Archive for April, 2013

AirRide Talks OK’d, Ypsilanti to Join AATA?

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (April 18, 2013): Board member David Nacht’s final regular meeting after 10 years of service included action on a significant project he’d worked on during that time: bus service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

AATA board member David Nacht

AATA board member David Nacht. (Photos by the writer.)

To provide the AirRide service, which was launched a year ago, the AATA is currently in negotiations with Michigan Flyer to revise terms of the second year of the contract. While the first year called for the AATA to pay Michigan Flyer an amount not to exceed $700,000 for the hourly service, the ridership – given the structure of the revenue-sharing deal – has resulted in a far lower cost.

So the board passed a resolution at its April 18 meeting reflecting the current status of negotiations, which are pointing toward a not-to-exceed amount of $300,000 for the contract’s second year. The board’s action rescinded a resolution it had passed at the previous month’s meeting, in favor of one that reflected the current status of negotiations between AATA and Michigan Flyer.

Besides the resolution on AirRide, the only other item requiring a vote was one honoring David Nacht’s decade of service on the board – which covered two full five-year terms. During his brief remarks, Nacht thanked the riders of the AATA’s service, the bus drivers and the mechanics. He also thanked his family – his two sons attended the meeting. In addition, Nacht thanked the Ann Arbor mayor and city council, which make the appointments to the AATA board. At the council’s April 15 meeting, mayor John Hieftje had announced the nomination of Eric Mahler, currently a city planning commissioner, to replace Nacht.

Discussion on non-voting items included the future of public transportation in the broader region – in two significant ways.

First, board members lamented the fact that no U.S. company, and more specifically no Michigan company, had bid on the AATA’s request for proposals to replace battery kits for its hybrid electric buses. But board sentiment was that a larger purchasing consortium for such kits might eventually be achieved through the newly-created southeast Michigan regional transit authority (RTA) – which includes the transit agencies in Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland Counties. And that larger consortium might make it worth the while of a Michigan company that’s a part of the state’s nascent battery industry to invest in the capability to produce bus battery kits.

Second, the board was paid a visit by Ypsilanti city councilmember Pete Murdock, who alerted the board to the likelihood that the city of Ypsilanti would make a formal request to join the AATA. The request would need approval from the AATA board and almost certainly the Ann Arbor city council, and could have implications for board membership. The goal of such a move would be to provide a more stable financial foundation for Ypsilanti bus service.

The city of Ypsilanti itself already levies its constitutional cap of 20 mills of property tax. If the AATA were to ask voters of member jurisdictions to approve a millage – an authority the AATA does not currently exercise – that additional amount would not count against Ypsilanti’s constitutional cap. [Full Story]

Column: Literati’s “Moment on the Page”

In the depths, it is tough to have faith that all things must pass.

I have been cobbling together a living since July 2009, when New York-based Advance Publications shut down Ann Arbor’s daily newspaper. It was a trauma, pure and simple, for me and for many of my colleagues. After almost 20 years at The News and 30 years as a newspaperwoman, my “career” was dead and the newspaper industry eventually would be, too – at least as we knew it. Some really bleak months followed for all of us.

Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor business, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

A crowd showed up for Literati’s first event on Friday evening, April 5. The new downtown bookstore is located at Washington and Fourth Avenue.

One of the ways I pay the mortgage now is with earnings from my freelance editing business. One of my clients was the Michigan Theater, which in 2011 hired me to edit a history of the theater. The manuscript’s author, Henry Aldridge, recently retired from the faculty of Eastern Michigan University; in the 1970s he rallied the community to rescue the Michigan from the wrecking ball and for decades has been one of the theater’s organists.

Over a number of months Henry and I would meet at Biggby Coffee on East Liberty Street and, chapter by chapter, shape his story of how a movie palace built for silent films in the 1920s weathered dramatic shifts in the film industry and the damage done to downtown America by postwar suburban sprawl, to ultimately stand firm as an Ann Arbor cultural landmark. It is an inspiring tale.

After one of our sessions we stood together outside Biggby and glumly beheld the dead sidewalk in front of the newly vacated Borders flagship store – a community institution that the community could not save. The ironies did not escape us.

The loss was especially personal for Henry; the bankruptcy had thrown a young friend of his out of a job she adored. Shannon Alden was a 14-year veteran of Borders with a passion for children’s literature. Henry was prodding her to find another way to use her gifts for connecting with people and sharing her delight in books. He urged me to contact her if only to offer some moral support; both of us had taken a hard blow to our sense of purpose because of a revolution in the economics of reading. Newspapers, bookstores – the Internet was killing them both.

So it is not a little ironic that months of blogging and Facebooking kept us up to date on the city’s much-anticipated new downtown bookstore before Literati officially opened its doors at 124 E. Washington St. on Easter Sunday. [Full Story]

Packard & Brockman

Fraser’s Pub sign indicates a claim to serving the best breakfast anywhere in town.

Smaller Deficit to Inform AAPS Budget Talks

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education regular meeting  (April 10, 2013): Editor’s note: Since this board meeting took place, the board of trustees has held a study session – on April 17. And several community meetings on the budget have taken place. The Chronicle anticipates being able to provide coverage of those events as well.

 Wines Elementary 5th grade chorus

Wines Elementary 5th grade chorus performed during the board’s April 10, 2013 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

At the meeting, the board of trustees was presented with a revenue projection report that now forecasts just a $8.67 million deficit for the 2013-14 school year, compared to the previously-projected $17-20 million shortfall.

The trustees were pleased that the numbers were “less bad” than was initially projected, but they acknowledged that the remaining $8.67 million was still a daunting amount to cut. Concessions totaling $3.4 million have already been made by the Ann Arbor Education Association (AAEA).

The board heard extensive public commentary on several possible budget cuts.

The board also finalized policy changes that had been brought forward by president Deb Mexicotte. The policy changes include placing time limits on board meetings, imposing time limits for item discussions, and changing the board’s committee structure.

After some discussion, the trustees settled on their previous standing committee structure of a planning committee and a performance committee. They also voted to add a governance and an executive committee.

Additionally, the trustees approved a purchase request for software licenses in the amount of $232,486. They also heard a first briefing of the spring grant awards. [Full Story]

UM: Mary Sue Coleman

James David Dickson, op-ed editor of The Detroit News, reflects on how a University of Michigan degree became more financially inaccessible during president Mary Sue Coleman’s tenure: “There are serious blemishes on Mary Sue Coleman’s record at Michigan. That she tried to eliminate racial disparities in access to higher education, disparities that were consciously created and studiously maintained in Metro Detroit for decades, is not one of them. That the University of Michigan has only become tougher to afford for the broke family of a smart kid during Coleman’s tenure is.” [Source]

AADL Weighs Small Tax Hike in FY 2014

Ann Arbor District Library board meeting (April 15, 2013): Two main topics were discussed at the April AADL board meeting: The draft budget for fiscal 2013-14, and a proposal for an ice-skating rink on the city-owned Library Lane parking lot, adjacent to the downtown library on South Fifth Avenue.

Margaret Leary, Ed Surovell, Ann Arbor District Library, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Ann Arbor District Library trustees Margaret Leary and Ed Surovell. (Photos by the writer.)

The $12.475 million proposed budget calls for levying the AADL’s tax at a rate of 1.575-mill – a small increase from the current 1.55-mill rate, but still below the amount that AADL is authorized to levy. [.pdf of draft 2013-14 budget]

Ken Nieman – AADL’s associate director of finance, HR and operations – told the board that the budget includes a 3% increase in the merit raise pool for full-time employees and an increase in hourly base rates for part-time workers. The administration wanted to make sure that the library’s lower-paying jobs start at more than $9 per hour. “It will help us attract people and hopefully also keep people as we compete against other businesses out there,” he said.

The board is expected to vote on the budget and set the millage rate on May 6, but several trustees made comments about the draft budget during the April 15 meeting. Ed Surovell argued strongly against even a small tax increase, and said he wouldn’t be voting for a budget that includes any increase to the millage. It’s estimated that the additional 0.025 mills would increase the amount of the library tax for homeowners by $2.50 per year, for a home that has a taxable value of $100,000. The increase is estimated to result in an additional $185,000 in tax revenues, compared to a 1.55-mill rate.

The April 15 meeting also included a presentation by Stewart Gordon and Alan Haber, who are advocating to put a temporary, artificial ice-skating rink at the northwest corner of the Library Lane parking lot. They asked the board to designate a liaison from the library, to facilitate communications as the project unfolds – they hope to construct and open it by Oct. 15. Several commissioners board members expressed skepticism about the proposal, stressing concerns over financing and security issues.

The board also heard from five people during public commentary. Topics included concerns over the hiring of Allerton-Hill Consulting, and thanks for support the library’s support of the ArborWiki and Old News projects. [Full Story]

Ypsilanti: Master Plan

WEMU reports on a clash between an update to Ypsilanti’s master plan regarding the long-vacant Water Street site, and a possible Washtenaw County recreation center, which has been proposed for the northwest corner of the property. From the report: “The design team that’s taking public input and converting it into recommendations for council recommends locating the proposed recreation center further south on the parcel, mostly due to the building’s large size and parking requirements.” [Source]

Ypsilanti May Ask to Join AATA

The Ypsilanti city council might ask that Ypsilanti join the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Ypsilanti city councilmember Pete Murdock informed the AATA board of that possibility during remarks at the board’s April 18, 2013 meeting. On the Ypsilanti city council’s agenda for April 23 is a resolution making the request. [.pdf of Ypsilanti council resolution]

Ypsilanit councilmember Pete Murdoch addressed the AATA board meeting on April 18, 2013.

Ypsilanti councilmember Pete Murdock addressed the AATA board meeting on April 18, 2013. (Photo by the writer.)

The resolution enjoys the support of Murdock as well as Ypsilanti mayor Paul … [Full Story]

AATA OKs AirRide Negotiations

Bus service between downtown Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro Airport could continue for a second year, at a significantly reduced cost to the AATA compared to the current contract. That’s the result of a resolution authorized by the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority at its April 18, 2013 meeting.

Ridership on AATA AirRide Service through April 2013

Ridership on AATA AirRide service through April 2013.

The AATA provides the hourly service by contracting with Michigan Flyer. The current agreement between Michigan Flyer and AATA has a yearly not-to-exceed cost of $700,000 per year, running for two years starting April 1, … [Full Story]

AATA Bids Farewell to Nacht

The board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority has bid farewell to David Nacht, whose second five-year term will end on May 5, 2013. A resolution passed by the board at Nacht’s final regular board meeting, on April 18, 2013, highlighted several specific contributions made by Nacht during his decade of service.

Among the contributions cited in the resolution are: pursuing public transportation service between Ann Arbor and the Detroit Metropolitan Airport (AirRide); serving as chair of the board; serving as treasurer of the board; and helping negotiate the contract with the University of Michigan to provide service to university affiliates.

The traditional parting gift from the AATA to retiring board members is a mailbox, painted to make it resemble an AATA bus. … [Full Story]

UM: New Grad Housing

A $110 million donation by Charles Munger will fund a 600-occupant, 8-story graduate student dorm and academic complex at the University of Michigan. The donation is the largest ever received by UM. The dorm will be located on the north side of East Madison Street between South Division and Thompson. As a point of reference, the area covers the location of the current Blimpy Burger building on the west. [Source]

In it for the Money: Not Safe for Work

Editor’s note: Nelson’s “In it for the Money” opinion column appears regularly in The Chronicle, roughly around the third Wednesday of the month. FYI, Nelson has recently written a piece for The Magazine about a device to adapt a digital camera to pinhole technology, called Light Motif – possibly of interest to Chronicle readers.

David Erik Nelson Column

David Erik Nelson

This was going to be another column about “gun control.” Despite my repeated threats to be “done talking about guns,” it turns out I had another roughly 8,000 words worth of opinion, math, and legalistic nitpickery. (Spoiler alert: Prospects are bleak for “gun control” fixing the problems we want fixed.)

But then events unfolded in Boston, and it was the opinion of this fine publication’s editor that maybe we should go with something a bit more “light and fluffy” to break up our unbearably bleak march to the grave.

To this I assented [1]. It’ll be back to guns next month.

So for this month I’ll return to a topic I’ve written about before: education. This time I’ll start by asking: How do school books get written? And who writes them?

I can shed some light on the first question, because the answer to the second one is: This guy! And not all of them are classroom reference works on Internet pornography.  [Full Story]

Fourth Ave. & Washington

Bob Margraves is on a ladder painting over graffiti in the alley next to the Blue Tractor. Says he’ll be heading down to work on the Grizzly Peak building next, which also got hit. Takes me on a mini-tour of the alley to show extensive graffiti, including this area on the Arena building. [photo] Business is good for him, but costly to owners of downtown buildings.

Washtenaw & Hewitt

Blue Wolf Grill on Washtenaw towards Ypsilanti (just past Putters miniature golf). Downtown food at Carpenter Road prices. A spontaneous recommendation of an obscure but surprisingly great eatery, in a non-glamourous location. [not a paid/rewarded endorsement]

Skyline High School

From the surrounding boggy woods, irrefutable evidence of the arrival of spring: the sound of spring peepers, peeping.

Equalization: Washtenaw Property Values Rise

After several years of reporting declining tax revenues, Raman Patel had good news for Washtenaw County commissioners: Stronger signs of economic recovery, reflected in a 1.68% increase in taxable value. Patel, director of the county’s equalization department, briefed commissioners on the 2013 equalization report at the board’s April 17, 2013 meeting. The board later unanimously approved a resolution accepting the report.

Equalized (assessed) value is used to calculate taxable value, which determines tax revenues for the county as well as its various municipalities and other entities that rely on taxpayer dollars, including schools, libraries and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, among others.

For 2013, taxable value in the county increased 1.68% to $14.2 billion. That’s an improvement over declines seen in recent … [Full Story]

County Takes Step Toward 4-Year Budget

Washtenaw County commissioners have given initial approval to a four-year budget planning cycle, a change from the current two-year cycle that’s been in place since 1994. The 6-1 vote came during the board’s April 17, 2013 meeting, with final approval expected on May 1. Voting against the item was Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6). Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was not in the room when the vote was taken.

The board had been briefed on the issue at a Feb. 21, 2013 working session. County administrator Verna McDaniel has cited several benefits to a longer budget planning cycle, saying it would provide more stability and allow the county to intervene earlier in potential deficit situations. State law requires that the board approve … [Full Story]

County Honors Local Residents, Employees

At its April 17, 2013 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners passed resolutions of appreciation honoring Rabbi Robert Dobrusin and several residents from the city of Saline, as well as the county’s chief deputy treasurer who is retiring after 41 years of service. In addition, the board declared the week of April 14-20 2013, as National Public Safety Telecommunicator Week in Washtenaw County. Several members of the county’s dispatch operations were on hand and received recognition from the board.

Dobrusin was recognized for 25 years of “providing spiritual and pastoral support” for the Beth Israel congregation in Ann Arbor, the city’s “oldest Jewish Institution.” Also cited was his work as a founding member of the Interfaith Round Table of Washtenaw … [Full Story]

County Board Ends “Washtenaw Ride”

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners voted officially to dissolve a countywide public transit authority known as the Washtenaw Ride. The 7-1 vote took place at the board’s April 17, 2013 meeting, without discussion, and followed initial approval given on April 3. Voting against the resolution was Conan Smith (D-District 9), but he did not comment on his decision during the meeting. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.

The Act 196 authority, created in mid-2012 and spearheaded by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, was for all practical purposes ended late last year when the Ann Arbor city council voted to opt out of the transit authority at its Nov. 8, 2012 meeting. Of the 28 municipalities in Washtenaw … [Full Story]

New Jobs at CSTS Get Final County OK

The creation of 39 new jobs and the reclassification of 76 others for Washtenaw County’s community support and treatment service (CSTS) department were authorized by the county board of commissioners at its April 17, 2013 meeting. Initial approval had been given on April 3, 2013.

CSTS is a county department employing about 300 people, but receives most of its funding from the Washtenaw Community Health Organization, a partnership between the county and the University of Michigan Health System. The WCHO is an entity that receives state and federal funding to provide services for people with serious mental illness, developmental disabilities and substance abuse disorders. WCHO contracts for services through CSTS. Although staffing has remained fairly constant in … [Full Story]

Weatherization Grant Gets Initial Approval

Washtenaw County commissioners have given initial approval to accept $185,654 in funds for the county’s weatherization assistance program. The unanimous vote came at the board’s April 17, 2013 meeting, with final approval expected on May 1.

The funding roughly equals the amount of federal weatherization dollars that the county received in 2012, which was a decrease of about 65% compared to 2011 federal funding levels. The current funding is allocated through the 2013 Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The county last received LIHEAP funding in 2010, but has received weatherization grants from other federal funding sources in the intervening years.

For the period from April 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, the program is expected to weatherize 27 homes. According … [Full Story]

Eaton Pulls Petitions for Ward 4 City Council

Jack Eaton has taken out petitions to contest the 2013 Democratic primary election in Ward 4 for the Ann Arbor city council. City clerk records show that he took out the petitions on April 17. Eaton is a labor attorney. Over the last several years, he’s been actively involved in advocating for neighborhoods.

Jack Eaton talked to Ward 2 councilmember Jane Lumm before the councils April 15, 2013  meeting started.

Jack Eaton talked to Ward 2 councilmember Jane Lumm before the council’s April 15, 2013 meeting started.

Ward 4 incumbent Marcia Higgins, who’s served on the council for over a decade, took out petitions on Dec. 31, 2012.

Higgins and Eaton will need to file their petitions with at least 100 valid signatures by the May 14 deadline.

Eaton has contested the Democratic primary election twice in recent years, both times against incumbent Margie Teall. In the August 2012 Democratic primary, the race was close enough to require a recount, as Eaton and Teall received 846 and 866 votes, respectively. That was the total after a recount of the ballots. The 2010 primary race was not as close, when Eaton polled 642 (30.63%) to Teall’s 1,448 (69.08%). [Full Story]

A2: Bill’s Beer Garden

A post on Discover Michigan features Bill’s Beer Garden, located in the courtyard of Downtown Home & Garden in Ann Arbor: “This is the type of beer place parents can bring their kids to and not feel weird about it. This is a place to simply bring one’s child, hang out with your friends, take in the sunshine, and people watch.” The beer garden opens for the season on May 2. [Source]

R4C Revisions Move to City Council

At their April 16, 2013 meeting, Ann Arbor planning commissioners recommended that the city council approve a set of changes to the city’s R4C/R2A residential zoning districts. The commission also recommended that the city council direct the planning staff and commissioners to develop ordinance language that would implement these recommendations.

Any specific ordinance changes would require separate review by the planning commission and approval by the council. That process is likely to take several months, at least. [.pdf of staff report and R4C/R2A recommendations]

The R4C/R2A recommendations were made by the planning commission’s ordinance revisions committee (ORC), informed by an advisory committee that had made a separate report last year. Planning commissioners had been briefed on the recommendations at their April … [Full Story]