Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-53) delivering remarks at a public hearing on the proposed non-change to 1,4 dioxane cleanup standards. [photo] [.pdf of draft Irwin remarks] [Note: The Ann Arbor city council and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners passed resolutions supporting more rigorous standards – at their Sept. 3, 2013 and Sept. 18, 2013 meetings, respectively.]
Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Sept. 18, 2013): With a third of the nine-member board absent, commissioners dispatched their business in one of the shortest sessions in recent memory, lasting only 45 minutes. The early adjournment elicited a round of applause from staff in attendance – the previous meeting on Sept. 4 had lasted about five hours.
Even so, a wide range of resolutions were passed – mostly with no discussion. The absence of three commissioners also led to non-votes on two items originally on the agenda, out of concern that there would not be sufficient support to pass them.
During the meeting, the board postponed a final vote on a countywide micro loan program for small business. Under the county board rules, a resolution requires votes from “a majority of the members elected and serving” in order to pass – that is, five votes. Supporters of the resolution weren’t certain they could achieve that number. A resolution regarding the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law had been pulled from the agenda earlier in the day for the same reason.
Opponents of the “Stand Your Ground” resolution – which called on the state legislature to repeal the law enacted in 2006 – had been expected to appear at the meeting in force, prompting county administration to add extra security. However, after the resolution was pulled, only a handful of people attended to speak against it, as did one supporter.
In another resolution that addressed a statewide issue, commissioners voted to direct staff to explore options – including possible legal action – to help set cleanup criteria in Michigan for the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane. In part, the item relates to a 1,4 dioxane plume stemming from contaminants at the former Gelman Sciences plant, west of Ann Arbor.
Dan Smith (R-District 2) stated “present” during that vote, rather than voting for or against the resolution – because board rules do not allow for abstention. After the meeting, corporation counsel Curt Hedger told The Chronicle that he’d be looking at the board rules to determine how Smith’s vote will be recorded. Hedger pointed out that the resolution needed five votes to pass, which it garnered even without Smith’s vote.
Commissioners also gave initial approval for a new approach to paying off debt incurred from bonding – typically for public works projects in local municipalities. The proposal would allow local units of government to repay bonds early via the county’s delinquent tax revolving fund (DTRF), which is administered by the county treasurer. The intent is to reduce interest rate payments and the county’s debt burden. In a related resolution, commissioners gave initial approval to restructuring debt held by Bridgewater Township, using this new approach.
Several items that received initial approval at the board’s previous meeting on Sept. 4 were passed in a final vote on Sept. 18 with minimal discussion, including: (1) strengthening the county’s affirmative action plan, as well as other nondiscrimination in employment-related policies; (2) authorizing a range of grants administered by the county’s office of community & economic development, as well as a resolution that would give blanket approval in the future to nearly 30 annual entitlement grants received by the county; (3) adding three new full-time jobs for stewardship of the county nature preserves; (4) adding a new 10-bed treatment program for female teens in the county’s youth center that will create a net increase of 5.46 jobs; and (5) budgets for the county’s public health and community support & treatment service (CSTS) departments.
And after postponing action on Sept. 4, the board voted to create a 13-member community advisory group to look at options for the county-owned Platt Road site in Ann Arbor. The Sept. 18 resolution was much more general in its direction than the one that was debated on Sept. 4, stripping out most of the details related to a previous focus on affordable housing.
Also on Sept. 18 as an item of communication, Yousef Rabhi updated the board on plans to fill a vacancy on the county road commission, which will result from the recent appointment of current road commissioner Ken Schwartz as Superior Township supervisor. Applications for the road commissioner job are being accepted until Sept. 25, with the county board likely making an appointment at its Oct. 2 meeting.
Washtenaw County commissioners have voted to explore options – including possible legal action – to help set cleanup criteria for the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane in Michigan. In addition to its broader implications, the resolution is meant to address the 1,4 dioxane plume stemming from contaminants at the former Gelman Sciences plant in Scio Township, which is now closed. [.pdf of county resolution]
Ann Arbor city council meeting (Sept. 3, 2013): Two significant items on the council’s agenda were postponed so that more committee work could be done on the issues: revisions to the ordinance (Chapter 7) regulating tax increment finance (TIF) capture by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority; and revisions to the council’s internal rules.
Both issues also had been postponed from previous meetings. However, the committees that were supposed to have provided more specific recommendations to the full council prior to Sept. 3 did not accomplish that work.
After the Sept. 3 council meeting, both of the relevant committees subsequently met. An update on their work is included in this council meeting report.
The DDA ordinance revisions have already been given initial approval by the council and are awaiting a final vote. The amendments to Chapter 7 include various changes to governance, including term limits for board members, as well as clarifications to the existing language on TIF capture. The amendments would enforce the existing language of the ordinance in a way that has an impact on the DDA’s TIF revenue that would roughly match the DDA’s projected revenues in its 10-year planning document.
However, since that 10-year document was last updated, the amount of new construction in the DDA district has resulted in significant increases in the taxable value on which TIF is computed. About $1 million a year is at stake – which would be distributed to the other jurisdictions whose taxes the DDA captures, instead of being collected by the DDA. The joint committee of DDA board members and city council members met on Sept. 10, and the group appeared to be ready to recommend that the council table the initially-approved ordinance changes and start from scratch, likely shedding the proposed changes to governance.
The approach the committee is now taking would remove the current Chapter 7 language expressing restrictions on the DDA’s TIF revenue, and replace it with a “cap” that would have a built-in annual increase. Among the scenarios the committee is weighing would be a cap set at a high-enough level that it would likely have no impact on the amount of the DDA’s TIF revenue, compared to the amount the DDA is receiving under its own current interpretation of the ordinance, which is disputed.
While the Sept. 3 postponement of the DDA-related ordinance was dispatched quickly, later in the meeting the council engaged in a substantial debate on an appointment to the DDA board – that of Al McWilliams. With only nine councilmembers present and his confirmation dubious – because it needed six votes on the 11-member council – mayor John Hieftje withdrew the nomination.
The council’s rules committee also met on Sept. 10 and reviewed revisions that had previously been recommended. Basing its work on a debate that the entire council had on July 15, 2013, the committee decided that none of the council rules on the length of speaking turns (for the public or for councilmembers) or for reserving time to speak at the start of meetings would be changed from the current rules. Among the proposed changes that survived committee discussion included: (1) adding public commentary at work sessions, (2) re-ordering the agenda to place nominations and appointments near the start of the meeting, and (3) prohibiting use of personal electronic communications devices while at the council table.
The council will take up the DDA ordinance as well as the internal rules issue at its next meeting on Sept. 16.
Other business handled by the council on Sept. 3 included passage of a resolution calling for work on better cleanup standards for 1,4-dioxane – which came only after lengthy debate about possibly postponing it in order to strengthen the language and seek the advice of additional stakeholders.
The council also passed a resolution recommended by the city’s energy commission, to direct city staff to develop a pilot program with DTE for a “community solar” project. Another resolution recommended by the energy commission failed to win council approval, however. It would have directed the city’s employment retirement system to divest from fossil fuel companies.
In land-related business, the council approved the city’s participation in two deals related to the city’s greenbelt program. Councilmembers also gave approval to a Hampton Inn project on Jackson Road and initial approval to a drive-thru to be constructed at a Shell/Tim Hortons at Eisenhower and Ann Arbor-Saline Road.
As part of city administrator Steve Powers’ report to the council, he mentioned that a memo on the review of the city’s crosswalk ordinance would be forthcoming. That memo was subsequently released.
Ann Arbor city staff have been directed to explore actions available to the city, including meeting with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality and petitioning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to help set cleanup criteria for the carcinogen 1,4-dioxane in Michigan.
Map of Pall-Gelman 1,4-dioxane plume, by Washtenaw County. Black arrow added to indicate baseball field at West Park. The yellow region is the estimated plume area where the 1,4-dioxane concentration is greater than 1 ppb. That area encroaches well into the city of Ann Arbor and …
The council’s post-holiday meeting agenda signals the end of summer and a reminder of work the council left unfinished several weeks earlier. Two items on the agenda were postponed until the Sept. 3, 2013 meeting at least seven weeks ago. The first is a revision to the ordinance regulating the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The second is a revision to the council’s own internal rules, which could have an immediate impact on the way conversations between the council and the DDA take place.
For both agenda items, the expectation was that council committees would work during the interim period to hammer out a clarified proposal and recommendation for the full council to consider on Sept. 3. In neither case was that committee work accomplished.
After voting at its May 6, 2013 session to postpone a final vote on DDA ordinance revisions until Sept. 3, the council attempted to ensure that the deliberations at the first meeting of the fall would be productive. The council voted on July 1, 2013 to establish a joint council-DDA committee to work out a recommendation on possible legislation. The main point of controversy involves the definition of the DDA’s tax increment finance (TIF) capture.
Already given initial approval by the council is a proposal that would essentially enforce the existing ordinance language. The revision to the ordinance would have an arguably inconsequential impact on TIF revenue received by the DDA – when compared to its most recent 10-year planning document. What makes that comparison controversial, and unwelcome to the DDA staff and board, is the fact that its most recent planning document doesn’t include tax revenue from very recent new downtown construction. The revised ordinance would have a roughly $1 million per year negative impact on DDA TIF revenues – when compared to the amount the DDA would receive if the DDA were allowed to give the existing ordinance language its preferred interpretation.
The charge to the joint committee on July 1 was to begin meeting immediately, but the group did not convene until eight weeks later, on Aug. 26 – after the Aug. 6 Democratic primary election. The outcome of that election left a key vote in place for an ordinance revision that doesn’t favor the DDA – that of Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who defeated challenger Julie Grand. Still, DDA board members at the Aug. 26 meeting seemed keen to continue a delaying gambit. That’s because a failure by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) to win re-election in November could tip the balance in the DDA’s favor – even factoring in the addition of Jack Eaton in Ward 4. Eaton, who prevailed on Aug. 6 over incumbent Marcia Higgins, supports the idea of constraining the DDA’s TIF capture.
At the one committee meeting held so far, the only substantive concept that was batted around briefly was the idea of defining some kind of fixed cap on TIF revenue. This approach would replace the existing ordinance language, which calibrates the DDA’s TIF capture with the projections in the TIF plan. But the discussion never went as far as to include dollar amounts for the fixed cap. After about an hour and a half of political squabbling and sometimes inaccurate recitation of historical facts, the general mood among councilmembers seemed to be reflected in a remark by Sally Petersen (Ward 2): “I don’t think we can be there by next week.” So the item looks likely be postponed on Sept. 3. However, the council is free to vote the proposal up or down at this meeting.
The one session of the joint DDA-council committee still exceeded, by one meeting, the council rules committee’s effort over the summer. The rules committee did not meet at all between July 15, 2013 and Sept. 3. On July 15, the council had postponed a vote on new rules, but not before rejecting one of the proposed rule changes, which the committee had first presented on June 17, 2013. The council as a whole was not keen to shorten public commentary speaking turns. So the proposal currently in front of the council would maintain the existing three-minute time limit.
But as the council’s July 15 deliberations on other proposed rules changes threatened to bog down that meeting, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), chair of the rules committee, encouraged a postponement until Sept. 3. In the interim, the committee – consisting of Higgins, Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), and mayor John Hieftje – was supposed to meet to consolidate input from other councilmembers and perhaps present a clean slate of proposed revisions.
Even though the rules committee didn’t meet, based on comments by Briere and Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1) at the Sunday night caucus on Sept. 1, they might push to eliminate all proposed revisions to the rules except for the one that had prompted the rules committee to consider some changes in the first place. The rules changes were prompted by a desire to allow for public commentary at council work sessions – to eliminate any question about whether councilmembers were engaged in deliberative interactions at those sessions. By allowing for public commentary at work sessions, the council would ensure compliance with Michigan’s Open Meetings Act. By enacting that rule change on Sept. 3, the council would be set for a fully deliberative work session on Sept. 9 – which is scheduled to be a joint session with the board of the DDA.
Three other significant items on the Sept. 3 agenda are tied together with an environmental thread. The council will be considering a resolution directing city staff to explore options with the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help to set the clean-up requirements for 1,4-dioxane so that the Pall-Gelman plume is cleaned up to appropriate standards. The council will also be asked to act on a resolution urging the city’s employee retirement system to divest from fossil fuel companies. And finally, the council will consider a resolution directing staff to work with DTE on a pilot program for a “community solar” initiative.
More detail on other meeting agenda items is available on the city’s Legistar system. Readers can also follow the live meeting proceedings on Channel 16, streamed online by Community Television Network. The Chronicle will be filing live updates from city council chambers during the meeting, published in this article “below the fold.” The meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m.
At its April 16, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave initial approval to six separate rezoning requests associated with annexation into the city of Ann Arbor from Scio Township. The zoning change in all cases is from the township to a residential category.
Five of the properties were annexed into the city on Oct. 3, 2011 – in connection with the expansion of a well-prohibition zone due to 1,4 dioxane groundwater contamination caused by the Pall Corp.’s Wagner Road facility, formerly owned by Gelman Sciences. Those five properties are: 305 Pinewood St.; 3225 Dexter Rd.; 427 Barber Ave.; 545 Allison Dr.; 3249 Dexter Rd.
Annexation into the city allows the properties to connect to city of Ann Arbor water services. Pall …