January 28, 2013 at 12:14 pm | permalink

    It seems like the high fees would encourage builders to max out the house size (and sale value) to offset the total costs to develop. So instead of a small ranch house with 1.5 baths, we get a 4,000 square foot house with 6 bathrooms, 3 water heaters, and 2 furnaces. This is alright for student rental houses, but probably not affordable one-lot single family homes outside the downtown.

  9. January 28, 2013 at 12:41 pm | permalink

    Re (8) I wonder how much land is left within the city for single-family house development? I have noticed some big ones going in around the Geddes/Gallup park area. But I’m guessing that utility hookup fees are a very small part of the cost estimation. New construction is always expensive.

  10. January 29, 2013 at 11:51 am | permalink

    I think the decision to deny the nearly automatic increase in the water and sewer connection fees is more meaningful than this one consent agenda item. For years the City has routinely increased fines, fees and the cost of doing business with the City. Questioning the fee increases would have been unimaginable just last year.

    Of particular note, the staff was unable to draw a direct link between the rate charged for connecting these services and whether any particular project would be funded. Only a couple of dozen property owners pay this fee in any year. The combined $41,000 in fees times 24 instances of connection would generate about $1 million dollars. While that seems substantial, it is really just a drop in the bucket compared to the actual cost of any one sewer or water main project. Each such project relies on a different combination of funding sources (federal, state and local) and this fee is not related to any precise calculation of need.

    The “Fixed Charges for the 2013 Water and Sanitary Sewer Improvement Charges” resolution appeared on the consent agenda and would likely have drawn no attention if it had been approved on a voice vote for the whole consent agenda. Council Member Jane Lumm asked that the resolution be considered separately because she had some questions for staff. I don’t think she intended to seek denial of the resolution but the answers to her questions and the questions of other Council Members led to the conclusion by most that this fee increase was not necessary.

    These connection fees have increased by about 50% in nine years. But for the attention drawn to the continuing increases and the lack of connection to any funding need, the fees would have continued to increase at a rate well above the general rate of inflation.

    In the end, Council voted 6-4 (Teall absent) to deny the fee increases. The real significance of this vote is that Council as currently configured may not be willing to support almost automatic fee and fine increases. I think this new scrutiny of fee increases is much more significant than the single vote taken at that meeting.

  11. By Walter Cramer
    January 30, 2013 at 8:19 am | permalink

    So…it costs about $41,000 for water/sewer hook-ups for a single-family house built on an empty lot. What is the hook-up cost, if a few small retail buildings (say, 4 stores, 3 little offices, and 2 apartments) are replaced by a 14-story apartment building with 200+ apartments (say, 500 bedrooms)? If the City doesn’t charge about $41K x 200 = $8,200,000, well why not? You could argue that the single family house will use more water than any apartment (watering the lawn & such), but with footer drains disconnected, will it use much more sewer service?

  12. January 31, 2013 at 2:09 pm | permalink

    As an update, this report [link] mentions the $120 million in revenue bonds voted to replace the Wastewater Treatment plant last year (sewage treatment) and now the Water Treatment plant needs some fixes. A possibility of higher fees is discussed.