The Ann Arbor Chronicle » funding it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Literacy Coalition Faces Uncertain Future Wed, 28 Sep 2011 17:20:15 +0000 Mary Morgan In April 2010, Washtenaw County commissioners marked a transition – handing over leadership for a literacy coalition the county had spearheaded.

Washtenaw Literacy Coaltion meeting

At left, Amy Goodman, executive director of Washtenaw Literacy (a different entity from the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw County), led the Sept. 26 membership meeting of the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw County.

At the time, the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw County had just hired its first executive director – Vanessa Mayesky – and reported progress in goals outlined in the county’s ambitious Blueprint to End Illiteracy.

But at a recent working session of the county board, commissioner Rob Turner reported that the coalition is now in crisis.

Mayesky resigned earlier this month to take a job at the University of Michigan, and funding for the coalition’s efforts is nearly depleted. Amy Goodman, chair of the coalition’s steering committee, had sent out an email on Sept. 20 stating that the coalition is at a crossroads. Based on the coalition’s financial situation, action needed to be taken, she wrote – and one of the options is to dissolve the coalition.

Goodman’s email was also a call for supporters to attend a Sept. 26 membership meeting at the NEW Center, to give input on the future of the coalition. At that meeting, which The Chronicle attended, Goodman and other steering committee members outlined the status of coalition finances. The faltering economy has tightened funding from both private and government sources, and the situation has been made even more challenging by a new coordinated funding approach being used by the county, city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw United Way and other funders.

The coordinated funding focuses on six community priorities, ranging from homelessness to health care. But despite intense lobbying from coalition members – who noted that illiteracy is at the root of nearly every other social challenge, including unemployment and poverty – literacy is not on that list of coordinated funding priorities.

Options discussed at Monday’s meeting include: (1) trying to operate the coalition at a fully-funded level, which would entail raising funds for an annual budget of at least $71,000; (2) operating at a significantly reduced capacity, with a part-time coordinator and annual budget of $45,000; (3) creating a volunteer group to continue the effort; or (4) dissolving the coalition completely.

Coalition Background: A Countywide Initiative

Under the leadership of former Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel, the county government has backed several countywide plans related to community needs. Among them is a 10-year plan to eliminate homelessness, which was published in 2004 and is being shepherded by the Washtenaw Housing Alliance [.pdf of Blueprint to End Homelessness]. Guenzel in particular was instrumental in bringing together other community leaders to support that effort, which also received funding from the county.

In many ways, the literacy coalition is modeled on that plan. The county board established the literacy coalition by a board resolution in July 2007, and the Blueprint to End Illiteracy was published the following year. [.pdf of Blueprint to End Illiteracy]

The coalition was never intended to provide services directly – there are nearly 90 agencies that are working in some way on literacy issues in Washtenaw County. Rather, the aim was to raise awareness about the pervasive problem of illiteracy – in reading, as it’s most commonly perceived, but also for illiteracy in finance, health and workplace skills. The coalition would gather and track data, coordinate efforts of the county’s many disparate groups that are already addressing aspects of literacy education, and seek funding for joint projects that couldn’t be tackled by any single provider.

The specific initial goals of the coalition were three-fold: (1) to develop a directory of literacy service providers; (2) to launch a website for the coalition, with resources and other information; and (3) to raise public awareness about illiteracy.

Guenzel and Josie Parker – director of the Ann Arbor District Library – served as co-chairs of the coalition’s initial steering committee. The county, AADL and the nonprofit Washtenaw Literacy were the largest providers for in-kind contributions of staff time, materials and other support. Initial funding was provided by the Washtenaw United Way ($50,000), James A. & Faith Knight Foundation ($17,000), and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation ($10,000).

In 2010, the county took a step back from its leadership role. In a presentation at the April 7, 2010 meeting of the county board of commissioners, Guenzel – who retired as county administrator the following month – called the coalition’s transition a kind of graduation. He said the county wasn’t abandoning the effort, but was handing it back to the community.

Josie Parker, Donna DeButts

At the Sept. 26 membership meeting for the Literacy Coalition of Washtenaw, from right: Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library, and Donna DeButts, community relations coordinator for the Ypsilanti District Library.

While Guenzel and other county leaders – including commissioners Leah Gunn, Ronnie Peterson and Conan Smith – had been actively involved in the steering committee up until that point, they no longer regularly attend meetings of the coalition. The current county representatives on the steering committee are Patricia Denig, head of the county’s employment training & community services (ETCS) department, and Patricia Horne McGee, director of the Washtenaw County Head Start program, which is administered by the county. [The county's proposed 2012-2013 budget calls for severing ties with Head Start, however.] None of these officials attended Monday’s coalition meeting.

Rob Turner, one of of the newest county commissioners, who took office in January 2011, was tapped to be the county board’s liaison to the coalition, but he does not serve on the steering committee. At Monday’s meeting, he told coalition members that the project had not been portrayed to him as a priority by other board members or the administration.

Amy Goodman, executive director of Washtenaw Literacy – which has been serving as a fiduciary for the coalition – noted that the community had in the past shown strong support for addressing illiteracy by providing funding from several different sources. But the current major funding source – a two-year grant at $75,000 per year from the county’s ETCS department, authorized by the ETCS community action board – is coming to an end on Sept. 30. By the end of September, the coalition will have an account balance of about $1,000.

Literacy Coalition: Status Update

The coalition membership took action on some housekeeping issues at Monday’s meeting, related to the current transition. Washtenaw Literacy is ending its contract as fiduciary, and that role is being taken over by another nonprofit: Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County. Until now, the coalition’s fiscal year has mirrored the one for Washtenaw Literacy, which runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The fiscal year for CSS is based on a calendar year, so the membership voted to change the coalition’s fiscal year to begin on Jan. 1 as well.

Goodman reported that efforts to increase the size and composition of the steering committee are also in progress. Initially, a majority of committee members worked for entities that provided literacy services. This hampered their ability to fundraise for the coalition, since it would be an ethical conflict with their jobs – they couldn’t raise money for both their own organization and the coalition. So it’s been a priority to recruit new members from the community at large, and about half of the 10 steering committee members now fall into that category, including Gabe Marinaro, an attorney with Dykema, and Brian Royster of Edward Jones, who both attended Monday’s meeting.

The coalition has accomplished a lot since its “graduation” from the county 18 months ago, Goodman said. A directory of service providers is completed, and the website was launched. [Excel spreadsheet of literacy service directory]

The coalition is about two-thirds of the way toward financial sustainability, she said, but corporate support hasn’t materialized as they’d hoped, and funding for this next phase is uncertain. “We have some serious decisions to face here,” she told the membership.

Julie McFarland, vice chair of the steering committee, reported that the coalition has a $22,000 grant from Washtenaw United Way, but there are conditions attached to it. Of that amount, $12,000 must be spent by Dec. 31, 2011, she said. The remaining $10,000 would be available as of Jan. 1 only if the coalition presents a plan for financial sustainability, and if that plan is approved by the United Way.

Another $7,500 remains for a coalition project at the Parkridge Community Center in Ypsilanti – it’s part of a $10,000 project grant awarded through the coordinated funding process, and is used primarily to pay the service providers for a family literacy program at the center. The Parkridge project is an outgrowth of another coalition effort called Learning Is a Family Thing, or LIFT – a series of two-hour interactive sessions for families focused on different aspects of literacy, including financial, health, reading, and workplace skills.

McFarland also noted that as part of the coalition’s transition, its office has been moved out of space provided by Washtenaw Literacy at the NEW Center on North Main. The Washtenaw Intermediate School District is now providing a cubicle for the coalition’s use, at no cost, at the WISD headquarters on Wagner Road.

Goodman summarized several other grants for which the coalition has applied or plans to apply, but that aren’t yet secured:

  • $50,000 from the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy, for the Parkridge literacy project. About 20% of that would be used to fund coalition operations, with the rest directly funding literacy service providers. If awarded, it would be the community’s first grant from the foundation, Goodman said.
  • $4,280 from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF), also for the Parkridge project.
  • Another $4,280 from the AAACF, for coalition operations.
  • $20,900 from the AAACF through the coordinated funding process, for coalition capacity building – training and other support to shore up the organization’s infrastructure.

Three additional grants are being drafted, Goodman said.

If awarded, none of these funds would be available until early next year, so it didn’t seem feasible to hire someone to replace Mayesky at this point, Goodman said. It might have been possible to hire a part-time coordinator if the $10,000 United Way funding could have been stretched through next spring, she said, rather than using it by year’s end. But even if that had been an option, a part-time person wouldn’t have time to do fundraising, she added.

Goodman said coalition members lobbied hard to make literacy a priority in the coordinated funding process, but that didn’t happen. [The six priorities for coordinated funding are housing/homelessness, aging, school-aged youth, children from birth to six, health safety net, and food. The process is managed by the office of community & economic development, a joint county/city of Ann Arbor department. For an overview, see Chronicle coverage: "Coordinated Funding for Nonprofits Planned"]

The situation came to a head when Mayesky turned in her resignation earlier this month, Goodman said. She praised Mayesky, saying the former coalition director worked long hours and did great work. But Mayesky knew that funding was uncertain, Goodman said, and needed to do what was best for her family by taking a secure job with UM.

In reviewing the status of current projects, Goodman said the effort at Parkridge – which the coalition hopes will serve as a model for intergenerational literacy programs – can continue, since the activities there are being offered by individual service providers. That project launched earlier this month.

The coalition is also a partner in the local Dolly’s Imagination Library, which distributes free books to pre-school kids and their families.

There are also four working committees of the coalition, which are continuing their efforts, Goodman said. They are: (1) data collection and measurement, chaired by Celeste Choate, an associate director at the Ann Arbor District Library; (2) public awareness/marketing, chaired by Colleen Murdock; (3) sustainability/resource development, chaired by Erin Howarth of Washtenaw Literacy; and (4) expansion of services/programming, chaired by Alison Austin of Washtenaw Literacy.

What’s Next?

Part of Monday’s coalition meeting was spent working in small groups, evaluating four options that had been floated by the steering committee:

  • Hire a full-time coordinator to continue to grow the coalition and work toward goals of the Blueprint to End Illiteracy, including fundraising. Projected annual budget of $71,000.
  • Hire a part-time coordinator to maintain basic support of current projects, and work toward some of the blueprint’s goals. No fundraising would be possible by the coordinator under this scenario. Projected annual budget of $45,000.
  • Transition the coalition to a volunteer-only network. No budget would be required. Collaboration would continue, but not be coordinated. There would not be shared data tracking or shared services, and blueprint goals would be met only if addressed by individual service providers.
  • Dissolve the coalition.

As a group, the 17 members of the coalition who attended Monday’s meeting discussed the impact of each of these options, with many of them noting that much would be lost if the coalition is disbanded. Individual learners would likely not see an immediate impact, because service providers like Washtenaw Literacy, the Family Learning Institute and others would continue their work. But there would be far less coordination and no champion to raise awareness of the issue throughout the community, several members observed.

Josie Parker, director of the Ann Arbor District Library, noted that if they decide to operate the coalition as a volunteer-only group, the community at least would be in a better position than before the coalition launched, based on the work that’s been done so far. They could continue to seek funding, perhaps trying to find one major funder to keep the coalition going. It would be wise to set a timeline, she said – a point at which to evaluate whether the coalition is failing or succeeding under a volunteer structure.

Dan Rubenstein, Rob Turner, Gabe Marinaro

From left: Dan Rubenstein, development director for the Family Learning Institute in Ann Arbor; Washtenaw County commissioner Rob Turner (R-District 1); and Gabe Marinaro, an attorney with the law firm Dykema.

Parker cautioned that any funding the coalition receives will be “soft” – that is, because the coalition isn’t part of an established organization, like county government, the library or a civic group like the Rotary, it can’t count on a stable, long-term funding source.

Parker noted that in some communities, large corporations have recognized literacy skills as crucial to maintaining a strong workforce, and those corporations are willing to fund efforts similar to the literacy coalition, which in turn draws the interest of other funders. But there are fewer large companies in Washtenaw County than there used to be, she observed. [Pfizer, which was a major funder of local nonprofits, closed its Ann Arbor operation a few years ago. Automakers like GM and Ford were another large source of philanthropic funding for the community, but have also downsized and closed plants locally.]

“We have to start looking at what we have, who we have, and how go from there,” Parker said.

As the meeting wrapped up, Wendy Correll – a steering committee member and executive director of the Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation – said the steering committee would meet again and develop a recommendation, based in part on input from Monday’s meeting. At that point, they’d bring the recommendation back to a general membership meeting for a vote. In the short-term, they were looking for volunteers to donate staff time for tasks like responding to email and phone messages left for the coalition, she said.

When Goodman asked for closing thoughts from the group, county commissioner Rob Turner weighed in. He was relatively new to the group, he noted, since he’d just been assigned as a liaison from the county board earlier this year. He noted that he’d served for nine years on the Chelsea school board, and said that measuring outcomes is important. It wasn’t clear to him what metrics are being used to evaluate the coalition’s effectiveness. And while he knew about the Parkridge project, he wasn’t aware of any other concrete efforts that the coalition is pursuing. It would help him understand the situation if he could have more information, he said.

Goodman replied that it was never the coalition’s mission to provide services directly. Their work focuses on coordinating other service providers and developing projects that involve partnerships with those providers. Parkridge is a good example of that, she said.

Dan Rubenstein of the Family Learning Institute noted that the coalition’s premise is that the community will be better served – and individual providers will be more effective – if literacy efforts are coordinated. Parker cited the Learning Is a Family Thing (LIFT) as another example of that coordinated effort.

Turner said those programs are important to highlight – coordinating and providing connections is a service. If the coalition has been instrumental in making those connections, then that’s important to know, he said. But if the coalition can’t measure its positive impact on the community, in a way that no other organization can provide, then perhaps it’s best to dissolve, he said.

Turner added that in the past, the literacy coalition had clearly been a board priority. But based on his experience so far, it didn’t seem that it was seen by county officials as a priority any longer. Literacy is important, Turner added, both for young children and adults. He pointed to programs in the Chelsea school system, like its funding for all-day kindergarten, as efforts that he supports.

However, in supporting those programs, he said he needed to see metrics, and the same is true for the literacy coalition. What things are happening because the coalition exists, that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise? Especially since money is tight, that’s what funders want to see, he said.

Goodman said that taking an intergenerational approach to literacy education is one of the coalition’s goals, and projects like LIFT and Parkridge are examples of that. She noted that the coalition as an entity is able to seek grants that aren’t available to individual service providers – like the grant pending with the Barbara Bush Foundation.

The data-gathering work of the coalition is also important, Goodman said, to measure community need. When she tells people that one out of every six people in Washtenaw County is functionally illiterate, they often don’t believe her. A report card on literacy in the county, which is being developed by the coalition, “would be a shocking come-to-Jesus,” she said.

Goodman wrapped up the meeting by observing that some of the things Turner is looking for are goals for the coalition, and they’ve been progressing toward those goals. This funding crisis has simply occurred before they could reach those goals in the organization’s timeline.

A recommendation for the next phase of the coalition is expected to be brought by the steering committee to a membership meeting tentatively set for Monday, Oct. 24.

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Countywide Transit Finance Group to Meet Fri, 16 Sep 2011 00:27:07 +0000 Chronicle Staff CEO Michael Ford’s written report to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board for its Sept. 15, 2011 meeting included a partial list of members in the group tapped to review the funding options report for the countywide transit master plan. At the meeting, an updated list was circulated. They’ll meet for the first time on Friday, Sept. 16.

At the board’s August 2011 meeting, Ford had announced that McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and Bob Guenzel, retired Washtenaw County administrator, will be co-chairing the panel of financial and funding experts. They are tasked with reviewing the report on funding options and making recommendations that will form the basis of a countywide governance proposal.

That governance proposal is expected to come from an as-yet-unincorporated board of an Act 196 transit authority (U196) to establish a countywide transit authority under that state statute. [Michigan's Act 196 of 1986 provides a mechanism for establishing a transit authority that includes a larger range of entities than just cities. In contrast, the AATA is formed under Act 55 of 1963]

The funding report to be reviewed and analyzed by the group is the third volume of the transit master plan (TMP). [.pdf of Part 1 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options] [.pdf of Part 2 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options].

Besides Berriz and Guenzel, members of the group include the following: Patrick Doyle (CEO, Domino’s Pizza); Ric DeVore (regional president, PNC Financial Services Group Inc.); Mary Jo Callan (director, office of community development, Washtenaw County); Mark Perry (director of real estate services, Masco Corp.); Andy LaBarre (vice president of government affairs, A2YChamber); Tim Marshall (president and CEO, Bank of Ann Arbor); Norm Herbert (retired treasurer, University of Michigan); Adiele Nwankwo (senior vice president, PB Americas Inc.); Mike Cicchella (financial planner, Cicchella and Associates, and former Northfield Township supervisor); Leigh Greden (executive director of governmental and community relations, Eastern Michigan University); Conan Smith (executive director, Suburbs Alliance and chair, Washtenaw County board of commissioners); Jonathan Levine (professor, University of Michigan college of architecture and urban planning); Jason Lindauer (wealth management advisor, Merrill Lynch, and mayor of Chelsea); Mark Ouimet (state representative, District 52); John Thorhauer (president and CEO, United Methodist Retirement Communities); Jon Newpol (executive vice president, Thomson Reuters); Dennis Schornack (special advisor on transportation, Governor’s Office); Jim Kosteva, (director of government relations, University of Michigan); Paul Dimond (attorney, Miller Canfield).

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]

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Ann Arbor Council Delays Budget Vote Thu, 19 May 2011 15:56:45 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 16, 2011): Ann Arbor’s city charter requires that the city council amend and adopt a city budget by its second meeting in May. If it fails to act, by default the unamended budget proposed in April by the city administrator is adopted.


During public commentary, Sue Maguire addressed the council on the topic of proposed reductions to the fire department. (Photos by the writer.)

But Monday, at its second meeting in May this year, the city council did not act, choosing instead to recess and continue the meeting the following week, on May 23. The decision to delay was prompted by uncertainty about revenue from the public parking system. The Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city were poised to ratify a new agreement on parking revenue on May 2, but that agreement was put off when questions were raised about the DDA tax increment finance (TIF) capture. The DDA later called a special meeting on Friday, May 20 to address that issue.

Even though the council did not act on the budget, most of the evening’s discussion was dominated by budget talk, including extensive public commentary on the proposed cuts in the police and fire departments. The council also got a briefing from its chief of police and interim fire chief, Barnett Jones, who responded to an article published in about fire department response times, calling the calculations presented in the piece inaccurate.

In addition to putting off action on the FY 2012 budget, the council also tabled decisions on human services funding, funding for a water system study, and fee increases for next year.

However, the council did transact some business. It authorized an increase in taxicab fares in light of rising gas prices. The council also approved neighborhood stabilization funds for demolition of three houses on North Main Street to prepare the site for construction of the Near North affordable housing project. Two large vehicle purchases – a street sweeper and a sewer truck – that had been postponed from the previous meeting were authorized.

The council also revised its administrative policy on how the 2006 parks millage is to be spent. Funds outside the general fund can count as general fund money for the purpose of the policy, as long as those funds are not drawn from the parks millage. The council also gave initial approval to an ordinance on design guidelines for new buildings downtown.

FY 2012 Budget Decisions

Before the council was approval of the 2012 fiscal year budget that had been proposed by then-city administrator Roger Fraser just before he left that position to take a post as a deputy treasurer for the state of Michigan. The city’s fiscal year starts on July 1.

The city’s charter stipulates that the administrator must submit the proposed budget to the council in April and that the council must approve a budget by its second meeting in May, which this year fell on May 16. If the council fails to approve the budget – with any amendments – by its second May meeting, the budget as proposed by the administrator is adopted by default.

The budget as proposed included $77,900,405 in general fund revenues and tapped the reserves for a total of $1,022,136. The city of Ann Arbor’s total budget, including all of its funds (major street fund, parks millage, water fund, sewer fund, etc.) stands at $312,182,605 for FY 2012.

FY 2012 Budget: Announcement of Delay

At the beginning of the council’s May 16 meeting, mayor John Hieftje indicated that when the council reached the budget item on the agenda, they intended to recess the meeting and continue it the following Monday. The budget was the next-to-last agenda item.

As a reason for delaying, Hieftje cited uncertainty about the status of a new parking agreement with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Later in the week, the DDA board announced it would hold a special meeting at noon on Friday, May 20 in an attempt to address questions about its TIF capture and to ratify its side of a new parking contract with the city.

Expected amendments to the budget when the council takes it up on May 23 include: (1) use of $90,000 in general fund reserves to add to the parks allocation; (2) use of $85,600 in general fund reserves to add to human services funding; (3) use of a nominal amount of general fund reserves to cover the cost of an additional primary election (as proposed, the FY 2012 budget anticipated primaries in only two of the city’s five wards – there will be primaries in three wards); and (4) elimination of a proposed fee for three-times-weekly trash pickup in the downtown area.

Before the meeting, no budget amendments were anticipated that would change the proposed cuts in public safety positions – 13 in police services and seven in fire protection services. However, at the meeting, Hieftje hinted that some, but not all, of the cuts in police and fire might be avoided.

FY 2012 Budget: Safety Services – Public Commentary

The formal hearing on the FY 2012 budget took place at the council’s May 2 meeting. But several people had signed up for the public commentary reserved time at the beginning of the meeting, including some familiar faces from local government, past and present. [At the council's next gathering on May 23, there will presumably not be public commentary reserved time offered, as it is a continuation of the same meeting.]

Leading off public commentary was Fred Veigel, who serves on the Washtenaw County Road Commission. He introduced himself as president of the Huron Valley Central Labor Council, AFLCIO, which includes 37 local unions with 18,000 members, he said. Terminating police and firefighter positions below national standards would endanger lives and property of Ann Arbor citizens, warned Veigel. Responding to comments by Hieftje at the start of the meeting about the separation of the budget into various funds, he said, “Balderdash!” Money could be borrowed from different funds, he contended, not taken away.

He asked if the last audit of fund balances has been reviewed to see if funds are available for public safety services. The council should cut other services first, he said, like human services. The council should amend the city’s parks policy and let Washtenaw County take over the two city golf courses – that would save several hundred thousand dollars. He said he’d talked with councilmember Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) about enforcing state vehicle codes on unmarked commercial vehicles that don’t pull permits to work in the city – that could generate additional revenue.

Following Veigel to the podium was Wes Prater, who currently serves on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. He introduced himself as a retired firefighter, and vice president of the Huron Valley Central Labor Council, AFLCIO. He told the city council it was good to be back before them – he hadn’t been there in a while. He asked to council to reflect on some basic points. What services do citizens expect to receive from government? What are the basic quality of life issues? What will ensure sound economic development in the community? What are best practices for re-entry of those who are incarcerated and for dealing with mental health issues? These are all related to the function of the emergency safety system of the city, he said.

For the fire department, eight minutes is too long for a response time – four minutes is recommended by national standards, he said. After four minutes, Prater said, a fire doubles in size every minute. Closing stations and rotating stations gives citizens a false sense of security. The fire department is struggling at this time to provide a basic level of service to the citizens, and the further reductions will make it difficult to answer more than one fire at one time. Multiple fires would require mutual aid from departments in other communities, which would require more than eight minutes, he warned.

Prater noted that according to a recent report from Washtenaw County’s equalization director, Ann Arbor’s property values had dropped less than the values in the rest of the county.

University of Michigan Graduate Student Organization Sign Ann Arbor city council meeting

University of Michigan Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) supporters in the audience at the May 16 Ann Arbor city council meeting.

Chelsea Del Rio introduced herself as the vice president of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the University of Michigan. She told the city council that the GEO stands in solidarity with the firefighers. The GEO is concerned about the rotating closure of fire stations, especially when Station 5 on the university’s north campus is closed. It’s a great concern to the UM community, she said. It’s a concern about physical property, ranging from the safety of historical documents to research facilities, as well as a concern about safety and well-being of students, faculty staff and all Ann Arbor residents.

The unions at UM – from lecturers, to building trades, to nurses – have expressed this view to UM president Mary Sue Coleman as well, Del Rio said. She concluded by saying that the members of the GEO stand with Ann Arbor firefighters, and they urged the council to do the same.

Noting that he was a former member of the city’s park advisory commission and the planning commission, James D’Amour told the council that he was speaking to them as a citizen, not as a member of any group. He said he’d seen declines in terms of services and the promise the city was supposed to keep with respect to the parks, but said he might address that issue later. That evening, he said, he wanted to put a face on the important public safety services offered by the city.

D’Amour then recounted how 12 years ago, his second-floor neighbors – he and his wife lived on the third floor – had started a fire through careless behavior. He said that without help from the fire department, his wife wouldn’t be alive today and likely neither would he. He said he’d seen thousands of dollars paid by the city for consultants, parking structures and public art. He concluded by thanking the firefighters who saved his wife’s life 12 years ago.

Lisa Dusseau told the council she was born and raised in Ann Arbor. She was speaking to them for the first time due to the pending fire department layoffs. She said she admired the skill and fortitude it takes to be a firefighter. She said she’d been following the budget discussions on She wondered why it took so long to get the information out. She had concerns about response times and deaths per calendar year. Increased cuts will turn Ann Arbor’s fire protection service into a surround-and-drown department. If she wanted that level of service, she said, she’d move to a township.

Dusseau contended that once staffing levels fell below 100 firefighters, the number of deaths due to fire had started to increase – even one is too many, she said. Non-essentials need to be eliminated from the budget. She’d read that money to supplement the budget was available but not applied for. She said that people wearing swim goggles at the city council was good theater, but doesn’t serve needs of the city as a whole. [This was an apparent allusion to the May 2009 public hearing on that year's budget, which included advocates for keeping Mack pool open. They had worn swim goggles – among them was James D'Amour. ] She told the council to take another look at the budget and not let staffing levels deteriorate.


Standing is Wendy Woods, former Ward 5 councilmember and current city planning commissioner. She was talking to Sandi Smith (Ward 1) before the meeting.

Former Ward 5 councilmember and current planning commissioner Wendy Woods told the council she wanted to address the issue of police and fire fighters. She said the myth needs to be debunked that fewer fires means we need fewer firefighters. The fire department has served our residents admirably, she said. They are first to respond when you’re at the lowest point in your life. They bring a calm reassurance that someone is there to help you.

Woods said she was concerned about protecting lives of citizens and their property, and also about the safety of firefighters. She urged the council to take the steps necessary to bridge the gap between the fire department and city hall. It’s just a street [Fifth Avenue] that separates them, but it might as well be the Grand Canyon, she said. She concluded with three requests: (1) don’t cut the fire department; (2) don’t cut the police department; and (3) keep residents safe.

University Bank president Stephen Ranzini introduced himself to the council as speaking for himself. He noted that he was a member of the city’s economic development corporation board.

He criticized spending $59 million on the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage at around $90,000 per parking spot – he called the project “the Big Dig.” He continued by criticizing the $43 million expenditure on the “Taj Mahal.” [He was alluding to the new municipal center, or police-courts facility, which the city is officially calling the Justice Center. Some residents have tagged the facility with the name "Raj Mahal" after former city administrator Roger Fraser.]

Ranzini said the city had a $29 million net increase in assets in FY 2010 – which the private sector would call a “profit.” He also said the city had $103 million in unrestricted funds, based on the city’s audited statements. He was referring to the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) [emphasis added]:

$103,726,801 is unrestricted and may be used to meet the government’s ongoing obligations to citizens and creditors, subject to the purpose of the fund in which they are located. This balance is comprised of $43,955,179 in governmental activities and $59,771,622 in business-type activities. [page 10]

“Governmental activities” include general fund activities such as police and fire protection and parks and recreation. “Business-type activities” include funds like water, sewer, and solid waste.

In light of the increase in assets and the amount of unrestricted funds, Ranzini questioned the need to cut police and fire staffing. There’s only one ladder truck owned by the city that is capable of responding to rescue his family from the 10-story building downtown where his family lives, he said. [The 95-foot ladder truck is deployed at Station 1 on Fifth Avenue, across from city hall.] If that ladder truck is responding to a fire in another part of the city that would have otherwise been handled by a station that is closed, he and his wife and children would die, because they can’t jump to safety, he said.

As a downtown resident, Ranzini said he could tell the council that it’s already unsafe at certain times of the day to walk outside. It’s a hostile environment for pedestrians, he said, because a culture of panhandlers is allowed to operate with impunity. The city had allowed 10 Level IV registered sex offenders to take up residence in the homeless shelter, he said, which is one block from the YMCA, and there is no visible police presence.

Ranzini said his wife is correctly afraid to leave their home by herself at night. It’s not just a rainy day, but a “financial hurricane,” he said, so what else is the $103 million rainy-day fund for, if it’s not for times like now, he asked. People say that the money is in buckets, he said, and that the money in one bucket can’t get access to the money in other buckets. So, he said, “Let’s drain the buckets.” Persisting with the fiction of the various buckets enables claims of poverty, he said.

Ranzini noted that there are “leaks in the buckets,” citing as an example the $12 million in revenue to the general fund – used in part for police and fire protection – which the city has received from the city’s public parking revenue via the Downtown Development Authority over the last six years. If the DDA had not decided to build the Fifth Avenue underground parking garage, he said, more money could have been transferred to the city. He contended that one fund can lend money to another fund. He said the city is very talented at charging fees to funds located outside the general fund. If the leaks in the buckets aren’t enough, then he suggested that the city’s charter be amended to access the money the city needs until the storm passes.

Sue Maguire introduced herself as a life-long Ann Arbor resident. She told the council how she’d been driving down Eisenhower Parkway recently, when her daughter yelled at her to call 911. Why? she asked her daughter. She pointed to the sign on the fire station, which read “Fire station closed. Call 911.” [The city is currently closing some fire stations on a rotating basis. The station near Eisenhower has a Briarwood Circle address.] They got a good laugh out of it, she said, but it really is an emergency – it’s an emergency that the city council has the ability to respond to. She told the council they need to say no to public safety cuts. She said she works in the field of crash research and knows the importance of immediate emergency response. As an Ann Arbor resident who has paid taxes her whole life, she wants public safety service to stay the same.

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a Democratic Party member and leader. He called on the city council, the public attending the meeting and the community at large to look at major issues and the direct issues. He told them to look at the movement to recall Gov. Rick Snyder. He called on the citizens of Ann Arbor to think creatively when it comes to budgeting and to do it for multiple years, not just a single year. [The city of Ann Arbor's charter mandates that budgeting be done year by year, but the city has a two-year planning cycle.] He asked that responsible business owners think about “adopting” fire stations and police stations. He called for joining the fire departments of Ann Arbor with those of neighboring communities.

FY 2012 Budget: Council Commentary – Municipal Center

After public commentary, several council members used their communications time to discuss budget-related issues.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) said he wanted to address a FY 2011 allocation for non-departmental contingencies – $639,000 in construction overruns for new the municipal center. He said there is money allocated in FY 2012 for asbestos abatement, but he thought the asbestos abatement had already taken place. Funds seem like they’re being shifted, he said. The building is 50,000 square feet over-sized, he said.


Sign on the Huron Street entrance to city hall before the May 16 meeting. As the logistical routines settle into place for use of the new building, staff use practical means to ensure things work as planned.

Anglin suggested that the city should simply complete the work that needs to be done – and not do anything else on the extra 50,000 square feet, until it’s an economically better time. At that point we could put money into it. He noted that this year the city had eliminated the $700,000 economic development fund. [It's been folded into the general fund balance reserve.]

He noted that there was $3 million promised from a developer of the city-owned First and Washington parcel, but the city had not ever seen that money. [The city council extended the purchase option for the developer, Village Green, most recently in August of 2010, through June 1, 2011. The council set in place a series of milestones to be met and amended the development agreement in February 2011.] Anglin said that if he’d been asked in 1990 about building a new building, he’d have been right on board. But now we need to know what we can afford and what we can’t afford.

Responding to Anglin’s remarks about cost overruns with the municipal center, mayor John Hieftje asked interim city administrator Tom Crawford about cost overruns: Were there any? Crawford said that no, he was not aware of any.

Hieftje also clarified with Crawford, who’s the city’s CFO, that it would be possible for the city to amend the budget after it’s adopted if the financial situation changes. Crawford noted that the city council does not do it frequently, but it’s a possibility, and includes bringing back laid-off workers.

FY 2012 Budget: Council Commentary – Funds/Buckets

Mayor John Hieftje asked Ann Arbor’s CFO and interim city administrator Tom Crawford to respond to comments by Stephen Ranzini during public commentary about $103 million being in a rainy day fund. Crawford suggested that Ranzini was referring to the aggregated fund balance. For some of that amount, it’s not appropriate to use it for the general fund, he said, because it comes from ratepayers for utilities.

A lot of that $103 million is reserved for construction of the new wastewater treatment plant, Crawford said. Use of those funds is not a city charter issue – it’s a basic law. Crawford said that he had a lot of concern about the idea of borrowing funds from one fund to another. He allowed that the current situation is painful, but said the city has historically not taken short-term solutions for long-term problems. And that’s the kind of fiscal discipline that has allowed the city to remain financially stable.

Hieftje asked city attorney Stephen Postema to lay out what the legal consequences would be from the state if the city were to take money inappropriately from a utility fund. Postema said he’d have to get back to the council with the specifics on that.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that it was an opportune time to discuss the issue of using restricted funds as they relate to public art. [The city's Percent for Art program allocates 1% of all capital projects for use on public art.] Kunselman said the council had never received a written opinion from the city attorney on that issue, and now was perhaps a good time to get that opinion.

Kunselman asked if it were possible to pass an ordinance to pay for human services in the same way that public art is paid for. Kunselman said that for the public art program, the city is pulling from restrictive funds to build a fountain. [Kunselman has raised this issue previously about obtaining a legal opinion from the city attorney: "Getting Smarter About the City Charter"]

Kunselman wanted to know about possible increases in revenue now being projected by the state. He asked Crawford if the council would receive adjusted revenue projections by their next meeting. Crawford said that would be very unlikely. Of the additional revenue being discussed by the state, Crawford said, it’s not clear how much may roll down to the local level. It will be well past May before that’s clear, he said.

Kunselman asked about the city’s own property tax projection. Crawford told Kunselman that the numbers are pretty solid – he’s not expecting a change.

Marica Higgins (Ward 4) responded to public commentary by saying what she’d heard was not a suggest to take money from one fund and put it into another, but rather to borrow against it. That, she thought, was a fair question. Hieftje said he thought that would not be wise, even if it’s possible.

Kunselman asked about a comment from the city’s public services area administrator, Sue McCormick, to the effect that there is a formula through which the city is paying for police and fire protection from utility funds, not borrowing it. Hieftje commented that the formula-based allocation is made because the city’s public safety area is delivering a service for protection of facilities, given heightened national security concerns. Crawford added that the reason for the safety services fee as applied to utility infrastructure is that the property is government-owned, so there’s no property tax collected. The fee for safety services is a mechanism the city utilities can use to contribute to the city, Crawford said.

FY 2012 Budget: Response Time Reporting by

Mayor John Hieftje introduced the topic of an article about fire protection in the city that was published over the weekend, noting that for him, it raised more questions than it answered. From the podium at the front of city council chambers, chief of police and interim fire chief Barnett Jones agreed that the article called to mind a lot of questions.

Jones said the information he’d seen in the article was not in the official reports. The article contended that at an April 23, 2010 fire, a father and six-year-old had “jumped” from a roof. Jones said that no indication of that had been made by firefighters in the written report. When he looked at it, it made him wonder, “Where did that come from?”

By way of clarification, an article published last year on April 23, 2010 about that fire included the headline: “House fire injures 3 Ann Arbor firefighters; father, child jump from roof to safety.” The first sentence of the article states: “A father and his 6-year-old daughter jumped to safety from the roof of a burning house …” Near the end of the article, the description of the descent from the roof attributed to then-fire chief Dominick Lanza is less dramatic: “Lanza said they had made it off the roof by the time firefighters arrived.”

The AAFD official documentation for that fire includes the reports that people were on the roof, but indicates firefighters were told on arrival that everyone was out of the house:


The fire investigation documentation reports an interview with the father of the family as follows:

He went to [the daughter's] bedroom and woke her up to get her out but when he attempted to escape he could not make it down the stairs through the smoke so he exited out the window on to the outside ledge and proceeded to the garage roof and then to the ground.

The Chronicle was not able to identify any descriptions in the report, or attributions to fire department officials in the article, that specifically indicate a jump was made from the roof.

Jones said the article stated that the response time for that fire was 9 minutes [and 4 seconds], but Jones said that in fact the total complement of firefighters was on the scene in 7 minutes. These are professional firefighters whose reputations could be damaged by what’s in the article, he said. Jones said he wanted to look at the reports and get together with the assistant fire chiefs and reach out to Ryan Stanton, the reporter who’d put together the article, and compare it to what’s in the actual reports. The information in the article doesn’t appear to be what the city has in the fire department reports, Jones said.

Hieftje wondered if it would make a difference if six people or four people were staffed – he wondered how they would get to the scene any faster. Jones said that for some of the fires discussed in the article, the houses were totally engulfed before the firefighters arrived. They did their best to get there as quickly as they could. So to have information put out in the community that indicated that they didn’t get to the scene fast enough – when the official reports show a different time – that needs to be clarified and corrected, Jones said.

Hieftje asked for a clarification of how “response time” is calculated. Jones said you hear a lot about the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) 1710 Standards. Jones described the standards to the council. The text of the response time standard [emphasis added]: Initial Arriving Company. The fire department’s fire suppression resources shall be deployed to provide for the arrival of an engine company within a 240-second travel time to 90 percent of the incidents as established in Chapter 4. Personnel assigned to the initial arriving company shall have the capability to implement an initial rapid intervention crew (IRIC). Initial Full Alarm Assignment Capability. The fire department shall have the capability to deploy an initial full alarm assignment within a 480-second travel time to 90 percent of the incidents as established in Chapter 4.

Jones told the council that it’s the four-minute “response time” standard they’ve been hearing a lot about. And based on the fire department official reports, Jones said, the fire trucks are covering the distance in the appropriate time from anywhere in the city. He said he believed there are some errors in Stanton’s calculations published in the story that need to be cleared up.

FY 2012 Budget: Fire Reporting – Background

In terms of the NFPA standards, it’s clear that the “response time” of the fire department is a time interval – with a beginning and an end. The start of the “response time” interval is when the firetruck is on the way (i.e., is en route) to the fire scene. The “response time” interval ends when the truck arrives on the scene of the fire.

This fits with the idea that the “response time” standard is meant in part to address the issue of adequate geographic fire protection coverage, which is related to the number of fire stations, hence to staffing levels. That standard does not address how efficient firefighters are at getting themselves into their gear and onto their trucks after they are notified that they need to roll. And the “response time” also does not include the interval before firefighters are notified – that is, the time it takes the 911 operator and fire dispatcher to deal with a call.

Obviously, the intervals that precede the “response time” interval also matter. And separate standards apply to those intervals. For the interval that starts with the call to 911 and ends with the notification of a fire station that it needs to roll its trucks down the road, the standard is 60 seconds. From the time a fire station receives notification, i.e., is dispatched to the fire scene, to the point when the trucks are actually on the way, the standard is also 60 seconds.

In terms of time points and the intervals between them, this is The Chronicle’s summary of what the NFPA timeline looks like:

Timepoint 1: The time when the emergency alarm is received by the public safety operator.
Interval: 1-2 [Dispatch Time (or Call Processing Time)] 60 seconds
Timepoint 2: The time when sufficient information is known to the dispatcher, and the relevant fire station is notified of the emergency.
Interval: 2-3 [Turnout Time] 60 seconds
Timepoint 3: The time at which a fire truck is en route to the emergency incident.
Interval: 3-4 [Response Time] 240 seconds (4 minutes), 480 seconds for full-alarm assignment of vehicles and personnel.
Timepoint 4: The time when a fire truck arrives at the scene.

Determining the actual intervals for a given fire is a matter of performing the clock arithmetic on the correct timepoints. The reporting in the article about the AAFD response times was based on timepoints drawn from AAFD official reports. However, instead of using Timepoint 3 (the actual en route time) for the arithmetic, it appears a different timepoint was used.

The fire reports used in the article were uploaded by that publication to

  • April 3, 2010
  • April 13, 2010
  • April 23, 2010
  • Sept. 16, 2010
  • Nov. 7, 2010
  • -

    Based on The Chronicle’s review of the AAFD reports used in’s arithmetic, it seems that AAFD’s practice is not to record Timepoint 3 as a separate datapoint, but instead to copy the timepoint labeled “dispatch time” into the report field labeled “enroute time.” From a Sept. 16, 2010 report:

    Ann Arbor Fire Department Report

    Ann Arbor Fire Department report for Sept. 16, 2010 fire reporting, illustrating the identical timepoint recordings for "notify time" and "enroute time."


    If the timepoint labeled “enroute time” is used for the clock arithmetic, ignoring the fact that it’s identical to the “notify time” (an equivalence that seems impossible), the result of the clock arithmetic for “response time” is 4 minutes 9 seconds [05:59:44 – 05:55:35 = 00:04:09], or 9 seconds longer than the NFPA standards that should be met for 90% of fires.

    In multiple places elsewhere in the same Sept. 16, 2010 report, a “dispatch time” is recorded as 05:55 – it’s only precise to the minute. And an “alarm time” is recorded as 05:55:35 – which is also identical to the “notify time” and the “enroute times.”

    The sum of the NFPA standards for the interval between the dispatch timepoint (Timepoint 2) to the on-scene arrival time (Timepoint 4) is 5 minutes. Based on that interval, the Sept. 16, 2010 “response time” + “turnout time” would be classified as meeting the NFPA standard.

    One of the reports used in the article does include Timepoint 3 as a separate datapoint – in the form of a screen grab from a dispatcher’s screen. For the April 23, 2010 fire, a separate timepoint – between “dispatch” and “on-scene” – is recorded as “respond.” That’s the timepoint when the firefighters alert dispatchers that they are on the way.

    AAFD screen grab report

    Excerpt from a dispatcher screen grab included in the Ann Arbor fire department report for April 23, 2010. The "respond time" corresponds to the "enroute time," or Timepoint 3, when the firefighters let the dispatcher know they're on the way to the scene.


    Using the “respond” timepoint for the clock arithmetic on the April 23, 2010 fire yields a 2 minute 37 second “response time” for the first-arriving vehicle and a 7 minute 6 second response for the fifth vehicle on the scene (including the battalion chief), which is Ann Arbor’s “full alarm assignment.” Both of those “response times” meet the NFPA standard.

    In an email to The Chronicle, assistant fire chief Chuck Hubbard noted that sometimes firefighters tell the dispatcher over the radio at the station that they’re responding to a call, then climb aboard the trucks and head to the fire scene, rather than radioing from the truck. That introduces some uncertainty in the response time data.

    assistant fire chief Chuck Hubbard

    Assistant fire chief Chuck Hubbard attended the council's May 16 meeting.

    While the “response time” standard addresses travel time to a fire scene, and relates to the number of stations maintained in the city and their geographic distribution, the other time intervals relate to call-center efficiency and the ability of firefighters to assemble their gear and start rolling down the road. It’s not clear what accounts for the three-minute interval between “dispatch” and “respond” for the April 23, 2010 fire.

    It does seem clear that, without an understanding of actual AAFD operating procedures and how they relate to the data included in official AAFD reports, it’s difficult to draw definitive conclusions from those reports about the actual time intervals that are relevant for evaluating Ann Arbor fire department performance against NFPA standards.

    The uncertainty of the data in the reports is supported by a notation in a report made five days after an April 13, 2010 fire [emphasis added]:

    04/18/2010 09:51:55 ETAYLOR All individual personnel names were added to each apparatus for complete accountability of who was at the scene. The injury report was updated with the proper age of the firefighter who was injured at the scene. Also wanted to note that some of the times were estimated because of inaccurate times reported by central dispatch.

    FY 2012 Budget: Community Comparison Reporting

    At the council meeting, chief Jones went on to say that a article had failed to include in its presentation of data about other Big 10 university communities that some of those fire department have their own ambulances. That requires additional staffing, he said.

    Each ambulance would require an additional seven staff, he said. Taking East Lansing as an example [home of Michigan State University], Jones said that if the ambulance personnel were subtracted, it would work out to approximately the same relative staffing level as Ann Arbor.

    FY 2012 Budget: Council/Staff Response – Fire Protection

    Speaking about the fire protection study that the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) is conducting for the city, chief Jones characterized that organization as the neutral third party that would bring in experts from the fire service profession to do the study. [The contract with ICMA, for not more than $54,000, was authorized at the city council's Feb. 7, 2011 meeting.]

    Toward the beginning of the council meeting, mayor John Hieftje had asked interim city administrator Tom Crawford about the status of the fire protection study that the city has commissioned. Crawford said it’s expected to be delivered in July. [In connection with the appointment of the interim administrator from an internal pool of candidates, the fire protection study was one of the major projects identified as important for the appointee to carry forward.]

    Chief Jones noted that he’d been working with the two assistant fire chiefs, and he’d be bringing a recommendation to fill the open fire chief position by promoting from within. [Jones is head of public safety services for the city and is serving as interim fire chief in the wake of Dominick Lanza's resignation this spring, after only about a year on the job.]

    Ann Arbor is an intelligent community, Jones said, and we need to have the facts in front of us. The ICMA would provide those facts. ICMA would give clear advice so that Ann Arbor is prepared to go in the right direction, he said.

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know who would be doing the fire protection study – city managers? Who are the actual people who have the expertise to evaluate the fire department, she asked. Jones told her it would be experts from the relevant field of city government. For Ann Arbor’s study, it would be Don James, a firefighter from Florida, who would lead the study. He’d be assisted by a data analyst and a third person who is an ex-fire chief, Jones said.

    Higgins asked who would write the report. She wanted to know if it would be filtered. Jones told Higgins, “No, ma’am.” He said a personal friend of his – the fire chief in Troy – had tried to influence that report, and they’d “slapped him” a few times. ICMA will not “water down” their results, Jones assured Higgins.

    During his communications time, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) said he wanted to clear up some misinformation. He said there’s a perception that the city has refused to meet with firefighters to negotiate a new contract. He said that’s clearly not accurate. The city has met at least 16 times with the firefighters’ negotiating team, most recently a week or so ago. A state mediator has participated in meetings on three occasions. Another another meeting was scheduled later this week. The firefighters had filed an Act 312 petition requesting arbitration in March. Among the issues in dispute are wages, pension, rank differential, and staffing levels. All of those have the potential to affect the budget, depending on how the arbitrator rules, Rapundalo said.

    Despite the uncertainty of the situation, the city continues to meet and hope that “cooler heads will prevail,” Rapundalo said. He hoped that the two sides can come to an understanding to mitigate some of the cuts.

    FY 2012 Budget: Council Deliberations

    The decision to recess the meeting and continue it a week later is driven by a city charter requirement that the council adopt its budget no later than the second meeting in May, which began May 16. When the meeting resumes on May 23, it will be considered to be the same meeting.

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she’d looked it up in Robert’s Rules of Order and what should happen is to “adjourn to date and time specific” After clarifying with city attorney Stephen Postema that either the word “recess” or “adjourn” would work, Hieftje noted that the date and time would be 7 p.m. on May 23.

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to recess the meeting until Monday, May 23 at 7 p.m.

    Human Services Funding

    Before the council was a resolution to allocate $1,159,029 in funding to nonprofits in the city that provide human services.

    The $1,159,029 amount to be allocated reflects a 9% reduction from FY 2011 human services funding levels. The council had postponed consideration of the human services allocation at its May 2, 2011 meeting in order to explore ways of “finding another dime.”

    The city’s support for human services is allocated in coordination with other entities: the United Way of Washtenaw County ($1,677,000), Washtenaw County ($1,015,000) and the Washtenaw Urban County ($363,154).

    On Monday, councilmembers were inclined to delay action on all budget-related issues, given their plan to delay action on the FY 2012 budget, which was achieved through a recess of the meeting until Monday, May 23. When the meeting continues at that time, the resolution on human services funding can be taken off the table for deliberation and a vote.

    It’s possible that when the budget resolution is considered on May 23, an amendment will be proposed to draw $85,600 from the city’s general fund reserve to increase the human services allocation. That budget amendment is expected to be proposed by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

    Outcome: The council voted to lay on the table the resolution on human services funding. It can be taken up off the table when the meeting resumes on Monday, May 23.

    Water System Study

    Before the council was a $208,984 contract with AECOM for a study of the city’s water distribution system. The money for the study, which dates from a 2007 request for proposals (RFP), was allocated in the fiscal year 2011 budget of the city’s water fund. The level of service (LOS) study to be done by AECOM will recommend a sustainable level of service for the city’s water distribution system, and determine how much investment it would take to achieve that level. The study would also help the city decide, for example, which water mains should be replaced first.

    Water System Study: Council Deliberations

    Cresson Slotten, unit manager in the systems planning department, fielded questions from the council on the study. He described it as the second part of a two-part study. The first part had addressed the capacity and technical function of the water distribution system. The second phase looks at the level of services and will involve a citizens group, addressing issues like taste and odor, and will provide cost estimates to deliver the desired level of service.

    Mayor John Hieftje pointed out that the money for the study derives from fees paid by water consumers.

    Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked Slotten if the four water main breaks in his neighborhood in the last year would be included in the scope of the study. Slotten allowed that this kind of issue is part of the study. Other factors include taste – as pipes begin to age, taste might be affected – color and odor.

    Kunselman then noted that the city has a very qualified staff. They know where breaks are, so why can’t the city do this internally? Why do they need to hire it out? Slotten said the city has maintained the system well, but hasn’t gone out to citizens and asked them for their views.

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said if she understood the proposal correctly, what the city is seeking is a consultant to communicate better with people who live in Ann Arbor, to ask the right questions and give the staff the information they have to share. Briere said it seems not to be a one-time thing – it seems to be a recurring theme about why the city hires consultants. Is it that the city doesn’t have the capacity to do the work, she asked, or doesn’t have the capacity to communicate?

    One thing a consultant brings, Slotten said, is the ability to compare standards to other communities across the U.S. and Canada. The consultant has evaluated assets in communities across the country, and brings that experience and context. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said the question has come up from residents about the city possibly privatizing its water distribution system. Smith provided the historical note that Ann Arbor had actually purchased its system originally from a private company in 1908.

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked Slotten to speak to the value of the consultant as it relates to the city’s capital planning. Slotten said that one of the reasons this particular firm was selected is that they use a capital asset prioritization simulator (CAPS) that takes advantage of information that the city is already tracking, like where breaks are occurring.

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she could appreciate that the city wants to have the study done. However, she had a problem taking on a $200,000 study. She said she was not sure she could support it. She was particularly concerned about the $10,550 contingency. She felt like the city did not do a good job making sure that unused contingencies are returned to fund balances.

    CFO Tom Crawford noted that contingencies are used only if needed. Contingencies are reviewed quarterly, he said, and when the project is closed, contingencies go back.

    Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said he was not for the amendment, saying that if there are concerns about accounting and how contingencies are closed out, then that issue should be addressed directly. Hieftje said he would not support the amendment either, saying the contingency could cover critical work that needs to be done.

    Outcome on contingency amendment: Amending out the contingency was approved on a 6-5 vote with support from: Smith, Briere, Rapundalo, Higgins, Kunselman and Anglin.

    Hieftje then asked if Higgins perhaps would like to delay a final vote until other budget issues were also addressed. So she moved that the issue be laid on the table.

    Outcome: The council voted to lay the resolution on the table. They’ll be able to take it up off the table when the meeting resumes on May 23.

    Neighborhood Stabilization Program Funds: Near North Demolition

    Before the council was a resolution to add to its neighborhood stabilization program (NSP) budget, and a corresponding expenditure to pay for the demolition of three houses as site preparation for the Near North affordable housing project on North Main.

    The addition to the NSP budget came from a reimbursement. The owner of a house paid back NSP money to the city, previously expended to demolish the owner’s property. That reimbursement amounted to $24,135. NSP funds come originally from federal grants allocated through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

    In addition, city staff identified an NSP homeowner acquisition and rehabilitation project that was completed under budget by $11,750. Combined, the additional revenue to the NSP budget and the savings on the rehabilitation project amount to $35,885. Of that amount, $33,292 will be used to pay for the demolition of 718, 722, and 724 N. Main St., with the remaining $2,593 going to administration costs in the office of community development, which oversees the NSP. The money will be allocated to the nonprofit Avalon Housing, which is developing the Near North project with Three Oaks.

    The city council originally approved rezoning for the project – a four-story, 39-unit mixed use residential building on a 1.19-acre site – on Sept. 21, 2009.

    NSP Near North Demolitions: Council Deliberations

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked Mary Jo Callan, head of the city/county office of community development, to explain how the funding worked. Neighborhood stabilization program (NSP) funds received in 2009 were used initially to demolish a residential property. A lien was placed on it for $24,135. When the property was sold, the sale proceeds were used to pay back the city. When the NSP program receives income, the city tries to apply the money to an existing, shovel-ready project, Callan said.

    Kunselman noted there are lots of blighted properties in the city that could use these funds. Why were these houses on North Main selected and not others? Why wouldn’t the developer be responsible for tearing down the houses? Callan told Kunselman those were great questions. The funds have a time limit on them, so part of the reason to use them on the Near North demolitions is that it’s a project ready to go, there’s a clear owner, a clear title, and there are no potential delays. In addition, NSP funds can only be used on certain census tracts.

    Kunselman wanted to know if a lien would be placed on the property and how the Near North developer would pay it back. Callan said that certain liens are forgiven. But if the property were sold, it would have to get paid back. Kunselman concluded from what Callan said that the money for demolition is a grant. Callan told him, “It’s an investment in permanently affordable housing.” The expectation is that the housing will be permanently affordable. The city’s strategy is not heavily weighted towards “recycling” the money, as Kunselman was suggesting: use money for demolition; place a lien on the property; the property sells; the lien is paid back; and the money becomes available for demolition of another blighted property.

    Kunselman asked community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl how many blighted properties the city’s nuisance committee had identified. Bahl said the committee is prioritizing a list and in the next few months, that list would be shared with the council. Kunselman wondered if the city would have any money to undertake demolitions. There was a house torn down in his neighborhood where the money was paid back. Was there any way to make sure the North Main property owner does pay it back?

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she was intrigued that it’s a permanent loan that gets paid back only if a property is sold. She said it’s a disincentive to sell, and a reason to give this kind of grant. She asked if there are other similar situations in the offing. Callan said this is the city’s model for investing in affordable housing. She said the need to repay on sale of the property is absolutely a disincentive to sell, but that Avalon Housing doesn’t need the disincentive in the case of the Near North project, because affordable housing is their mission.

    Briere wondered if, generally speaking, NSP funds were not for demolition. Callan explained that demolition is, in fact, an allowable activity for NSP funds – it’s about stabilizing neighborhoods. Although the city has not used NSP funds often for that, she said she’d talked with Margie Teall (Ward 4) about setting aside some of the NSP funds for demolition.

    Outcome: The council voted to approve the NSP allocations so that the houses on North Main could be demolished in preparation for the Near North housing project.

    Large Vehicle Purchases

    Before the council were authorizations for the purchase of two large vehicles – an Elgin street sweeper ($273,300) and a combination sewer truck ($398,806).

    The staff memo accompanying the request for the sweeper states: “The sweeper being replaced has been in service ten years and has 5,960 hours of use. Over the last two years, this unit has been taken to Fleet Service for maintenance and repairs 87 times of which 33% have been for breakdowns. The total cost of all repairs over the same time frame have exceeded $113,250.”

    About the combination sewer truck: “This truck will replace a 2004 unit with 8060 hours of use. Over the last two years, this unit has been taken to Fleet Service for maintenance and repairs 53 times of which 58% have been for breakdowns. These breakdowns have taken the unit out of service from as little as four hours to as long as two weeks.”

    The council had postponed the purchases from its May 2, 2011 meeting with a request for additional information about the vehicles.

    Large Vehicle Purchases: Council Deliberations

    Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted to know if the trucks had any resale value. Craig Hupy, head of systems planning for the city, said they did. The city is known for keeping its trucks in pretty good shape, he said. But the city kept the trucks in service for a longer time than a dealership would be willing to offer a guaranteed buy-back, so the re-sale value depends on the market, Hupy said.

    Kunselman asked if the same sewer truck purchase proposal had been brought before the council last year. No, said Hupy. It was in a previous year’s budget. But Hupy described how the city had a desire to do cooperative bidding with other cities and they’d gone together with three other cities to bid for the truck. Agreeing with the other cities on the specifications for the trucks was like “herding cats,” Hupy said, but in the end the city had gotten about a 10% better deal than if it had gone out to bid by itself.

    Mayor John Hieftje drew out the fact that the vehicles to be replaced had frequently been out of service, and in the case of the combination sewer truck could delay cleaning out of sewers, which could result in sewers backing up.

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) picked up on the idea that the city needs the truck – it’s needed to do sewer clear-outs, which can result in sewer backups for residents if they’re not done. Hearing that, said Higgins, boggled her mind. She said she understood comments by Hupy and Hieftje to mean that if the city doesn’t do sewer clear-outs, it can cause sewer backups in the basement. Hupy allowed that the failure to do sewer clear-outs “can result in” sewer backups – not “cause.” Hupy said it was his understanding that if the city has not performed adequate sewer maintenance and a resident experiences sewer backups, then it can result in a payable claim.

    Higgins also wanted to know how the vehicles were being paid for. If a vehicle is not originally paid for out of the fleet fund, does the revenue from resale go back to the fund it was paid out of? Hupy said he’d defer to the financial folks to answer the question – Sue McCormick, public services area administrator. The truck was originally paid out of sewer funds, said McCormick. So money from resale goes back to the sewer fund.

    As the city moves ahead, McCormick said, it purchases new vehicles from the fleet fund. So the next time a truck like this is replaced, it’ll be bought out of the fleet fund with money contributed by the sanitary sewer fund. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wanted McCormick to explain why the city was moving to a strategy of paying for vehicles out of the fleet fund.

    McCormick described the history at the city related to pressures on general fund fleet purchases. That had resulted in a very slow vehicle replacement schedule, with older vehicles. And the city wound up with very low reliability on daily production work. So the decision was made years ago to stop purchasing vehicles from the fleet fund and to pay for vehicles through cash flow. The city has now done away with that practice, McCormick said, and is returning to a strategy of paying for new vehicles out of the fleet fund. The reason, she said, is that if you think about paying annual depreciation on a vehicle, as opposed to “cash flowing it,” the cash-flow approach impacts utility rates in the year when the expense is incurred, instead of spreading it over the life of the vehicle. The fleet fund approach is thus more favorable to ratepayers, she said.

    Kunselman wrapped up his comments by saying he would be supporting the purchase. He noted there have been four water main breaks within two blocks of his house, and when the city comes with the trucks, they’re right there and they pull everything out of the hole.

    Outcome: The council approved both truck purchases on separate votes.

    “Parks Fairness” Resolution

    Before the council was a proposed revision to the 2006 administrative policy that governs the use of the city’s parks capital improvements and maintenance millage, including how the city’s general fund should support Ann Arbor’s parks.

    A key point to the revision includes an additional provision that “for the purpose of this resolution all funds other than the Millage which are used to support Parks and Recreation system activities shall be considered the same as City’s General Fund support.” The proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 calls for using money from the METRO Act fund and the city’s stormwater fund to pay for certain parks operations, which the city would like to count as general fund support.

    The new provision in the policy helps the city’s planned budget for FY 2012 conform with another administrative policy requirement – that the amount of general fund parks support not decrease any more than other parts of the general fund.

    A further amendment that was before the council on May 16 would have changed the standard of general fund support from one that is based on hard dollars to one that is based on service levels, with FY 2011 as a baseline: “[T]he General Fund budget supporting the Parks and Recreation system for that year may be reduced by a higher percentage than the average percentage reduction of the total City General Fund budget as long as the FY11 level of service within Parks and Recreation system is not materially reduced.”

    That second amendment would have helped the city conform with the policy this year, because the proposed FY 2012 budget called for spending $90,000 less on parks than would otherwise be required if the administrative policy were left unamended. The city contends that the $90,000 reduction in expenditures is due to increased efficiency, and would not affect service standards. [Chronicle coverage: "Council to Get Reminder of Parks Promise"]

    The city council also revised the 2006 administrative policy during the FY 2010 budget cycle, so that millage funding for the natural area preservation program would not automatically increase by 3% every year.

    Parks Fairness Resolution: Council Deliberations

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) began by introducing the background for the resolution: The 2006 parks maintenance and capital improvements millage was accompanied by a city council resolution outlining how the millage money should be spent. Generally speaking, he said, the resolution was meant to have any reductions/increases in parks funding be on a parallel track with general fund reductions/increases.

    Taylor indicated that he’d be suggesting a friendly amendment to a resolution revising the 2006 policy. In the midst of his remarks, which Taylor self-described as a “long and wandering introduction,” Mayor John Hieftje wanted to get the issue of the amendment settled. But Taylor told the mayor that he’d not gotten to the actual amendment yet.

    The amendment that Taylor wanted to make to his own resolution was this:  Strike the proposed addition of a clause that would establish service levels as the standard that parks spending would be measured against, instead of a hard dollar figure comparison to the general fund. The reason he wanted to strike the clause was that he felt it might be possible to find a way to make up the additional $90,000 for parks in the FY 2012 budget, which the current administrative policy would require, if it were not amended.

    Confusion ensued among councilmembers as they struggled to understand what Taylor intended. In sum, the following language from his amendment was stricken, which left that part of the administrative policy intact.

    [T]he General Fund budget supporting the Parks and Recreation system for that year may be reduced by a higher percentage than the average percentage reduction of the total City General Fund budget as long as the FY11 level of service within Parks and Recreation system is not materially reduced.

    Surviving amendment was the part of Taylor’s resolution that allowed non-millage funds outside the general fund to count for purposes of calculating the amount of general fund support for the parks.

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to revise the parks millage administrative policy to allow non-millage funds external to the general fund to count as general fund money for purposes of the policy.

    Taxicab Fares

    Before the council was an increase in the allowable fare for cabs operating in the city. The rate increase affects only the mileage component of fares, which were last approved on May 19, 2008.

    The mileage increase from $2.25/mile to $2.50/mile had been requested by several taxicab companies in light of rising fuel prices, which are currently just over $4/gallon. The city’s taxicab board has indicated that with this increase, it does not anticipate considering another rate change until the gas prices are over $5/gallon for at least two consecutive months. The board had voted to recommend the change at its April 28, 2011 meeting.

    Members of the taxicab board include the city’s CFO Tom Crawford, and William Clock, an officer with the Ann Arbor police department, as non-voting members. [The city's ordinance actually requires that the city's CFO and the chief of police serve as non-voting members.] The five voting members are Stephen Kunselman (representative to the board from the city council) as well as Barbara Krick, C. Robert Snyder, Tom Oldakowski and Timothy Hull.

    [Hull has filed nominating petitions to contest the city council Democratic primary in Ward 2 against incumbent Stephen Rapundalo. Kunselman will be running for re-election in the Ward 3 Democratic primary.]

    Crawford, who is also interim city administrator, had announced the public hearing on the taxicab fare increase at the city council’s May 2, 2011 meeting.

    Taxicab Fares: Public Hearing

    Michael Benson introduced himself as a Ward 2 resident and president of the University of Michigan graduate student body. He told the council he wanted to speak about the process for the increase. He noted fuel costs are in fact going up and he understands the need for the increase. But he noted that in the past, a temporary surcharge has been used to address increased fuel prices – why not this time? He asked that the increase be amended with some kind of sunset clause that would require the increase to be reviewed after a certain period, and that a recommendation be brought back to the council.

    Thomas Partridge called on the council to postpone the increase. Any increase in rates harms the most vulnerable residents first, he said. Executives in limousines pulling up to Google are not concerned about taxicab rates, he said. He called on the council to table the measure and come up with a better proposal.

    Taxicab Fares: Council Deliberations

    Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) inquired whether a formula been considered that would tie taxicab rates to some objective third-party measure of fuel prices, so that requests for fare increases would come before the council less frequently. Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who sponsored the resolution as the city council’s appointee to the taxicab board, responded to Hohnke by saying that other costs have also increased – it’s not just the gas increase that’s driving this. He told Hohnke that no formula tied to fuel prices has been discussed.

    In response to Benson’s suggestion made during public commentary to sunset the increase, Kunselman said he was not going to make that recommendation. Taxicab companies are struggling for other reasons. Kunselman amended one of the “whereas” clauses to make it clear that gas prices have now exceeded $4/gallon – they didn’t jump by $4/gallon.

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the fare increase.

    Downtown Design Guidelines

    Before the council was initial approval to an amendment of its land use control ordinance that will establish design guidelines for new projects in downtown Ann Arbor, and set up a seven-member design review board (DRB) to provide developers with feedback on their projects’ conformance to the design guidelines.

    All city of Ann Arbor ordinances require approval at an initial first reading before the council, a public hearing, and a final approval.

    The project review by the DRB will come before a meeting with nearby residents – which is already required as part of the citizen participation ordinance. While the DRB process is required, conformance with the recommendations of that body is voluntary.

    The city council had previously approved the design guideline review program at its Feb. 7, 2011 meeting. The city planning commission unanimously recommended the change to the city’s ordinance at its April 5, 2011 meeting. [Previous Chronicle coverage, which includes a detailed timeline of the design guidelines work, dating back to a work group formed in 2006: "Ann Arbor Hotel First to Get Design Review?"]

    Council deliberations were brief. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted that the ordinance now before the council is coming back after being presented at the February meeting. The city’s planning commission had been asked to expedite it, she said, and they had done that. That means that new construction will fall under the ordinance. She urged her colleagues to pass it, saying, “It’s exactly what we wanted.”

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the design guidelines, which will need a final approval before the ordinance is enacted.

    Communications and Comment

    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: Transformers in Neighborhoods

    Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) informed his council colleagues that in response to an issue raised in Arbor Oaks subdivision by a city engineer – it concerned electrical transformers in the easements of backyards – he and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) had contacted Paul Ganz, DTE’s regional manager, and DTE had sent crews out to investigate. Everything is safe, he reported, and there is no danger of electrocution. DTE is going to address some of the visual issues that had caused concern.

    Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

    Council meeting to be continued: May 23, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

    ]]> 4
    16th Monthly Milestone Sat, 02 Jan 2010 15:57:23 +0000 Mary Morgan Chronicle notepads

    Notebooks used by The Chronicle, made locally by Kate Kehoe out of recycled paper. The front and back covers are made from movie videotape boxes.

    Editor’s Note: The monthly milestone column is published on the second day of each month – the anniversary of The Ann Arbor Chronicle’s Sept. 2, 2008 launch. It’s a chance for either the publisher or the editor of The Chronicle to touch base with readers on topics related to this publication.

    There’s something hopeful about an empty notebook.

    It’s all about possibilities – events that haven’t yet happened, wonky statements that haven’t yet been recorded. Blank pages don’t yet contain anything that’s indecipherable or uninspiring. All of that is still to come – for now, it’s pristine pages, and no shortage of them.

    I just stocked up on a pile of new notebooks for The Chronicle. They’re made by local artisan Kate Kehoe, who fashions them from recycled paper and old movie video boxes. I take a perverse pleasure in doing a serious interview while writing in a Hellraiser III notebook.

    Notebooks – empty and full – are a good way to think about starting the new year.

    Taking Note

    The notebooks for 2009 are now full. And in our first calendar year as a publication, we recorded our own share of unanticipated events. The closing of the Ann Arbor News last year was a story that attracted national interest, with journalists and others who were curious and concerned about what was happening in this market. Because of that, we received some national attention, too – so notes about The Chronicle were jotted down in other reporters’ notebooks as well, from New York to California.

    It’s been odd, frankly, to be on the receiving end of interviews, whether in print and on camera. Participating in a broader conversation about how to save an entire industry, while at the same time worrying about what you’ll be publishing tomorrow or if anyone will buy another ad, can create a strange sense of disconnect.

    Thankfully, local businesses and organizations have continued to buy ads, and in 2009 we reached the milestone of being able to support ourselves, modestly, from Chronicle revenue. We’ve given a lot of thought about how to continue to do that. Our motto has always been “make a living, not a killing.” While we would love to see ventures like ours emerge in other communities, but we aren’t interested in empire building.

    We are interested in finding a sustainable way to allow continuation and expansion of our coverage – and maybe, at some blessed day in the future, a vacation. Even better if it’s a model that others can use to start a similar publication in their own town. But what exactly is that model?

    Stones vs. Boulders

    Because this is a milestone message, a different analogy from notebooks also seems apt: Building a business with stones versus boulders. When you rely on just a few boulders, you’ll topple if one of them rolls away. Smaller stones can’t sustain you by themselves. But build a foundation with a few thousand stones, and you won’t be as vulnerable if you lose a few now and then.

    The analogy of readers to stones is not perfect, I’ll grant you. But our decision to put up a voluntary subscription option soon after we launched was motivated by readers who told us that they, as individuals, wanted to add their weight of financial support to our publication.

    And that prompted us to begin thinking about what it is we are selling. In our October 2009 monthly milestone, Chronicle editor Dave Askins put it this way:

    Here at The Chronicle, I’d like to think that what gets “sold” is journalism. Many of our advertisers support us because they believe in the kind of journalism we’re providing – we’re extremely grateful for their support. And a couple hundred readers have “bought” the journalism we have on offer through voluntarily sending us some money. …

    The fact that many readers have already voluntarily set for themselves an amount they contribute as a subscription fee each and every month is a testament to the fact that people will buy what we’re selling. In retrospect, we might have thought more seriously at the outset about the idea of “selling journalism.”

    It’s fair to say that right now, we have a small (and much appreciated!) pile of stones, relative to the boulders of our local advertisers. Don’t get me wrong: We are very thankful for those boulders – without their support, we wouldn’t be here.

    But a more sustainable model would be to add a strong foundation of readers, those who value our work enough to support it directly.

    That’s obviously not a novel approach – readers are accustomed to paying for print subscriptions. But subscription fees typically make up only a small percentage of total revenue for mainstream newspapers or magazines. In that case, subscribers are valuable in part as leverage with advertisers, who are willing to pay for access to as many potential customers as possible.

    What’s trickier about purely online publications like ours is the culture of universal online access. And we’re not unique in having to grapple with this issue. The discussion is a frequent topic on the website for the Poynter Institute for journalists. And here’s just one recent commentary on the issue from the executive editor of the Miami Herald: “Figuring a Way to Pay for News That’s Read Online.”

    Several online media ventures have decided to address the issue by becoming nonprofits. I was recently interviewed by someone at J-Lab, an institute for new media ventures, who said his survey of online news publications found far more nonprofit than for-profit models. But here again, it’s the boulder-versus-stones conundrum. Many nonprofits are competing for grant funding from a limited pool – from groups like the Knight Foundation – and to us, that’s not a secure, long-term approach, especially as more nonprofit news sites emerge. We also felt it was important that, as a local publication, our venture be supported by local dollars, not national foundations.

    So back to the stones. While subscriptions themselves aren’t novel, what would be novel is to create a sustainable, local news publication funded primarily – perhaps even exclusively – by the voluntary subscriptions of its readers. That might say something powerful about the community, but it would say something about the publication itself, too.

    Part of what it would say about the publication is that its revenue requirements – relative to those required by traditional newsgathering organizations – are pretty modest. In the case of The Chronicle, our revenue requirements are small, mostly because that revenue is invested almost exclusively in reporting, writing, and editing. We don’t allocate many resources to marketing and promotion of our own publication, or in bricks-and-mortar infrastructure – The Workantile Exchange provides our editor with space for $100 a month, for example.

    But our revenue requirements aren’t zero, and we don’t have a corporate owner to subsidize us if we don’t hit our numbers.

    So empty notebooks, full of possibilities, can be daunting. That’s why we give a heartfelt thanks to those of you who already support us – it’s incredibly reassuring to us when you make a voluntary commitment to subscribe, telling us you have confidence in our future.

    I don’t know if my notebooks at the end of 2010 will reflect any seismic shift in The Chronicle’s funding sources. But if you aren’t already, I hope you’ll consider being a part our effort to try.

    About the writer: Mary Morgan is publisher of The Ann Arbor Chronicle.

    ]]> 13
    Building Bridges Mon, 02 Mar 2009 16:35:42 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council Sunday caucus (March 1, 2009): At Sunday’s caucus, Mayor John Hieftje assessed the Ann Arbor city council agenda for Monday as “fairly light.” That’s also an accurate description of the kind of loads the Stadium Boulevard bridge over State Street can currently bear – with deterioration of the structure leading to two weight limit reductions in the last year, and a reduction of traffic to two lanes last week.

    Exposed Strands Stadium Bridge

    Stadium Boulevard bridge at State Street: Seven pre-stressing strands exposed on beam 5. The strands run east-west – that is, in the direction of the bridge's span.

    Even though it is not yet reflected on the agenda for Monday, it’s expected that Sue McCormick, public services director of the city of Ann Arbor, will brief council on the bridge at the start of its meeting.

    Some of the handful of residents at caucus were there to inquire about the bridge (and city finances in general), while others were there to weigh in on the A2D2 (Ann Arbor Discovering Downtown) rezoning process, which the planning commission is literally in the midst of deliberating.

    Also receiving some discussion was the Sunday editorial in the Ann Arbor News on the recent request by the city for the DDA to increase its revenues to ensure adequate reserves. A first-time caucus attendee was there to discuss a situation in the field services department of the city, which could be given little commentary by councilmembers present, in light of the fact that it involved a personnel matter.

    Who was there representing city council? Ward 5 had a full complement with Carsten Hohnke and Mike Anglin both attending. Sabra Briere held the standard high for Ward 1. And Hieftje rounded out the council quartet.

    Stadium Bridge at State Street

    Some background: There are two nearly adjacent bridges on Stadium Boulevard (east-west) near State Street (north-south). One of the bridges spans State Street, while the other spans the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks (north-south). The specific bridge in question is the structure spanning State Street.

    In late 2007 after a biannual inspection of the bridge, weight limits were reduced on the span. The limits were set as follows:

    • 31 tons (reduced from 38 tons) for one-unit trucks (e.g., school or AATA buses)
    • 39 tons (reduced from 48 tons) for two-unit trucks (e.g., a single-trailer semi)
    • 44 tons (reduced from 54 tons) for three-unit trucks (e.g., a semi with two trailers)

    Then in March 2008, a new round of weight reductions was triggered as the result of reports at the very end of 2007 (Dec. 29, 2007) of “medium-sized pieces of concrete” falling off one of the 16 pre-stressed concrete box beams supporting the roadway. Re-inspection by city staff and bridge engineering consultants in early January 2008 led to the short-term recommendation of a traffic control order further reducing weight limits:

    • 19 tons for one-unit trucks (e.g., school or AATA buses)
    • 24 tons for two-unit trucks (e.g., a single-trailer semi)
    • 26 tons for three-unit trucks (e.g., a semi with two trailers)

    In early February of this year (2009), the engineering consultant for the bridge, Northwest Consultants Inc., was called back to re-examine the bridge, after having conducted an inspection on Oct. 22, 2008. The reason for re-inspection was a concern by city of Ann Arbor engineering staff about one beam in particular, which appeared to be sagging. On re-inspection, NCI found that the fifth beam (counting from the south) was in fact sitting 7/8-inch lower than adjacent beams. Writing for NCI in a Feb. 12 memo, Jonathan Drummond gave this assessment:

    At that time [October 2008] we did not observe any deflection of this beam relative to the adjacent beams. Thus, I am of the opinion that this is a relatively recent development.

    Drummond continues:

    The 7/8 inch of additional deflection found on this beam is a significant problem which will require precautionary measures to be taken. Excessive deflection is one of the primary warnings of impending beam failure. Of additional concern is how fast this deflection has developed. If traffic continues to drive over this beam I would expect the deflection to continue to grow, eventually leading to beam failure. Therefore, my recommendation to you is that traffic be removed from over top of this beam.

    Beginning Feb. 23, 2009, the lanes over the bridges were scheduled to be reconfigured to conduct traffic over the northern portion of the bridge, which is not supported by the deflecting fifth beam. The result of that reconfiguration now leaves two lanes open over the bridge, one in each direction.

    It’s worth noting that in contrast to the previous traffic control orders (weight reductions), which did not target any particular part of the bridge, the reduction to two lanes addresses a weakness stemming from the fifth beam in particular.

    At the Feb. 1, 2009 city council caucus, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) expressed her frustration that the Stadium bridge project had not been a part of the stimulus package wish list submitted by the city of Ann Arbor – because the design had not been done and was not “shovel ready.”

    Here’s some background on the design process. During the fall of 2007, informational workshops had been held on a comprehensive project to address replacement of the span over State Street as well as the one over the railroad, including non-motorized improvements (i.e., sidewalks) extending along Stadium Boulevard to Main Street and south along Main to Scio Church road. Those workshops were held on Sept. 18, 2007 and Oct. 2, 2007 at Pioneer High School’s cafeteria.  They were well attended, especially by members of the Ann Arbor Golf and Outing Club, who were concerned that the proposed non-motorized improvements would have a negative impact on the course, which is nestled fairly tightly into the area on the southeast corner of the Stadium Boulevard and Main Street, across from Pioneer High School.

    By early March 2008, the vision for the comprehensive renovation had met with a funding setback. The Michigan Department of Transportation awarded only $760,000 for the project, though the total cost was estimated at that time at around $35 million.

    What happened to design work? In a Feb. 26, 2008 memo from Michael Nearing, senior project manager for the city of Ann Arbor’s project management unit, to Homayoon Pirooz, a manager in the same unit, indicates that the design work stalled for failure of Ward 4 councilmembers (Marcia Higgins and Margie Teall) to nominate a citizens advisory committee:

    We have not [been] able to move forward on the preliminary design of the bridge over S. State Street or the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks because we are waiting for the 4th Ward City Council members to nominate and confirm a Citizens Advisory Committee to assist us with the public engagement process. It has been our experience with projects of this nature that it is important to consider and review all aspects of the proposed design with the citizens in order to make sure the project that we deliver meets community expectations.

    In the short term, a replacement beam has been ordered, with repair work expected to cost around $500,000. The design work, which is now being done for the bridge, would cost around $1 million, Hieftje said at caucus.

    Caucus Discussion: Initial conversation on the  Stadium Boulevard bridge among residents and councilmembers  focused on funding and priorities. What is it, asked one woman, that is taking budget money away from this project and does not allow us to proceed? Why is council distracted from priorities about infrastructure by other considerations, like the graffiti ordinance?

    With respect to this first issue, Briere clarified that the reason that the project lacked funds was not that the city had decided to spend it on something else, but rather that the hoped-for state and federal support for the project had not materialized at the levels required to proceed. As for the second issue of priorities, Briere said that it wasn’t accurate to say the bridge replacement wasn’t a priority, noting that when she ran for council in 2007, the need to replace the bridge was on everyone’s list.

    As a followup to the funding question, the question was asked: Why not simply issue a bond? Hohnke explained that normally the city would receive significant state and federal support, so the hope was to avoid having the city shoulder the entire financial burden (by issuing a bond). Added Hieftje: “I don’t know of a local government who would do it without state and federal assistance.”

    Hieftje also offered the view that with recent developments regarding the beam, the project was more likely than before to be funded, noting that it was still not ranked as a “critical” bridge project. He said that money was being pursued in other ways, via federal earmarks through the offices of Mark Schauer (U.S. Congress 7th District) and John Dingell (U.S. Congress 15th District), saying that he’d had dinner with Dingell a week ago Friday, and that he felt it wouldn’t be surprising for the money for the project to be available very shortly.

    Replying to Hieftje’s remark that the bridge was not ranked as “critical,” a resident pointed out that on a 0-100 scale of bridge safety, the Stadium bridge scored a 21, which was the same score the bridge in St. Paul had when it collapsed in August of 2007: “If it kills a couple of people, that’s a big deal.” Hieftje confirmed the bridge’s score of 21 on the 100-point scale, but stressed that the situation was being monitored closely by city engineering staff every few days, and that they would simply shut down the bridge if there was any doubt as to its safety.

    Someone mooted the alternative of taking down both bridges to establish an at-grade crossing of Stadium Boulevard by the railroad and State Street. Briere said the way she thought about that possibility was this: The traffic when a train comes through would back up past Main Street. A non-starter.

    The idea was floated of leveraging the University of Michigan’s interest in seeing the east-west connection remain free-flowing for football games. Hieftje’s attempt at humor (“At 8 in the morning of a 1 o’clock game, we’ll have to shut the bridge down.”) was met with silence and had to be labeled as a joke. Hiefte allowed that discussions with the university were “an angle that may well come up.” Write your regents, he suggested.

    Responding to a question by The Chronicle about a mention by Hieftje of using the street millage to pay for the $500,000 repair, Hieftje said that if the street millage could not be used, then there was money in the general fund that could be tapped. The Chronicle’s question stemmed from the fact that while the street millage can be used to repair and maintain streets, this particular “street” is actually a bridge.

    Queried by The Chronicle, Hieftje responded to Higgins’ expressed disappointment at caucus that a basic bridge had not already been designed by saying that for these types of projects, the investment in design work (in this case around $1 million) was not made until a funding source had been identified.

    In what Briere described as “a provocative thought,” one resident suggested that the current reduction over the bridge to two lanes offered an opportunity to examine the actual impact of that scenario, if it were to be pursued long term. In light of increasing costs for asphalt and maintenance of structures like bridges, the idea was to explore rebuilding the bridge permanently as two lanes. Though seemingly intrigued by the notion, Briere noted that the Pauline-to-Main section of Stadium was due for reconstruction starting this season, and that it called for four lanes. So she wondered about the impact of reducing the width from four down to two lanes. The idea for a permanent reduction of the bridge to two lanes was articulated further to include a “road diet” for Stadium Boulevard, taking it down to three lanes.

    On the subject of making the bridge permanently two lanes, one resident offered her perspective as a bus driver, saying that even with its four lane configuration, she wondered if she should hit the embankment or the next car.

    [Editor's note: More photos of the Stadium Boulevard bridge are posted at the end of this article.]


    The Ann Arbor planning commission began deliberations at its last meeting on the A2D2 rezoning package for downtown Ann Arbor.  They did not finish before adjourning. (See previous Chronicle coverage of A2D2 for additional background.) In broad strokes, the new zoning for downtown would create a D-1 district for core downtown with a D-2 district acting as a transition to residential neighborhoods. There would be no height limits in D-1 generally. D-2, on the other hand, would include height limits.

    The focus of the height-limit discussion to date has centered on the South University Avenue area, where the 601 S. Forest project provoked controversy when first proposed as a 20+ story building. In the end, the project height had been reduced to around 160 feet.

    For the A2D2 rezoning, the South University area had been assigned a special version of D-1 – one that includes height limits. At its initial meeting on the A2D2 package last month, planning commission passed (with some dissent) an amendment that raised the initially proposed D-1 height limit for the South University area from 120 feet to 170 feet, with the idea that it would make 601 S. Forest conform to the new zoning.

    At Sunday’s caucus, one resident complained that she’d missed that one meeting and was surprised that the height limit was being raised. Having participated in the public process on the rezoning project over a couple of years, she said that she wondered if it was even worth it.

    Hieftje  encouraged her to continue to stay involved in the process and assured her that the whole A2D2 zoning package would “land in our laps” at city council. He said that on one occasion he had once been the only member of council to vote for height limits – something Hieftje frequently says when the topic of downtown development comes up. Now, he allowed, there might be others on council who would also support height limits.

    Planning commission will resume its A2D2 deliberations  on Tuesday, March 3.

    DDA-City Relationship

    Planning commission also came up in the context of a conversational thread on the relationship of the city of Ann Arbor to the Downtown Development Authority. As far as being “a part of the city of Ann Arbor,” Hieftje said the DDA was “no different from planning commission except that they had their own funding stream” – the tax increment financing (TIF) district.

    The conversation was prompted by a request from citizens at caucus for Hieftje to respond to Sunday’s Ann Arbor News editorial on the use of parking revenue collected by the DDA to shore up the city’s general fund. The concluding paragraph from that editorial reads:

    The DDA doesn’t need further rate hikes because its costs are going up, or because it’s mismanaging its money, or anything like that. The DDA needs more money because the council keeps taking it, and it would be nice if the council came out and said so.

    Previous Chronicle coverage on the issue can be found in our account of the most recent DDA operations committee meeting. In broad strokes, city council has recently asked the DDA to (i) open discussions on revising the current  parking agreement (projected to result in a $2 million transfer from the DDA to the city), and (ii) to put forward a plan to raise revenues to maintain adequate reserves in DDA fund balances.

    Hieftje’s response was to say that he saw the editorial as demonstrating that the News’ memory of recent history is not as strong as it might be. He then traced back the past renegotiation of the parking agreement and the decision by the city to allow the DDA to collect revenues from metered parking.

    The city went back to renegotiate that agreement in 2005, Hieftje said, because the city provides a disproportionate amount of city services to the DDA area – citing police calls at 2 a.m. as an example. The DDA is a creation of the city, continued Hieftje, and the city could end the DDA tomorrow night with 6 votes of council, if it wanted to. Hieftje then said he hadn’t read the editorial.

    The Chronicle asked Hieftje what point specifically Hieftje thought qualified as the News not having an adequate memory of recent history – given that he had not read the piece. Hieftje replied that he’d been told about the editorial, and that to him the key fact that went missing was that the city had elected to allow the DDA to retain revenue from metered parking.

    The Chronicle followed up by asking Hieftje if the city’s current initiative to open the parking agreement negotiations again represented a philosophical change from the tenet that parking should pay for itself, but also no more than itself.  We drew an analogy to the storm water fee, which is supposed to pay for the maintenance of the stormwater system, but is not supposed to generate gratuitous fund balances that can be used on non-stormwater projects. Hieftje said that already in 2005 (when the city negotiated for $10 million to be transferred from the DDA over the course of 10 years) there was a philosophy in place that would allow for parking revenue to fund non-parking needs. And that change in philosophy, Hieftje said, was driven by the fact that the DDA area uses a disproportionately greater amount of city services.

    Providing some context on the question of parking revenues and parking system, Hohnke noted that  enabling legislation to create a DDA does not speak to parking, but only to TIF.

    Residents urged Hieftje to write a letter to the editor in response to the News editorial. However, Briere clarified that by policy, the Ann Arbor News did not publish op-ed pieces by elected officials, because the paper felt that officials had an adequate forum to express their views in virtue of their elected office. At that, residents suggested that Hieftje use his time during the “communications” portion of council meetings to address the content of the editorial.

    Exposed Strands Stadium Bridge

    Exposed pre-stressing strands on the underside of the Stadium Boulevard bridge.

    Exposed Strands Stadium Bridge

    More exposed pre-stressing strands on the underside of the Stadium Boulevard bridge.

    Stadium Bridge Weight Limit Sign

    Current weight limits on the Stadium Boulevard bridge over State Street in Ann Arbor.

    Stadium Bridge Down to One Lane

    Sign indicating imminent lane reduction. That reduction to two lanes (one in each direction) is now in place.

    How to Fix a Bridge

    Engineer's sketch of the needed lane configuration. (image links to higher resolution file)

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