The Ann Arbor Chronicle » parks funding it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Park Commission Briefed on Millage Renewal Fri, 30 Mar 2012 23:15:02 +0000 Mary Morgan Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (March 20, 2012): At their monthly meeting, park advisory commissioners were briefed on two millages that help fund Ann Arbor’s park system, including one that will likely be on the November ballot for renewal.

Ducks in West Park

Creatures in West Park will not be able to participate in the November millage vote, even though they apparently can get their ducks in a row. A parks millage that's up for renewal helped pay for some of the recent renovations to the park, including the boardwalk, bandshell plaza and entry stairs. (Photos by the writer.)

The park maintenance and capital improvements millage, a six-year tax, brings in about $5 million annually and accounts for about 45% of the parks budget – including the entire funding for the natural areas preservation (NAP) program. Voters will likely be asked to renew it at 1.1 mills from 2013-2018, assuming the city council votes to put the millage on the Nov. 6 ballot at that rate. PAC chair Julie Grand – who has served on a working group to strategize about the renewal – said concerns about the economic climate are a major reason why an increase isn’t being recommended.

During the millage discussion, city councilmember Mike Anglin said he supports the millage but has concerns about Fuller Park, noting that talks regarding Fuller Road Station aren’t over. Parks manager Colin Smith pointed out that no millage funds have been or would be spent on Fuller Road Station. Grand cautioned against connecting the millage renewal to Fuller Road Station, saying it’s important to inform the public clearly about what the renewal means.

To provide that information, the city plans to hold four public forums in April, and a public hearing on the millage will be scheduled for PAC’s April 17 meeting. The city also plans to launch a website in early April with more information about the millage.

Also at the March 20 meeting, commissioners got a mid-year update about the open space and parkland preservation millage, which funds the greenbelt program and park acquisitions. Fuller Road Station was a backdrop to this discussion too, when commissioner Gwen Nystuen asked about protections that are afforded land acquired through this millage.

Land acquisition also came up in two other contexts during the meeting. The future of property owned by MichCon – located north of Broadway Street, between the Huron River and the railroad tracks – was part of the discussion during an update on environmental cleanup at the site. A DTE Energy representative indicated that senior management sees the potential for redevelopment there, but no plans are finalized. It’s expected that DTE Energy, which owns the property through its MichCon subsidiary, will eventually sell the site.

And speaking during public commentary, Ann Arbor resident Larry Baird advocated for the city to acquire land to fill gaps in the Border-to-Border Trail, which roughly follows the Huron River. Specifically, he characterized a connection between Bandemer Park and Barton Nature Area as the top priority, and urged the city to focus more on this project than on high-speed rail.

In the agenda’s one action item, commissioners recommended awarding a $79,980 contract to Michigan Recreational Construction Inc. to handle renovations at Placid Way Park. The resolution also recommends an additional 10% contingency of $7,998 for a total project cost of $87,978. The 1.32-acre neighborhood park is located on the city’s north side near the larger Dhu Varren Woods Nature Area and Foxfire South Park. The project would be funded from the park maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Park Maintenance & Capital Improvements Millage

Commissioners were briefed on plans to put a renewal of the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage on the November ballot. The presentation was given by parks and recreation manager Colin Smith and Matt Warba, the city’s supervisor of field operations, and mirrored a similar one given to city councilmembers at their March 12 working session. The 1.1 mill renewal would run for six years, from 2013-2018.

Warba began by describing the history of what were originally two millages: one for capital improvements dating back to 1983, and a second one for maintenance. They were each levied at around 0.5 mill apiece for a total of 0.914 mills, until changes were made in 2006.

By way of additional background, here’s a timeline of the more recent millage history:

  • 2006-Oct-03: The Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution setting administrative policy on the planned use of parks maintenance and capital improvements millage monies. The policy stipulates a range of 60-80% for maintenance, with the remainder for capital improvements. It also stipulates that general fund support for parks will decrease only in concert with the rest of the general fund budget. In addition, an annual 3% increase in funding for natural area preservation (NAP) programs was stipulated.
  • 2006-Nov-07: Ann Arbor voters approved a single, combined parks maintenance and capital improvements millage with 56% support. It replaced two separate millages, which were previously levied at around 0.5 mill apiece for a total of 0.914 mills. The single millage that replaced the two separate taxes – one for maintenance and one for capital improvements – was approved by voters at a rate of 1.1 mill for six years.
  • 2010-May-17: The city council revised the 2006 administrative policy to eliminate NAP’s automatic 3% increase, and reset NAP funding to levels proportionate with other programs.
  • 2011-May-16: The city council revised the 2006 administrative policy to allow non-millage funds to count as general fund support for the parks for purposes of the policy that requires general fund support.

The millage raises about $5 million annually, and is one of two primary sources for the $11.75 million parks system budget, with the other main source coming from the city’s general fund. The millage pays for capital projects and park planning, forestry, NAP and operational maintenance. The general fund covers core services, Smith said, including mowing, snow removal, utilities and daily operations of general fund recreational facilities.

FY2012 parks budget

A breakdown of the FY2012 Ann Arbor parks and recreation budget. (Links to larger image.)

From the general fund, about $3.59 million supports parks administration and general fund recreational facilities (as distinguished from so-called enterprise funds for facilities that are intended to become self-supporting, like the golf courses and farmers market). Another $2.3 million funds general park operations, and about $500,000 is transfered from the general fund to support golf operations.

From the millage, $2 million supports millage-related park operations, $1.6 million is earmarked for capital projects, $981,389 is allocated to forestry, and $698,569 goes to NAP.

Smith and Warba walked through an example of how the millage is being used to fund a specific project – improvements at Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm. [A detailed report on that project was part of the commission's Feb. 28, 2012 meeting.]

The millage casts a wide net, Smith said, and is incredibly important to the care and well-being of the city’s parks.

Warba reported that city staff started meeting in January to evaluate how the existing millage is working and to strategize about how best to communicate its uses. In addition, a working group of park commissioners – including PAC chair Julie Grand and city councilmember Christopher Taylor, an ex-officio PAC member – met to talk about levels of funding and whether current funds are sufficient for the park system’s needs.

The staff consensus is that a straight renewal makes the most sense, Warba said. It provides consistency and a sufficient level of funding. Every recreational facility has received some kind of upgrade within the past five years, even if it’s been behind-the-scenes infrastructure, he said.

The existing millage generates an average of $5 million annually, Smith said, totaling about $25 million over the past five years. The current fund balance is about $4 million, with roughly $2 million of that earmarked for renovations to the ballfields that were recently approved. That leaves about $2 million to cover emergency repairs throughout the system’s 157 parks, which Smith said he felt was adequate. An example of a project that might be covered is the restoration of Plymouth Park, following last year’s collapse of the railroad embankment.

The millage renewal would be on the ballot for 1.1 mills, Smith said – a little more than what’s currently levied because of the Headlee rollback. The renewal would be for another six years. If voters were asked to approve a higher tax or for a longer period, it would be considered a new tax, he noted. The working group had felt it was important to be a renewal, given the current economy.

A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 of taxable value for a property. For a hypothetical house worth $200,000, with a state equalized value and a taxable value of $100,000, each mill of tax on that property would generate $100 in revenue.

Smith described the next steps as developing informational material for voters, and holding a series of four public forums in April. PAC will also schedule a public hearing on the millage at its April 17 meeting, and the commission would vote on a formal recommendation in May. That recommendation would then be sent to the city council for a vote, likely at an August meeting, to put the millage on the November ballot.

Park Maintenance & Operations Millage: Commission Discussion

Tim Berla referred the public commentary by Larry Baird, who had urged the city to move faster on completing the Border-to-Border Trail. [See below for a summary of Baird's commentary.] Several years ago, the commission had talked about how to make a pedestrian/bicycle crossing over the railroad tracks, Berla noted. Is that something that the millage could pay for? Berla wondered about the status of filling in gaps in the trail.

Colin Smith

Colin Smith, the city's parks and recreation manager.

Smith noted that anytime PAC or the city council wants to highlight or expedite a particular project, they can direct staff to take action. Passing a resolution would be one way to do that, he said. PAC’s land acquisition committee has identified areas that are a priority to acquire, he noted, and they are working with Ginny Trocchio – who manages the city’s greenbelt and park acquisition programs – to move those efforts forward. Now is a good time to have more conversations about the land along the railroad, Smith said.

Berla said he completely understands why a millage renewal is more politically advantageous than an increase. But he noted that now is the time to think about whether more money is needed for parks. If the city decided it wanted to do more, what would the process be? he asked.

Smith replied that it’s a fine balance between acquiring land and maintaining it. The city currently has more than 50 miles of trail that are heavily used and that need renovation and care, for example. Julie Grand cautioned that the city needs to be aware of the political and economic climate. In May, the Ann Arbor Public Schools will be asking voters to approve a technology millage. There will likely be other “asks,” she said. Grand pointed out that if the parks millage isn’t renewed, the system couldn’t operate.

Tim Doyle asked if other millages will be on the November ballot. No other city millages are anticipated, Smith said. That’s good, Doyle said, because it avoids confusion and backlash. Smith noted that in 2006, this millage was on the ballot along with the city’s street repair millage. [The street repair millage of 2 mills was most recently renewed by voters in November 2011. A separate 0.125 mills for sidewalk repairs was also approved.]

Sam Offen wondered if there were other major parks projects in the next five years that hadn’t yet been discussed. Smith pointed to several possibilities. Upcoming renovations at Gallup Park canoe livery are being funded by a state grant, but the millage could be used to enhance that work, he said. Paths to the raptor enclosures are being upgraded at the Leslie Science & Nature Center, he noted, but broader improvements there – part of a master plan for the facility – also could be undertaken. The Veterans Ice Arena is in dire need of a new roof, which Smith said he realized is not exciting, but it’s necessary. Renovations to the ballfields are another longer-term project, he said. Work at the city’s three main ballfields is already approved, but the second-tier fields also need attention, he said.

Park Maintenance & Capital Improvements Millage: Fuller Road Station

Mike Anglin, one of two city councilmembers who also serve on PAC as non-voting commissioners, said he was concerned about Fuller Park. The discussion about Fuller Road Station isn’t over, he said, even though the city’s partner “disappeared.” [Anglin was referring to the University of Michigan, which in February 2012 pulled out of plans to build a large parking structure, bus depot and possible train station at the Fuller Road site, near UM's medical campus. See Chronicle coverage: "UM, Ann Arbor Halt Fuller Road Project"]

Mike Anglin

Ann Arbor city councilmember Mike Anglin (Ward 5) also serves as an ex-officio member of the city's park advisory commission.

The city has already put about $3 million into the project, Anglin contended, and the original plan called for parks to handle the site’s maintenance, he said. Now the project is being re-discussed, he said, adding that it has bearing on the parks system.

Grand warned that the millage renewal is separate from the Fuller Road Station issue. The issues aren’t connected, she said, and it’s important to educate the public about what the renewal means.

Anglin replied that he support parks and he’s 100% behind the millage renewal. Voters will definitely pass the millage renewal, he predicted. Anglin said all he wanted to do was to alert people to the fact that the Fuller Road Station discussion is ongoing.

Smith said it’s important to note that no parks millage funds have been spent on Fuller Road Station. In response to a query from Berla, Smith said that no millage funds would be used to build a train station. The city’s charter describes how the millage proceeds can be spent, he said, and ”suffice it to say that a train station would not fall under that.”

The relevant section of the city charter reads as follows:

Funds for Park Maintenance and Capital Improvements

SECTION 8. 19 In addition to any other amount which the City is authorized to raise by general tax upon the real and personal property by this Charter or any other provision of law, the City shall, in 2007 through 2012, annually levy a tax of 1.10 mills on all taxable real and personal property situated within the City for the purpose financing park maintenance activities in the following categories: forestry and horticulture, natural area preservation, park operations, park equipment repairs, park security, and recreation facilities; and for the purpose of financing park capital improvement projects for active parks, forestry and horticulture, historic preservation, neighborhood parks and urban plazas, pathways, trails, boardwalks, greenways, the Huron River watershed, recreation facilities and park equipment acquisitions. (Section 8.19 added by election of April 4, 1983; amended by elections of April 3, 1989, November 8, 1994, November 7, 2000 and November 7, 2006).

Doyle wondered if the parks staff would have any responsibility for maintenance of a train station, if it were located on park property. Smith replied that the millage can be used to maintain park property, ”and that does not include a train station, plain and simple.” If the parks staff were used to do maintenance at a train station, those hours would not be billed to the parks budget, he said.

Park Maintenance & Capital Improvements Millage: Next Steps

The city staff plans to hold four public forums in April to discuss the millage:

  • Monday, April 9, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Senior Center, 1320 Baldwin Ave.
  • Wednesday, April 11, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Cobblestone Farm Center, 2781 Packard Road.
  • Monday, April 23, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at Leslie Science & Nature Center’s Nature House, 1831 Traver Road.
  • Thursday, April 26, from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library Traverwood Branch, 3333 Traverwood Drive.

Sam Offen pointed out that none of the forums are scheduled at locations on the west side of town. Smith said it was difficult finding suitable spots. Offen suggested that Slauson Middle School might be a possible location.

David Barrett observed that the public needs to realize that some great things have happened and that more is in the works. There’s a tangible relationship between the millage and these parks, he said, joking that a snappy phrase is needed to describe it.

Smith laughed, but added that the staff’s role is to provide information, not to advocate. If there’s a citizens group that wants to promote the millage renewal, he said he could give them information, but advocating is outside of the staff’s purview.

The city plans to launch a website in early April with more information about the millage.

MichCon Remediation Update

Representatives from DTE were on hand to update commissioners on the remediation of the MichCon property that’s located north of Broadway Street, between the Huron River and the railroad tracks that run past the Amtrak station. MichCon is a subsidiary of DTE Energy – DTE also owns property on the opposite side of the river, south of Broadway, where it plans to build a new electricity substation.

Shayne Wiesemann, a senior environmental engineer with DTE Energy, gave the presentation. He had given a similar report to city council at a March 12, 2012 working session. An extensive report on that presentation is included in The Chronicle’s coverage of a recent master plan committee meeting: “Planning Group Revisits Huron River Report.”

MichCon Remediation Update: Commission Discussion

Sam Offen asked what the company’s intent is for the property after the cleanup. Wiesemann replied that there’s a tremendous opportunity for redevelopment at the site, and that the company has recently started meeting with stakeholders in the community. However, no plans have been finalized, he said. The company’s senior leaders have a vision that the property can be used as an economic catalyst for the community, Wisesmann added, and that it can be a place for people to come and enjoy the river. In the short term, DTE will retain ownership, he said.

Gwen Nystuen said her understanding was that the Border-to-Border Trail route had been intended to include both sides of the river, including the MichCon side. Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, said the original desire was to use the MichCon side for the trail. But now that the Argo Cascades project is nearly complete, the trail on that side serves the purpose.

Paul Ganz, Larry Baird

In the foreground is Paul Ganz, manager of regional relations for DTE Energy. Seated next to him is Larry Baird, an Ann Arbor resident who spoke during public commentary about the Border-to-Border Trail.

Tim Berla asked what uses would be safe after the MichCon’s property is remediated. Will there be any ongoing safety issues?

Wiesemann said the company realizes that the section of land by the river will be widely used for recreation, and their plans are to clean it to a residential unrestricted standard. As for the area that’s on higher ground closer to Broadway, there will probably be more work to do there, Wiesemann said, and the company will do whatever remediation is required after a final use for that land is determined. They don’t want to do too much or too little, he said, so they’ll wait until plans for its use are finalized.

Berla asked about tests that had been conducted on the property. Wiesemann said the results of testing are posted on the MDEQ website. [The Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality keeps a list of contaminated sites in the state, including those in Ann Arbor, with a list of the contaminants at those sites. The contaminants at the MichCon Broadway site include heavy metals (lead, nickel, zinc, etc.) and phthalates.]

Berla also wondered about some blue tarps he’d seen on the site. Is there a homeless encampment on the property? Yes, Wiesemann said, there have been some issues with the homeless for a while. The company has worked with the Ann Arbor police department, he said, but “unfortunately, they keep coming back.” Breaches in the fence are being repaired and the encampment will be removed before remediation work begins, he said.

Responding to another query from Berla, Wiesemann reported that the permit to build the whitewater feature in the stretch of the Huron River adjacent to the MichCon site will likely be submitted to the state in early April. He anticipates it will be built in September, after the MichCon remediation work is done. The intent is to use the same designer and contractor who worked on the Argo Cascades project.

Julie Grand asked about the environmental impact of the foam that will be used for odor suppression. Wiesemann assured her that the foam is completely biodegradable and non-toxic, and that there will be no impact on wildlife. He said it basically creates a barrier over the soil so that odors can’t be emitted.

David Barrett asked what landfill would be used to dump the contaminated soil. Wiesemann said it would be taken to a licensed facility in Northville [the Arbor Hills landfill, operated by Veolia ES Arbor Hills Landfill Inc.].

Smith concluded the presentation by saying that he appreciated the time that DTE had taken to work with city staff, and that it was great to see this remediation project come to fruition.

Open Space & Parkland Preservation Millage Update

Ginny Trocchio, a staff member of  The Conservation Fund who manages Ann Arbor’s greenbelt and parkland acquisition programs under contract with the city, presented a mid-year financial report to PAC for the period of July 1, 2011 through Jan. 31, 2012 – the first seven months of the current fiscal year. [.pdf file of financial report]

Ginny Trocchio, Jeff Straw

Ginny Trocchio, who manages the greenbelt and park land acquisition programs, and Jeff Straw, deputy parks & recreation manager.

Ann Arbor voters passed a 30-year 0.5 mill tax in 2003 for land acquisition. It’s called the open space and parkland preservation millage, and appears on the summer tax bill as the line item CITY PARK ACQ. Though not stipulated in the legal terms of the millage, the city’s policy has been to allocate one-third of the millage for parks land acquisition and two-thirds for the city’s greenbelt program. The parks portion of the millage is overseen by PAC, while the greenbelt advisory commission handles the portion for land preservation outside of the city limits.

To get money upfront for land acquisition, the city took out a $20 million bond in fiscal year 2006. That bond is being being paid back with revenue from the millage. Debt service on that bond so far in FY 2012 year has amounted to $837,088. [Two debt service payments are made during the fiscal year, totaling about $1.2 million.]

Net revenues from the millage were $2.244 million as of Jan. 31, Trocchio reported, with expenses of $1.768 million. In addition to debt service, the expenses include $813,000 in greenbelt projects and about $82,000 for parkland acquisition.

About $10.5 million remains in the fund balance, but some of that will be spent on deals that have already been approved but haven’t yet closed, Trocchio said. Of that fund balance, $4.5 million is designated for parks, while about $6 million is set aside for the greenbelt program.

In addition, there’s $445,000 in an endowment set up to cover legal costs related to enforcing the conservation easements held by the city.

Trocchio also reported that administrative costs of $35,594 so far in fiscal 2012 equate to 2% of total revenues. Administrative costs over the life of the millage are limited by ordinance to be no greater than 6% of revenues.

Open Space & Parkland Preservation Millage Update: Commission Discussion

Gwen Nystuen asked Trocchio whether the parkland acquired by the city with millage funds included permanent deed restrictions designating it for park use. Trocchio replied that for land acquired in the city, the city holds the title for the property.

Nystuen pointed out that city-owned property – including parkland – is zoned as “public land.” So unless there are deed restrictions, the city council could decide to change the use of the land to something else besides a park. [This has been an issue cited with the proposed Fuller Road Station, which would be located in Fuller Park.] Nystuen wondered whether buying property with the millage provided any additional protection.

Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, said the properties acquired by the millage are listed in the city’s Park and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan. The fact that the properties are purchased with millage proceeds provides an extra layer of protection beyond that, he said. If sold, that decision would need to be reviewed by PAC, the planning commission and city council, as well as requiring approval from voters, he said. Nystuen said that’s true if the land is sold, but the same process isn’t followed if the use of the land changes, she noted. It does seem like there’s merit to purchasing property through the millage, she observed, to help ensure that it remains parkland.

Sam Offen questioned a $7,928 payment made to Norfolk Southern Railroad out of millage funds. Trocchio explained that it’s a long-term lease payment for a section of land in Bandemer Park. Offen wondered whether the railroad still owned the property, or whether it had been sold to the Michigan Dept. of Transportation. Smith replied that the staff would look into the status of that sale. [Negotiations are ongoing for the state to buy about 135 miles of track from Norfolk Southern, including the section running through Ann Arbor.]

Nystuen wondered how the lease was paid for prior to the millage. Smith wasn’t sure, but noted that the millage had paid for it since fiscal 2007. In response to another question from Nystuen, Trocchio said that the millage ordinance allows for the purchase of land or land rights, and a lease falls under that latter category. Smith characterized it as a essential parcel for the Border-to-Border Trail.

Placid Way Park Renovations

On the March 20 agenda was a resolution recommending that the city council award a $79,980 contract to Michigan Recreational Construction Inc. to handle renovations at Placid Way Park. The resolution also recommends an additional 10% contingency of $7,998 for a total project cost of $87,978.

The 1.32-acre neighborhood park is located on the city’s north side near the larger Dhu Varren Woods Nature Area and Foxfire South Park. An entrance to the park with a small parking lot is located off of Placid Way, across from Tuebingen Parkway. [.pdf map of Placid Way Park.]

According to a staff memo, Michigan Recreational Construction, a Howell-based company, submitted the lowest of six bids. The work includes replacing the existing play structure and picnic table, and adding benches and landscaping. Funding is available from proceeds of the FY 2012 park maintenance and capital improvements millage.

Parks and recreation manager Colin Smith told commissioners it was a fairly straighforward project.

Placid Way Park Renovations: Commission Discussion

There was minimal discussion on this item. David Barrett asked whether the city had worked with this company in the past. Colin Smith wasn’t sure, but assumed that parks planner Amy Kuras had experience with the company. Julie Grand asked Smith to clarify the park’s location. Smith described it as northeast of Leslie Park Golf Course, and southeast of Olson Park.

Outcome: Commissioners unanimously recommended awarding the Placid Way Park contract to Michigan Recreational Construction. The recommendation will be forwarded to the city council for consideration.

Communications & Commentary

Every meeting includes opportunities for public commentary and communications from commissioners and staff. One person spoke during time allocated for public commentary at the March 20 meeting.

Comm/Comm: Public Commentary – Border-to-Border Trail

Larry Baird spoke during two opportunities for public commentary, focusing his remarks on the Border-to-Border Trail. [The trail is a countywide shared-use path that roughly follows the Huron River.] He said he’s enjoyed the park system for over 20 years, but he’s concerned about the priority given to a high-speed rail initiative and the lack of discussion related to the trail system through the city.

He brought a copy of “Riverwalks Ann Arbor” by Brenda Bentley, saying it’s one of his favorite books, and he urged commissioners to get a copy or borrow his. After he read it, he attempted to walk the entire trail within the city, and came to appreciate the complexity of the trail and the challenges to complete the “missing links.” Those gaps in the trail system have been on the drawing board far too long, he said.

Book cover of Riverwalks by Brenda Bentley

Book cover of "Riverwalks" by Brenda Bentley.

Now that the Michigan Dept. of Transportation is negotiating to buy the stretch of railroad that runs through Ann Arbor, Baird encouraged commissioners to take a pro-active approach, perhaps by forming a task force to ensure that MDOT doesn’t slow down the process of completing a river trail even more.

Baird read an excerpt from the city’s Park and Recreation Open Space (PROS) plan: “Since the 1962 Plan, there has been a concerted effort to complete the pattern of recreational open space along the Huron River from Barton Pond to Geddes Pond … Although Ann Arbor lacks a completed system of connected natural areas, City residents take pride in the preservation of substantial open space along the Huron River…”

For at least 50 years this project has been discussed, Baird noted. He challenged commissioners to find the will and determination to complete it.

Baird picked up the topic again at the end of the meeting, handing out a map from the PROS plan that showed proposed trail connections. [.pdf of PROS trail maps for the Huron River greenway] Two of five proposed connections – at Depot Street (next to the MichCon site) and Maiden Lane – are close to other alternatives, so he hoped that priority would be given to the three other connectors. Of those other three connectors, two are connections to Nichols Arboretum and while nice, they wouldn’t extend the trail, he said.

There’s really only one connection that Baird said he would deem the “holy grail” – connecting the northwest corner of Bandemer Park to Barton Nature Area. That would add almost two miles of trails and open up connections to nearly 300 acres of forests and natural areas, he said.

The current plan calls for a “grade separated” crossing at the railroad tracks near Bandemer Park, but Baird said city officials seem uncertain about how MDOT’s track upgrades for high-speed rail would affect potential crossings. Baird reported that Eli Cooper, the city’s transportation program manager, had told him that similar upgrades elsewhere have resulted in the closing of many crossings for safety reasons.

Baird concluded by proposing an action plan for completing the Border-to-Border Trail connections:

  1. Create a task force to study the impact of high-speed rail on the parks system, and to create an action plan for negotiating with MDOT to get a portion of grant funds for high-speed rail to be used for trail easements.
  2. Prioritize the trail’s missing links, with the Bandemer-to-Barton link at the top of the list.
  3. Set a deadline for completing the missing links.
  4. Ensure that an adequate portion of the greenbelt millage is spent within the city, preferably for trail easements.
  5. Advise the city to focus on the broader impacts of high-speed rail on the parks system, rather than just focus on Fuller Road Station.
  6. Consider allocating a portion of the existing greenbelt millage, or a separate millage, to fund completion of the trail.

Baird said he hoped commissioners would give consideration to his suggestions.

Comm/Comm: Public Commentary – West Park

During the opportunity for communications from commissioners, Tim Berla asked about the situation at West Park. He noted that there were still construction fences up around the section where swirl concentrators had failed, gravel along one of the walkways, and poles in the pond. He said it would be great to have a bench along the boardwalk that overlooked the pond.

Lids for underground swirl concentrators

Lids for underground swirl concentrators at West Park.

Colin Smith replied that he’d recently been to West Park too, and wondered about the poles, which had been used to help keep birds away from aquatic plants as they take root – though he noted that a few ducks “have been less than deterred.” Smith said the city council will soon be asked to vote on change orders to fund the final repairs at West Park, so the project is wrapping up. The dispute between the city and its contractors over who’ll pay for work related to the failed swirl concentrators is close to being resolved, he said.

[Swirl concentrators had been installed for stormwater management as part of a major renovation of West Park in 2010. Most recently, PAC received a detailed update on the project at its Jan. 24, 2012 meeting from Nick Hutchinson, a civil engineer and one of the project managers in the city’s public services unit. Hutchinson had told the commission that in May and June of 2012, the manufacturer of the swirl concentrators will make repairs on the units. Following that, the city will hire a contractor to complete additional work that was recommended by Orchard Hiltz & McCliment (OHM), which the city had engaged in 2010 to look into the problems at West Park. City staff hope to have that work completed by July of 2012.]

Comm/Comm: Public Commentary – Manager’s Report

Colin Smith began his report by noting that the city’s two golf courses had opened early because of warm weather – last year the courses hadn’t opened until April. On the flip side, the Buhr Park Ice Arena was closed earlier than expected for the same reason. As schedules allowed, hockey leagues that played at Buhr were relocated to Veterans Park Ice Arena.

Argo Cascades – the name for the new Huron River bypass near Argo Pond – is closed so that a new pedestrian bridge can be installed. That work is underway. Final modifications to the bypass will be done in mid-April, Smith said, including installation of a rubber guide in one of the dropped pools where the water flow is more “energetic” than the staff would like.

Earlier in the meeting, Tim Berla had suggested the possibility of installing benches along the Cascades. Julie Grand noted that she had visited the Cascades as part of a task force on public art. The feeling had been to leave the area as natural as possible, and to see how people use the large rocks along the bypass before installing manmade structures.

Turning to a different project, Smith reported that construction will begin soon in the Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm renovations that PAC had recommended for approval at their Feb. 28 meeting. The major ballfield renovations approved earlier this year will begin in August. It will be a very busy season, Smith said.

Present: David Barrett, Tim Berla, Tim Doyle, Julie Grand, Karen Levin, Gwen Nystuen, Sam Offen, councilmember Mike Anglin (ex-officio). Also Colin Smith, city parks manager.

Absent: Doug Chapman, John Lawter, Christopher Taylor.

Next meeting: PAC’s meeting on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 begins at 4 p.m. in the city hall second-floor council chambers, 301 E. Huron St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

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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]

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    Ann Arbor Adopts “Parks Fairness” Measure Tue, 17 May 2011 00:51:11 +0000 Chronicle Staff At its May 16, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council adopted a revision to the 2006 administrative policy that governs the use of the city’s parks capital improvements and maintenance millage, including how spending from 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 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 police 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"]

    However, that second amendment was stricken by the proposer of the resolution, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who said he wanted to use the delay in the passage of the budget to find a way to make up the $90,000 differential – that would allow the city’s budget to conform with the policy without changing it.

    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.

    This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]


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    Pot Laws Amended But Postponed Again Sat, 07 May 2011 23:46:25 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor city council meeting (May 2, 2011): The city council has postponed its final approval of two local medical marijuana laws at least until June 6. One law addresses zoning and the other handles licensing. With that postponement, the council stretched its formal consideration of medical marijuana regulation in the city to at least a year – it had held a June 7, 2010 closed session on the subject.

    Stephen Kunselman Medical Marijuana Amendments

    Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) peruses a marked up copy of medical marijuana legislation. (Photos by the writer.)

    On Monday, before the postponements, the council amended both medical marijuana laws, making changes to the versions to which they’d already given initial approval – all city ordinances must receive two affirmative votes at different meetings of the council. Based on the amendments approved Monday night, the votes taken on June 6 will likely count only as the first reading. If the council makes a substantive change to an ordinance after its initial approval, then the ordinance must receive an additional first reading.

    Public commentary during the evening included remarks from several medical marijuana advocates, who have become a familiar cast of characters over the past year. One highlight of that commentary included corroboration of a 2004 sidewalk encounter – between a medical marijuana petition circulator and the city attorney – which had been described during public commentary at the council’s previous meeting.

    Other public comment at Monday’s meeting focused on the upcoming fiscal year 2012 budget approval, with many of the remarks centered on human services funding. The council had a specific resolution on its agenda that would have allocated funding to local nonprofits that provide human services support – but the council decided to postpone the item. The funding level in the resolution would have been about 9% less than fiscal 2011 funding.

    Remarks during the budget public hearing by the president of the local firefighters union focused on the number of deaths due to fire over time. During council communications, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), the chair of the council’s labor committee, reiterated a point he’s made before – that if unions make concessions on their contribution to the city’s health care plan, they can mitigate some (but not all) of the currently planned layoffs.

    Public commentary at Monday’s meeting also featured remarks from county clerk Larry Kestenbaum on the following day’s single-issue election, along with an update on possible changes to state election law.

    The council unanimously approved the site plan, development agreement, and brownfield plan for Packard Square, a residential development planned for the former Georgetown Mall property. Two days later, the county board of commissioners postponed their approval of items related to the Packard Square brownfield plan.

    In other business, the council set a public hearing on a tax abatement for Sakti3; approved several interagency technology agreements that allow for partnership between the city, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; and postponed consideration of some large vehicle purchases. The council was also introduced to Paul Krutko, new CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, the local economic development agency.

    Also at Monday’s meeting, Washtenaw County commissioner Yousef Rabhi explained how his interest in public service originated in connection with the Buhr Park Wet Meadow project, led by Jeannine Palms. Palms and others involved with the project, which began in 1996, were honored with a mayoral proclamation. 

    Medical Marijuana

    Before the council were two local laws on medical marijuana, one on zoning and another on licensing. Both laws had previously received initial approval, but after approving several additional amendments to both proposed laws on Monday, the council decided to postpone them to its June 6 meeting.

    The medical marijuana zoning ordinance received its initial approval by the council at its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting. The delay since the initial Oct. 18, 2010 zoning vote stems from the city of Ann Arbor’s strategy for legislating zoning and licensing of medical marijuana businesses. That strategy has been to bring both licensing and zoning before the city council at the same time for a final vote.

    Kristin Larcom, Sabra Briere, Stephen Postema

    Assistant city attorney Kristin Larcom (left), councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and city attorney Stephen Postema before the start of the May 2 meeting.

    The context for development of zoning regulations was set at the council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting, when councilmembers voted to impose a moratorium on the use of property in the city for medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation facilities. The council also directed the city’s planning commission to develop zoning regulations for medical marijuana businesses.

    Subsequently, the city attorney’s office also began working on a licensing system. The council undertook several amendments to the licensing proposal at four of its meetings over the last three months: on Jan. 3, Feb. 7, March 7 and March 21. The council finally gave its first initial approval to the licensing proposal at its March 21 meeting. [.pdf of Michigan Medical Marijuana Act]

    Medical Marijuana: Public Comment

    Chuck Ream thanked the council for their work. In terms of growing medicine, council should drop all that language on cultivation facilities, he said. Such facilities are already regulated under state law. He also asked the council to drop record-keeping requirements – such requirements would create a list of “juicy targets” for prosecution. He told the council that they held the lives of good people in their hands.

    He asked the council not to keep city attorney Stephen Postema in charge of the medical marijuana legislation or it would never get finished. He reminded the council of the remarks made at the April 19, 2011 council meeting by Trena Moss, who reported a 2004 sidewalk encounter with Postema, when she was gathering signatures for the petition to place a local charter amendment on the ballot – it eventually passed. According to Moss, Postema had told her that he had a strategy to block it, even if voters approved it. Ream has conveyed to the council the statement written by Moss on April 23, 2004 and the photo “line up” out of which she identified Postema as the man she’d encountered. Ream asked councilmembers to protect caregivers like they would protect a woman’s right to choose.

    Rhory Gould began by saying Ream is hard to follow – Ream had said everything so well. Gould said he is a longtime Ann Arbor resident and a registered voter. He thanked the council for their thoughtfulness and hard work, and for considering the needs of patients and caregivers. He called the ordinances well-written, but issues remain that still need to be addressed, he said.

    Keeping records for caregivers and cultivation facilities is a bad idea, Gould said. Landlord records are also a bad idea, he said. There should be no dollar amount on labels. That requirement is motivated by the best of intentions but is not necessary. He asked the council to move forward by passing a medical marijuana ordinance that addresses the needs of caregivers, patients and residents of Ann Arbor.

    Kirk Reid thanked the council for listening. He identified himself as a patient who suffers from multiple sclerosis. He told the council he would never sign up under the proposed Ann Arbor ordinance, citing the vagueness and uncertainty of words such as “deem appropriate,” “deem to prohibit” and “justification.” Whose justification? he asked. He invited the council to sit down with patients and caregivers and work with them.

    John Henry Kaiser had signed up in advance to speak to the council, but when his name was called, Ream told the council that Kaiser is a cancer patient, and could not attend.

    During his turn at public commentary reserved time, Thomas Partridge touched on a range of topics, but also included his view that “we do not need Ann Arbor to be known as the Marijuana Headquarters of the United States.”

    Dennis Hayes thanked the council for giving advocates the right to speak. He allowed that he and Partridge didn’t agree about much, but would agree on the importance of the special education millage that was on the ballot the next day – everyone should pay attention to that. He said he’d previously made remarks about proposed amendments. He said he would welcome an opportunity to take a look at the amendments before the council voted. It’s important to pay attention to problems of regulating caregivers. He encouraged the council to take a lighter hand rather than a heavier hand. Ream reminds him frequently, Hayes said, that there are rights in the state statute, which shouldn’t be nullified by the local ordinance. The council should pay attention to what voters have said, as well as patient and caregiver needs.

    Medical Marijuana Zoning: Council Deliberations

    In broad strokes, the zoning regulations stipulate where medical marijuana businesses can be located geographically. From the regulations as amended on May 2, 2011:

    (3) Locations of medical marijuana dispensaries and medical marijuana cultivation facilities.
    A medical marijuana dispensary or medical marijuana cultivation facility may be located in the City only in accordance with the following restrictions:
    a) Medical marijuana dispensaries shall only be located in a district classified pursuant to this chapter as D, C, or M, or in PUD districts where retail is permitted in the supplemental regulations.
    b) Medical marijuana cultivation facilities shall only be located in a district classified pursuant to this chapter as C, M, RE, or ORL.
    c) In C districts, buildings used for medical marijuana dispensaries or medical marijuana cultivation facilities shall meet the minimum parking requirements of Chapter 59 for retail uses, with no exceptions for existing nonconforming parking.
    d) No medical marijuana dispensary or medical marijuana cultivation facility shall be located within 1000 feet of a parcel on which a public or private elementary or secondary school is located.

    The deliberations by the council dealt first with the challenge of handling the vast array of changes to the text of the zoning regulations, which were last before the council for consideration at its Oct. 18, 2010 meeting. On that occasion, the council had given the zoning regulations its initial approval.

    The sheer number of changes to the text led to discussion at the outset on how to proceed – line by line, or all in one go. Very early on in the deliberations, the council suspended its rules on the number of speaking turns allowed by councilmembers on each motion – they’re ordinarily limited to two turns.

    Medical Marijuana Zoning: Amendment – Omnibus Staff Recs

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) began by moving all of the amendments recommended by city staff at once.

    She asked city attorney Stephen Postema to summarize the changes. He explained that many of them were motivated by a desire to coordinate the language in the zoning regulation with that of the licensing scheme.

    For example, the legislative intent section for the zoning is now just what the licensing says. Five definitions are now taken straight from the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, Postema said. Other words and phrases have specific definitions – for cultivation facilities, dispensaries and home occupations. They’re unique to the zoning ordinance, and aren’t included in the state statute, so they’re defined.

    Postema said the recommendations for amendments were sent to council on April 26, so he felt the council had had time to look them over.

    By way of example of the kind of changes that were included in the staff-recommended amendments, the new definitions included one for “medical marijuana cultivation facility”:

    ii. “Medical marijuana cultivation facility” means building [sic] where marijuana plants are being grown in compliance with the MMMA, other than as a medical marijuana home occupation.

    New in that definition was the inclusion of “medical marijuana” as part of the term to be defined. That entailed inserting “medical marijuana” before instances of “cultivation facility.”

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked about a revision that struck “medical” from the phrase “medical marijuana plants”:

    In a single family dwelling in any zoning district, no more than 72 medical marijuana plants shall be grown on the premises, regardless of the number of registered primary caregivers and/or registered qualifying patients residing in the dwelling.

    Postema said that when it’s just the plants themselves, it’s just “marijuana” – because the state statute doesn’t call the plants “medical marijuana.”

    Councilmembers then expressed uncertainty as to the process for approving the entire set of amendments recommended by the city attorney’s staff. One approach would have been first to vote on the set of amendments, then consider additional amendments, voting on them as well. A second approach would have been to amend the proposed amendments.

    The consensus appeared to be that they’d take the first approach. But mayor John Hieftje indicated there would not be a vote on all the staff-recommended amendments. That statement was met with surprise from some councilmembers. Higgins sought confirmation: “We’re voting, right?” Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) indicated that he did not understand the process. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) noted that after voting, additional amendments could be brought forward.

    Briere stated that it’s the council’s choice how to proceed. She’d earlier begun to go through her own proposed amendments, but appeared now ready to vote on the staff-recommended amendments, then consider additional amendments.

    The council opted to vote on the staff-recommended amendments, then consider other amendments.

    Outcome on Omnibus Amendment: The council unanimously approved the set of staff-recommended amendments.

    Medical Marijuana Zoning: Amendment – Code Reference

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) proposed the following amendment [deleted material is struck through; added material in italics]:

    h) An annual zoning compliance permit signed by the owner shall be required, and must be renewed prior to the anniversary date of the issuance of the original permit shall be required consistent with Section 5:92.

    She noted that zoning compliance permits are not unique to medical marijuana facilities – they have very broad requirements. She apologized to Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) for referencing another section of the code. Briere was alluding to Higgins’ historical objections to referring to other sections of code, which forces the reader to look up some other section. [.pdf of Section 5:92 of the city code]

    It’s “simple business compliance,” no more or less than any other business, said Briere. The rationale behind the amendment was that the ordinance should not convey the idea that any group is being singled out or that records are being kept on a group of people.

    Higgins confirmed that in the licensing scheme, the zoning compliance permit is not handled by the licensing board.

    Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) asked city attorney Stephen Postema what his opinion was. Postema said the reason the language had originally been included was to let people know what the requirements are without having to go back and look at another part of the city code. Referencing the other section is also acceptable, he said.

    Outcome on Amendment: The council unanimously approved replacing specific requirements with a reference to Section 5:92.

    Medical Marijuana Zoning: Amendment – Plant Limit

    The zoning regulations already included a limit of 72 marijuana plants in connection with a business operated as a home occupation.

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) proposed an amendment that added a limit of 72 plants on the premises of any medical marijuana cultivation facility. That’s a maximum of 72 plants per address, she said.

    City attorney Stephen Postema focused the council’s attention on the fact that a “medical marijuana cultivation facility” is defined as a building where plants are being grown.

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wondered what the difference is between a cultivation facility and a home occupation, if both are limited to 72. Briere explained that essentially it’s expected that it will be caregivers who grow the plants – either in their own home, or not in their own home. If they did not grow in their own home, that would make it a cultivation facility.

    Outcome on Amendment: The amendment limiting the number of plants in a medical marijuana cultivation facility to 72 passed, with dissent from Higgins.

    Medical Marijuana Zoning: Amendment – Home Occupation

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) offered another amendment very much in the spirit of a previous one that removed a description of specific requirements and instead referenced another part of the city code – Section 5:92.

    A list of (a)-(j) items were reduced to just four with Briere’s amendment.

    Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) again wanted city attorney Stephen Postema’s opinion, who characterized it as the same issue they’d looked at before. Briere reiterated the rationale – if people are not familiar with the entire code, they may read the zoning regulations on medical marijuana as if the city is establishing special rules for a special category of people. That’s avoided by reference to other code sections.

    Mayor John Hieftje agreed with that strategy. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) wondered why one of the items had been left in the section: “No transfer of marijuana to registered qualifying patients other than those residing in the dwelling shall occur.” Smith said it did not involve any vehicle trips, because there are no home visits. She wanted to know why the clause was still in there.

    Postema said this was consistent with the language approved a long time ago. Smith said she understand that, but it’s one of three surviving clauses in the section – it mystified her. It’s irrelevant if you say the transfer can’t occur, she said. Postema told Smith that the council had talked about the fact that it didn’t want transfers to take place except at patients’ homes. If that’s not what the council wishes, then it can be changed.

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) also supported deletion of the clause. He said it struck him as interference – an unnecessary burden. If other restrictions are consistent with Section 5:92, then he felt it was a reasonable balance.

    Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) said that looking through all the changes, it makes perfect sense. The clause in question is highlighted as one exception, so he supported Smith’s additional amendment. He said he was not sure why they would call out transfers specifically.

    Hieftje noted that with a 72-plant limit, that amounted to a limit on the number of clients.

    Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked Wendy Rampson, head of the city’s planning department, to explain zoning compliance permits. He wanted to know how Section 5:92(1) would be applied, which reads in part:

    It shall be unlawful to begin the excavation for the construction, the moving, alteration, or repair, except ordinary repairs as defined in Chapter 98 of the Ann Arbor City Code, of any building or other structure, including an accessory structure, costing more than $100.00 or exceeding 100 square feet in area …

    He wanted to know if it’s possible that a zoning compliance permit wouldn’t be required if the $100 limit were not exceeded. Rampson said it’s hard to say, but she thought Kunselman’s conclusion was right – with the exception of a day-care facility. She suggested that people obtain a compliance permit in case someone calls to complain, but the city would not necessarily require one.

    Outcome on Amendment: The amendment replacing specific language on home occupations with a code reference was unanimously approved.

    Medical Marijuana Zoning: Amendment – 1000-foot Buffer

    Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) proposed amending the required buffer between dispensaries and cultivation facilities and schools from 1000 feet to 1010 feet. He said that round numbers are not necessarily any better. The 1% difference does a better job of accomplishing what they’re trying to accomplish, he contended. The intent is not to impact existing dispensaries – it’s to make sure they’re not cutting off parts of blocks.

    At the request of Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Hohnke asked Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, to explain. Hohnke confirmed with her that the extension of the buffer by 1% would in certain locations help to bring a complete block into the buffer zone. Rampson said there’s no magic number. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked Rampson if she’d drafted some maps depicting the 1010 buffer. No, Rampson said, the question came up after they’d looked at the issue. The city has a map showing the 1000-foot buffer. Briere asked by the next meeting to have maps with 1000, 1100 and 1250-foot buffers shown. She said she’s uncomfortable with a 10-foot change – she found that odd. She noted that Sandi Smith (Ward 1) had actually wanted to decrease the buffer.

    At that point mayor John Hieftje asked city attorney Stephen Postema if the changes they’d undertaken to that point were substantive enough to require an additional reading before the council, if the council voted to approve the main motion. Postema said that many of the amendments are small enough, but the deletion of the prohibition on transfer, and tinkering with the 1000-foot buffer, could amount to substantive changes. The wiser course would be to have an additional reading, he advised.

    Hieftje said he needed clearer advice. Postema suggested postponing to the council’s first meeting in June.

    Weighing in on the buffer question, Smith said it doesn’t make sense to add 10 feet – there is already a limit on the number of dispensaries. She said she thought 500 feet is adequate, and 1000 feet is more than cautionary – so 1010 makes no sense.

    Outcome: The council voted down the amendment changing the buffer to 1010 feet. Voting for it were Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke, and Mike Anglin, which was one short of the six votes it needed.

    Medical Marijuana Zoning: Motion to Postpone

    A motion was made to postpone the zoning ordinance.

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) elicited from city attorney Stephen Postema the view that it was a “close call” as to whether the council would need to give the zoning ordinance an additional approval, if council voted to approve the ordinance that night.

    In light of the fact that possibly another reading before the council would be required, even after voting that night, Taylor said, “I’m all for voting.”

    Alluding to the revised legislation that is marked up with color-coded revisions, mayor John Hieftje said he’s wanted for a long time to have something to read without colored print. He suggested trying to get a clean page before voting.

    Final Outcome on Zoning: The council voted to postpone the zoning ordinance until June 6. Sandi Smith and Christopher Taylor dissented.

    Medical Marijuana Licensing: Council Deliberations

    Over the course of the council’s months-long consideration of medical marijuana licensing requirements, among the more significant revisions has been to exclude home occupations from licensing requirements. On Monday, several amendments were passed, but the most significant one excluded another major category from licensing requirements: cultivation facilities.

    Medical Marijuana Licensing: Amendment – Insertions

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) led off with a set of changes that involved wholesale insertions of language. The amendment added “medical marijuana” before instances of “dispensary” or “cultivation facilities.” The amendment also inserted “registered qualifying” before instances of “patient” and inserted “registered primary” before instances of “caregiver.”

    Outcome on Amendment: The council unanimously approved the insertion of the various phrases.

    Medical Marijuana Licensing: Amendment – Completeness

    The second amendment proposed by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) made clear that the link between the cap on licenses and applications is for complete applications. In amended form, that section of the ordinance reads:

    The first year’s licenses shall be capped at a number 10% higher than the number of complete applications for licenses submitted to the City in the first 60 days, after the effective date of this chapter, but not more than 20 medical marijuana dispensary licenses shall be issued in the first year. Any license terminated during the license year returns to the City for possible reissuance.

    Outcome on Amendment: The amendment specifying the completeness of applications was unanimously approved.

    Medical Marijuana Licensing: Amendment – Cultivation Facilities

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) then proposed that references to “cultivation facilities” be removed. In arguing for the exclusion of cultivation facilities from licensing requirements, she said that according to the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act (MMLA), they are supposed to be cautious. She cited the relevant passage from the MMLA:

    Possession of, or application for, a registry identification card shall not constitute probable cause or reasonable suspicion, nor shall it be used to support the search of the person or property of the person possessing or applying for the registry identification card, or otherwise subject the person or property of the person to inspection by any local, county or state governmental agency.

    Briere said that passage tells her the city is not supposed to be looking at or keeping records or inspecting property of applicants for the state registry identification card. While dispensaries have decided to go public, she said, caregivers have not. She said she could not understand why the city sought to license caregivers.

    Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said she wholeheartedly supported removal of cultivation facilities from licensing requirements. She felt it was inviting people to aggregate a large number of mature plants and register with the city, and it was an invitation for the DEA to come in.

    Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked the city attorney Stephen Postema to weigh in. Postema said that in some ways, this is a policy decision for the council. He said he disagreed with Briere that there’s anything in the state law that prevents the city from having reasonable regulation.

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, how she saw the role and utility of having cultivation facilities in the licensing scheme. For the zoning regulations, cultivation facilities are included. Rampson said that cultivation facilities are different from home occupations. Home occupations are in someone’s own home, whereas cultivation facilities are a commercial operation. That’s why the city planning commission recommended specific zoning districts where it would be appropriate to have a cultivation facility, she said.

    Taylor asked if the limit of 72 plants for cultivation facilities – now amended into the zoning regulations – would address the planning commission’s concern. Rampson allowed that the 72-plant limit would address some concerns. Based on the information staff had received, they were talking about quite large operations and they were concerned about that.

    Rampson said there could still be an agglomeration of facilities in multiple tenant spaces. But mayor John Hieftje said that possibility had been eliminated. Taylor suggested that the concern of scale should disappear with the 72-plant limit.

    Postema interjected concerns about not having a license on something that is a commercial facility. He contended that security concerns are the same, whether it’s large scale or small scale. Safety and security concerns are theoretically there whether the operation is large or small, he said. Safety and security is a hallmark of all licensing, he said.

    Smith asked if a change in use for any building would set off an inspection process for city that would take care of risks associated with health and safety. Smith said security measures would be inherent in the product being grown.

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) made the same observation she’d made in connection with the zoning deliberations: The only difference between a home occupation growing operation and a “cultivation facility” is that a cultivation facility is offsite from a residence. If the limit is 72 plants, she wondered, how can you have the medical marijuana co-ops, which already operate in the city? She asked if the passage of the 72-plant requirement and their exclusion from the licensing requirement would shut down the co-ops? Briere replied that she hoped so.

    Taylor said he was confident in the strength of the 72-plant limit in the zoning regulations.

    Without a licensing requirement, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked if there is a limit somewhere on number of cultivation facilities. [If cultivation facilities were required to be licensed, the cap on the number of licenses would provide that limit.] He noted there are a lot of property vacancies, and having grow operations could be a good way to pay the rent. He expressed concern that the community could be overrun with a lot of grow operations.

    Briere said a problem with restricting the number of cultivation facilities is that there may be more than the city can see today. The city doesn’t want them to be large cultivation facilities, she said. The number of 10 as a limit was a number that was suitable, she said, when the council believed the city might have to deal with large grow facilities.

    Kunselman replied that if the city doesn’t license cultivation facilities, they won’t know the facilities are there, and the grow operations will show up without signs. Briere responded by saying that if the city licenses cultivation facilities, it starts collecting information on caregivers, and that becomes available to the federal government. The state can protect its information, but it’s harder for local governments to protect it, she said. Smith said it would be excellent to charge the licensing board with examining the issue and bringing that as a recommendation after a year.

    Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked Postema to weigh in. Postema said that initially when the council addressed the issue, aggregation was the concern. He suggested that another tool available to the council, separate from licensing, is another zoning tool: restrictions on how near to another facility a cultivation facility can be.

    Kunselman pressed Briere to explain how gathering information on cultivation facilities was different from gathering information on dispensaries. Why don’t we treat them the same? Briere explained that deciding to grow away from your home doesn’t mean you want to grow it for the public. Maybe you want to do it because of children, or whatever personal reasons, or maybe there’s no space, she said. So by growing away from your home, you become a “cultivation facility” – even though you’re just an individual patient or caregiver. A cultivation facility is not a commercial activity only, even though it’s logical to assume that, she said.

    On another level, Briere continued, they should think about whether the city is pushing people to grow marijuana as a home occupation. The more restrictions the city places on people growing marijuana away from their homes, she said, the more the city encourages growing in homes, thus in neighborhoods.

    Some people are growing marijuana to make money, Briere said, and some are growing for a patient whom they love – and they’ll do that in a basement, closet, attic or warehouse. It’s difficult to decide if they should be paying a fee for a license. She said she didn’t have an answer and that’s why she had proposed the amendment.

    Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) said the discussion was coming at a late date. He wanted a comprehensive ordinance, and part of that includes facilities for growing marijuana, he said. His reading of the statute is that you can have authority as a city to regulate – it’s a question of whether Ann Arbor wants to regulate in that way. His own sense is that it’s easier to be more restrictive, then if the regulation is not needed, it can be relaxed, he said.

    Hieftje inquired of Briere if the motivation is to eliminate a layer of documentation – yes, said Briere, and to simplify the law. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) saw it also as also a matter of fairness to those who choose to grow not in their own home.

    Outcome on Amendment: The council approved the amendment eliminating cultivation facilities from licensing requirements, with dissent from Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo and Marcia Higgins.

    Medical Marijuana Licensing: Amendment – Strike “Federal”

    The next amendment suggested by Briere was to strike the word “federal” as follows:

    (5) The license requirement set forth in this chapter shall be in addition to, and not in lieu of, any other licensing and permitting requirements imposed by any other federal state or local law.

    Outcome on Amendment: The amendment to strike “federal” was approved, with dissent from Stephen Rapundalo.

    Medical Marijuana Licensing: Amendment – Council Approvals

    The final amendment handled on Monday was again introduced by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and included a motion to change the title of the licensing board to “Medical Marijuana Licensing Board” and to establish a procedure for approval or rejection of each license application by the city council.

    Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) asked city attorney Stephen Postema for his thoughts. Postema said he had no issue with that.

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wondered if the instruction should be that the council had to act on each application, or if it should simply allow the council to act. Postema said the language means that a recommendation from the board must be given an up or down action. Mayor John Hieftje said he had a concern there, because the issue has already taken over large chunks of the council’s time. He wondered if there was any way they can limit it. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she didn’t think she’d ever seen a recommendation coming from a board that says the council must act.

    Briere offered to change the recommendations from the licensing board to the council to make them an annual event instead of an ongoing process. The council settled on an annual process, though Sandi Smith (Ward 1) expressed a preference for a quarterly process.

    Outcome on Amendment: The council unanimously approved the amendment specifying how the council approves each license.

    Medical Marijuana Licensing: Motion to Postpone

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she’d be happy to end the deliberations, but said she was nearly done with the major part. Mayor John Hieftje asked how much time she figured remaining amendments would take. Briere estimated 30 minutes. A motion was made to postpone the licensing ordinance in its form as amended.

    Outcome on Licensing: The council voted unanimously to postpone consideration of the medical marijuana licensing ordinance until its June 6, 2011 meeting.

    Human Services Allocations

    Before the council was a resolution to allocate funding for nonprofits that provide human services in the city for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, 2011. The $1,159,029 in the resolution reflected a 9% reduction from FY 2011.

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

    Human Services Allocations: Budget Public Hearing

    On Monday, the council held its public hearing on the fiscal year 2012 budget, which will be considered formally on May 16. Several of the speakers directly or indirectly addressed human services spending in that budget.

    Thomas Partridge said the budget shouldn’t be passed without reviewing it for progressively-scaled fees. People have suffered too long under regressive taxes, he said, which had culminated in an effort to recall Gov. Rick Snyder. He reminded the council that the right to recall elected officers can be applied to local officials, as well. He called on the mayor and the council to live up to their responsibility to come up with a budget, tax and fee structure that is progressively-scaled to give consideration to the most vulnerable in society.

    Susan McGarry introduced herself as the minister at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church – she also serves on the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice (ICPJ) working group on racial and economic justice. She urged the council not to make cuts to the community’s safety net. She said she’s been a professional minister for over 30 years. The church had started sheltering by letting people sleep in their basement. Since then so much has improved, she said. We have a community where we can be proud, she said. She argued against those who would say that “we make it too easy for poor people.” It’s a hard budget, but it’s difficult for the most vulnerable among us, she said. In a difficult time, we need to keep that good work going forward.

    Lucia Heinold also introduced herself as a member of ICPJ. She said that Ann Arbor is a caring community. We need good fire protection, but we need to keep the poorest among us in our minds, she said. It does us no good to have a great park system if we have people who are too poor and sick to get to the parks. She thanked the council for all the work they had done. As treasurer of some organizations, she knows how hard it is to keep things running in the current economic climate.

    Michael Appel Avalon Housing Cranes

    Michael Appel with Avalon Housing supporters, who are holding more than 4,000 paper cranes to represent the number of people who have used Avalon's services.

    Michael Appel, associate director of Avalon Housing, was joined at the podium with a supporting cast of people holding 4,738 paper cranes – one crane for every person that Avalon Housing had served in 2010 through its homelessness programs. The beauty of that many colors, he said, contrasted with the sheer number of people who had lost their housing. For over a year volunteers had been making the cranes to help visualize the scale of the problem. He reminded the council that they would be acting that night only on the human services part of the budget, but said that it was connected to the rest of the budget. People are not using public safety services, if they’re using Avalon’s services.

    Ellen Schulmeister, director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County, described a client who had been helped through the association’s programs – a man named Charlie who, among other challenges, suffered from migraine headaches. He was falling through cracks in the system, and in late 2010 came to the Delonis Center, out of ideas. He entered the center’s residential program, she said, where a case manager helped him design a plan. The first step was to get his medical needs addressed. His case manager helped him apply for Social Security, which gave him a monthly income, and he was able to take the step of finding stable housing. He moved into that housing on Feb. 1.

    Diana Neering, who is also with the Shelter Association, gave the council a second sketch of one of the association’s client success stories. It was the story of Matthew, who appeared at the shelter wearing boots and dark sunglasses. He had a mental disorder and would talk of owning 40 Internet businesses and being a friend of the University of Michigan president. Staff finally convinced him to give the shelter a try. He received mental health treatment through a prescription. His case manager had helped him apply for Social Security benefits and he was quickly approved. He now has income, health insurance, housing and treatment. “We didn’t give up on him,” she said. So she asked the council not to give up on the shelter.

    Nicole Adelman, executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Washtenaw County at Alpha House, told the council that the city had supported human services funding for many years, and they should be proud of that. She asked the council to please not cut the budget this year. Ultimately, that money keeps people out of emergency rooms – it saves the community money, she said.

    Joanne Motino Bailey, director of nurse midwifery service at the University of Michigan Health System, said she also worked with Planned Parenthood and has watched the funding be used to change women’s lives and provide the integrated care they need. She strongly encouraged the council to continue the funding.

    Barbara Niess May, executive director of SafeHouse Center, noted that SafeHouse receives human services funding from the city. The long-term support that the city council has given to human services funding is part of what makes Ann Arbor a safe and pleasant place to live. She pointed out that the majority of funding that’s invested stays in the community and often leverages other resources. She said she’d be remiss not to thank the council for this gift, but said it’s also a necessary investment.

    Pam Smith introduced the council to Child Care Network as a 33-year-old nonprofit that helps families find childcare. It had enjoyed 30 years of support from city of Ann Arbor. The nonprofit helps the most economically vulnerable, but they pay a portion of the child care – that helps keep parents involved. Clients have gone on to hold jobs as bank mangers and customer services representatives in the community, she said.

    Also addressing the council for the Child Care Network was Lori Bush, director of family support programs. She told the council it’s difficult to get parents to come represent the nonprofit’s programs because they have time commitments, so she read a letter from one of their parents who is a client, who described how the nonprofit had helped her.

    Julie Steiner, executive director of the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, encouraged the council to continue funding. She told the council that nonprofits don’t just stand before the city and ask it for money. She described starting a program for a “single point of entry” to save people’s energy. She described how the money allocated to WHA helps the organization bring additional money – leveraging the money it receives – $1.5 million had been obtained through the federal stimulus (AARA) for rapid rehousing.

    Former councilmember Jean Carlberg said it was very nice to be in front of the council. When she’d left the city council, she went to the Washtenaw Housing Alliance, because she appreciated the fact that the alliance included 25 partners to work on homelessness. But she said her interest is more than homelessness. She noted that those who benefit from human services are not just clients, but also friends and neighbors.

    Referring to the 4,000 paper cranes presented by Michael Appel and his group, Carlberg said that number would need to be multiplied by 5 to include people who are in crisis and near crisis. The issue concerns more than just people who receive services directly. She also pointed out that the money stays here and multiplies in the community. It’s a relatively small amount, she said. It’s a difficult choice, but she compared it to choosing between temporary inconveniences versus taking away a basic human need. There’s not a temporary consequence to that, she said. The city’s money would be well spent in the community.

    Human Services Allocations: Council Deliberations

    Mary Jo Callan, head of the joint city/county office of community development, described the human services funding levels this year compared to last year as a $116,000 reduction. The office as a whole had made a 7% reduction, even though the target was 2.5%. As Callan explained during a February 2011 working session, the previous year’s budget had assumed federal funds that did not, if fact, materialize. So they were “starting in a hole,” she said.

    Mayor John Hieftje asked whether the 2.5% target was met, leaving the federal funds out of the equation. Callan confirmed that the federal funding is essentially the difference between the 7% reduction compared to the 2.5% target.

    Referring to the coordinated funding approach to support nonprofits that provide human services, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said that in Washtenaw County, we are doing something unique in aggregating funds. That approach really maximizes and leverages the available funding. She commended the work that had gotten the community this far. She asked Callan to comment on the coordinated funding model.

    Sandi Smith, Margie Teall, Marcia Higgins

    Foreground to background: Councilmembers Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Margie Teall (Ward 4), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), and city attorney Stephen Postema.

    Callan confirmed that her office uses a coordinated funding model that includes public entities – the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and Urban County – and the Washtenaw United Way. The idea is for these entities to examine how best to invest and amplify the effect of their funding. A review team representatives from each governing board helped evaluate the criteria set out for applicants beforehand. They’re funding a total of 63 nonprofit programs. The city of Ann Arbor funds aren’t directly supporting all of those 63, Callan said, but the availability of city funds allows decisions to be made about all of the nonprofits.

    Smith asked Callan to illustrate how city dollars are leveraged by giving the ratio of dollars invested to dollars brought in. Callan told Smith that two years ago, a local dollar brought in $10 in additional support. That figure has now grown to $13, she said. The growth, she said, is due to a couple of factors. First, nonprofits are relying on being entrepreneurial and going after funds to support their core mission. Second, as the city allocates funding, it is now demanding “capacity” from those nonprofits, so the city is investing in nonprofits who know how to generate dollars.

    Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who was one of the architects of the scoring metric used to evaluate nonprofits that apply for city funds, asked Callan about Meals on Wheels. He said he fully supported its mission and they do great work. But the fact of the matter is that it’s a University of Michigan program. “Yet they come to us?” he asked. Surely UM can find that amount of money, he ventured. So he asked Callan why Meals on Wheels comes seeking city dollars.

    Callan told Rapundalo that other people have asked that too. Callan said she did not have an answer that would be good enough for some folks – but Meals on Wheels uses local dollars to leverage money, too. Part of it is also a policy issue – the city has always funded some programs.  They’re a part of the portfolio. Callan told Rapundalo that she appreciated his acknowledgment that Meals on Wheels does really good work. Rapundalo replied to Callan’s remark – she told him it’s a legitimate question – by saying that’s why he brought it up.

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she’d like to postpone the resolution, because she was not prepared to vote that night. She held out hope that between now and the council’s next meeting, the city can find “an additional dime.”

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone consideration of human services funding.

    Packard Square

    Before the council were resolutions to approve the site plan and development agreement, as well as the brownfield redevelopment plan, for the Packard Square project, which is located at the site of the former Georgetown Mall. The development would include 230 apartment units, 23,790 square feet of retail space, 454 parking spaces and stormwater detention facilities.

    At its March 15 meeting, the Ann Arbor city planning commission had unanimously recommended approval of the Packard Square site plan. [Chronicle coverage: "Packard Square, Fraternity Site Plan OK'd"]

    The total investment by the developer for this project is about $48.2 million. The amount of that which falls under the brownfield plan’s eligible activities is $2.82 million – for site preparation, demolition, footing drain disconnects and sanitary sewer upgrades, and remediation of contaminants from the former dry cleaning business on that site.

    Packard Square: Public Hearing

    Mary Krasan thanked Margie Teall (Ward 4)and city planner Jeff Kahan for their time and effort in expediting a solution to the Georgetown Mall situation. The Packard Square project is not perfect, she said, but she hopes it will be a beneficial one to the neighborhood’s quality of life. The neighborhood has been lucky – it’s looking at an end to that particular blight, when other neighborhoods have no certain end in sight. Neighborhoods need protection against the impact of blight on property values and on morale, she said.

    Jeanne Horvath told the council that her property abuts the old Georgetown Mall site. She described the proposed project as not the best, but better than what they have now.

    Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a Democratic Party leader calling on council to pass amendments to the development agreement, saying the council needed to table it for this agenda. The amendments should ensure access for the most vulnerable – students, adults and families. There needs to be adequate access to the development, he said.

    Packard Square: Council Deliberations

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) reported that the city’s brownfield committee had met several times looking at the request. [The project is located in Ward 4.] She explained that the soil contaminants [tetrachloroethylene] will be removed to a concentration meeting a 10(-5) standard instead the more stringent 10(-6) standard. The reason for that, she said, is that a vapor barrier would be installed, at the request of the Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality. The brownfield committee will be bringing a resolution before the council to ask the city’s environmental commission to review brownfield plan policies and to update them to add precautionary measures that were not available 10 years ago.

    Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she’s delighted the site plan was in front of the council. She said the residents are excited about it. Higgins echoed Teall’s comments – it’s not often that near neighbors say they really want the council to move forward on a project. It’s become a real community dialogue, she said. Teall added that it’s been a dialogue between developer and residents.

    Outcomes: On separate votes, the council unanimously approved the site plan, development agreement and brownfield plan for Packard Square.

    Sakti3 Abatement

    Before the council was a resolution to set a public hearing on the granting of a tax abatement to Sakti3, a University of Michigan battery technology spinoff from the University of Michigan. Sakti3 is led by UM professor Ann Marie Sastry. The public hearing will be held as part of the city council’s June 6, 2011 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

    Sakti3 is requesting an abatement on $200,000 of real property improvements (electrical construction work) and $2.2 million of personal property (battery cycling equipment, thermal chambers, machine shop equipment, server system).

    If granted, the abatement would reduce the annual tax bill on the new improvements by about $17,000 for each year of the abatement. According to city staff, the new real and personal property investments would generate about $22,500 in property taxes each year.

    At their March 21 meeting, the council voted to set a public hearing on the establishment of the industrial development district under which Sakti3 is applying for an abatement. And on April 4, the city council approved the establishment of the district.

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously without comment to set the public hearing date for the Sakti3 tax abatement.

    Municipal Center Construction

    The city’s new municipal center, located on the west side of city hall (the Larcom Building) has its main entrance off Huron Street. The street address for city hall is now 301 E. Huron.

    Municipal Center Construction: City Administrator Update

    During his communications time, interim city administrator Tom Crawford gave the council an update on renovations that are being done on the Larcom building.

    In the basement, the area that had flooded due to a burst pipe dried well and there’s no mold, he said. Radon levels are below the action level for residential construction, he said. On the first floor the sprinkler piping is finished – drywall installation and asbestos abatement continue. Two elevators in the west tower are complete and have passed inspection. The old elevators are permanently out of service.

    Municipal Center Construction: Wheeler Contract Extension

    Before the council was a contract extension with William Wheeler for oversight of the municipal center construction project. In March 2010, the council had voted to continue Wheeler’s services as the municipal center project manager – Wheeler is a former city of Ann Arbor employee.

    The contract language stipulated that it would expire when Wheeler hit a maximum compensation of $126,000 or by April 30, 2011. The council approved a contract extension of 60 days, with no increase in the cap on total compensation.

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously without comment to approve the contract extension for William Wheeler.

    Interagency Technology Agreements

    The council was asked to consider the approval of several interagency agreements on the use of technology with: (1) Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; (2) Washtenaw County for data storage services; and (3) Washtenaw County for backup services.

    The AATA board had discussed the collaboration at its April 21 meeting. The data storage services to be provided by the county will cost $73,632 for four years. The backup services to be provided by the county will entail an annual service cost of $102,607 for four years.

    Tom Crawford Marcia Higgins

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) is not getting a tutorial on how to pack a snowball. As interim city administrator Tom Crawford noted during his communications – it's spring.

    Tom Crawford, the city’s CFO and interim city administrator, noted that the state looks at this kind of collaboration favorably. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) asked whether the city’s recent arrangement to provide the city of Chelsea with IT services would count as collaboration from the state’s point of view – yes, said Crawford, if Ann Arbor gets to count things it’s already started.

    Dan Rainey, head of IT for the city, explained the nature of the shared storage and shared backup – there will be one machine at city hall and one at the city’s Wheeler Center. Mayor John Hieftje said some people might question the cost. What would happen if the city didn’t spend the money, he asked. Rainey said the city would be at significant risk of not being able to recover data. That might mean the loss of critical data like maps, financial data, data on the wastewater plant, and day-to-day operations. It’s really important to have a means to back up and recover it, Rainey said.

    Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted there are some people who think the city spends way too much money on IT. She asked Rainey to describe how much of the city’s IT operations are handled by his department. He explained that his department operates across the entire organization – 98% of all the city’s IT costs are in the IT department’s budget. Briere concluded that this reflects a change in the way the city government does business.

    In response to a question from Hieftje, Rainey said that IT costs have remained relatively flat over the last three years. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked if the city would eventually move to cloud-based technology. Rainey explained that several of the applications used by the city are already cloud-based: including HR, payroll, and law enforcement and courts system software. He also said the city is shrinking its physical footprint by converting paper documents to digital form.

    Outcome: The council unanimously approved the three interagency IT agreements on its agenda.

    Street Closings

    On its agenda were approvals of several street closings. Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked his colleagues to excuse him from voting on one of them. Grizzly Peak, which was requesting a closing of Washington Street in connection with a Sept. 16-17, 2011 Oktoberfest celebration, is a client of  the law firm Butzel Long, where Taylor works.

    Other street closing requests were for: 1) the Ready Set Fly 5K on Saturday, May 21 from 8:45 A.M. to 11:00 A.M., and 2) The Event on Main, a fundraiser for the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospital, on South Main Street between William and Liberty, from 6 a.m. on Thursday, June 23 to 2 a.m. on Friday, June 24.

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve all the street closing requests.

    DTE Power Line Relocation

    On the council’s agenda was the finalization of an agreement with DTE to relocate power lines in connection with the East Stadium Bridges reconstruction project. Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, if the lines would be buried. The answer – yes – was provided by Homayoon Pirooz, head of project management for the city, who stayed until the end of the meeting, along with city engineer Michael Nearing.

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the agreement with DTE.

    Large Vehicle Purchases

    The council was also asked for authorizations to purchase two large vehicles – an Elgin street sweeper and a combination sewer truck – and a large piece of truck-mounted equipment (a rodder for clearing out sewer lines).

    Higgins said she felt like the ghost of Chris Easthope was sitting in her seat – she had questions about whether the purchases were necessary. [After the meeting, she told the Chronicle that former councilmember Easthope had on occasion questioned the purchase of some large vehicles when staff had recommended acquiring them – if a truck had limited miles on it, then the age of the vehicle wouldn't necessarily justify its replacement.]

    After confirming with Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, that the staff did not need the council to act urgently, Higgins moved to postpone the sewer truck purchase. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) later moved postponement of the street sweeper.

    Outcome: Votes on the two vehicles were unanimously postponed, but the rodder was approved at a cost of $87,500.

    AATA Appointments

    Before the council were two nominations that had been made at the council’s previous meeting to reappoint Charles Griffith and Rich Robben to the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

    Outcome: Griffith and Robben were unanimously confirmed as members of the AATA board.

    Work Session Minutes

    Before the council voted on approval of various sets of minutes from prior meetings, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) inquired why the March 14, 2011 work session did not include councilmember attendance. He was assured that the record of attendance would be added.

    Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve minutes from previous meetings.

    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: Taxicab Rate Increase – Public Hearing

    As a part of his interim city administrator’s report, Tom Crawford noted that the city’s taxicab board is recommending a rate increase. At the council’s May 16 meeting, a public hearing will be held and the recommendation will be considered. The rate increase would affect 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. The taxicab board has indicated with this increase, it does not anticipate considering another rate change until the gas prices were over $5/gallon for at least two consecutive months.

    Comm/Comm: Downtown Development Authority

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reported that there was some “confusion” but then rejected that as “too strong a word” and settled on “a couple of different interpretations” of the city ordinance governing TIF (tax increment finance) capture for the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority district, which will be need to be worked out. That’s why a resolution had been struck from the council’s agenda – it would have allowed the council to ratify a new contract under which the DDA would continue to manage the parking system.

    Taylor said that Tom Crawford, the city’s CFO and interim city administrator, was involved in working out the issue along with city attorney Stephen Postema. There may be a larger explanation at the council’s working session on May 9, he said. [Without ratifying a new contract, the city would receive about $2 million less in parking revenues than it has planned as part of its 2012 fiscal year budget. Chronicle coverage: "DDA Delays Parking Vote Amid TIF Questions"]

    Comm/Comm: Park Advisory Commission – Budget

    Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) reported on a conversation held at the most recent meeting of the parks advisory commission (PAC). Taylor is one of two ex-officio representatives of the city council to that body – the other is Mike Anglin (Ward 5). Taylor said that PAC had reviewed the FY 2012 budget and new fee schedule. PAC members had discussed cuts in the parks department, which are divided across two units – community services and public services. [Chronicle coverage: "Council to Get Reminder of Parks Promise"]

    The cuts on the public services side are, as currently proposed, in excess of the cuts compared to other units. He said PAC had been told by Matt Warba, field services supervisor with the city, that the services to be provided will not be cut, but rather that the costs have gone down, because of greater efficiencies. The services will be consistent year over year, said Taylor. In addition to increased efficiencies, the proposed parks budget involves the shifting of cost burdens, for example, to money provided by the METRO Act. PAC passed a resolution exhorting city council to re-fund the public services budget.

    Anglin added that PAC had discussed the gradual funding reduction to parks over the years. As the parks maintenance and capital improvements millage will again be before the voters for renewal in 2012, it’s important to have the policies for administration of that millage in place, he said.

    Anglin said he doesn’t like to use the word “asset” in reference to parks, because it leads to treating the parks like a business. He reported that he’d talked to young people in their 30s, about how they’d taken advantage of some nice recent weather – they’d taken long bike rides and hung out in the parks. This is what we want to protect, Anglin said. He wants to look at policies for administration of the millage before it’s placed on the ballot next year and he wants to keep the parks whole, if possible.

    During the budget public hearing, Julie Grand – chair of the city’s park advisory commission – told the council that she and Sam Offen, chair of PAC’s budget and finance committee, were there to talk about the two resolutions passed at PAC’s last meeting. The first one recommends that the council adopt the proposed budget, she said. The second one raises a couple of considerable concerns. The first concern is the cuts themselves and the second relates to the timing. The cuts would require change to the city’s administrative policy on parks funding allocations, she said. Given the fact that the millage will be up for renewal next year, the perception is that the millage will simply substitute for general fund support of parks.

    Offen reiterated and supported the points made by Grand about park operations. The finance committee had talked with Colin Smith, the city’s parks and recreation manager, about parks and recreation. The conversation had been well-planned, with plenty of notice and information. Offen commended Smith and Sumedh Bahhl, who heads all of community services, for their hard work, communication skills, and ability to provide a clear message to PAC. Offen said that the community is lucky to have people like that working for the city.

    But Offen expressed concerned about the park operations side of the budget. PAC had had very little time to digest it. Offen said that PAC had significant questions about the lasting ability of state funds [like the METRO fund] to support it, and the fact that the proposed FY 2012 budget doesn’t adhere to the 2006 administrative policy on general fund support for parks. That policy had been a controversial issue at that time, Offen pointed out.

    No one spoke during a public hearing on fee adjustments in the community services area, which included rate increases and new fees for new activities in the city park system. [.pdf of recommended fee increases]

    Comm/Comm: Labor Negotiations – Fire-Related Deaths

    Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), noting the budget-related theme of some of the council communications, said it’s useful to remind people that the budget that former city administrator Roger Fraser had proposed before leaving the city ties a labor strategy to the budget: A certain number of planned layoffs in police and fire protection could be mitigated through union concessions.

    If police officers adopted the same health care plan as non-union employees, then at least four full-time police officers would not need to be laid off. And if firefighters adopted the same health care plan as non-union workers, that would be sufficient to pay for more than two full-time firefighters, Rapundalo said. There is still time before deliberations at the council’s next meeting on May 16 to make those concessions. He said there’d been speculation that the council won’t follow though on plans to cut public safety workers. But Rapundalo said the budget is very challenging and there’s no place else to get those savings.

    Mayor John Hieftje supported Rapundalo’s contention that the council was prepared to follow through on the cuts. A year ago, he said, Margie Teall (Ward 4) was able to make a statement that they had been able to find some additional funding, but there would not be that kind of comment this year. No year has been as tough as this one, Hieftje said – cities across the state have run out of strategies.

    Matt Schroeder firefighters union

    Matt Schroeder, president of Ann Arbor's Local 693 of the International Association of Firefighters, waits with others for his turn to speak during the budget public hearing.

    During the public hearing on the budget, Matt Schroeder, president of Ann Arbor Local 693 of the International Association of Firefighters, addressed the council. He told the council that top city administrators had contended recently that the fire department’s initial response times probably won’t be affected by more cuts. In the last decade, he said, the city has eliminated 37 firefighter positions, closed one station and eliminated two trucks – average response time has risen, he said. The situation continues to worsen with rotating closures of stations, he warned. Fires are 2-3 times faster and hotter today, he said.

    Schroeder said it’d been suggested that Huron Valley Ambulance (HVA) could handle the medical runs, and that the only reason the fire department responds is due to union protocols. In fact, Schroeder said, firefighters respond to medical runs because they’re trained for that and licensed by the state of Michigan. Citizens are not benefited by police officers going to those calls, he said, who are not licensed. The city and HVA determine together which calls firefighters go on – lives can be saved with firefighters responding to EMS runs. In just the last week, there were two occasions when firefighters had arrived well before HVA, and they were able to use basic life support skills to render assistance to two citizens, he said.

    Schroeder then turned to statistics on deaths due to fire in Ann Arbor. From 1991-2005, he said, three people were killed in fires – that’s an average of 0.2 lives per year. Since 2006, 12 people have been killed in fires – 2 lives per year. That’s a 1,000% increase in lives lost during a period where there was a 29% staff reduction.

    It’s been stated that the city is “comfortable” with more cuts, Schroeder said. He wondered if the city was comfortable with the fact that citizens needed to jump from balconies and roofs while they waited for enough firefighters [4] to arrive on the scene to enter a building to extract victims.

    The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) study currently commissioned by the city targets first-arriving fire department companies only, Schroeder said. It does not look at second, third, and fourth arriving companies. He said that firefighters are being vilified – they’re doing more with less. The local union does believe it can work together with the city, he said. Schroeder drew a round of applause from the audience when he concluded his remarks.

    Susan McGarry, who addressed the council in support of human services funding during the same public hearing, noted that she was in a car accident and had been very well served by the fire department on that occasion.

    Comm/Comm: Elections

    Larry Kestenbaum told the council he was pleased to see them. He introduced himself as the Washtenaw County clerk, noting that he is also co-chair of the Michigan Association of County Clerk’s legislative committee. He noted that the next day was election day. In Ann Arbor, there was just one issue on the ballot: the WISD special education millage renewal.

    Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum glances through his notes before addressing the council on the subject of elections.

    Washtenaw County clerk Larry Kestenbaum glances through his notes before addressing the council on the subject of elections.

    Because it’s a single-issue stand-alone election with one item on the ballot and the city no longer has a daily paper, it’s pretty much a given that there’ll be low turnout, Kestenbaum said. Back in 2005 the number of elections started to be consolidated with a limit of four elections per year – in February, May, August and November. Since then, a lot of elections have been pushed to November, Kestenbaum said. [For example, the Ann Arbor Public Schools board of trustees election shifted from May to November, and the Ann Arbor District Library had to follow suit. Chronicle coverage: "School Election Change Would Affect Library" and "Ann Arbor Library Board Moves Elections"].

    The state legislature is now considering a bill to force all school board elections to take place in November, Kestenbaum said. [.pdf of legislative analysis of House Bills 4005 and 4006 introduced by Kurt Heise, District 20]

    He said there is also a proposal to change to just two elections per year – in May and November. That means that primarie would be in May, when more people have the opportunity to participate, not in the middle of the summer, in August. For most cities, the primary is the election, Kestenbaum said, so the increased opportunity for participation in the primary is important.

    Thomas Partridge announced that he was there to speak on very important issues in the history of America. It was the eve of an important special education millage renewal. It’s vitally important that people show up at the polls, he said. He encouraged people to find their polling places – sometimes they’re assigned alternate locations.

    Partridge also said it was important for everyone to take cognizance of the effort to recall Gov. Rick Snyder. He noted that the petition language had been the subject of a clarity hearing on April 29, and the election board had voted to find that the language was clear. The recall effort criticizes Gov. Snyder for turning his back on the most vulnerable residents like seniors and disabled people, public employees including school teachers, he said.

    Comm/Comm: Economic Development

    Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), as chair of the local development finance authority (LDFA), introduced Paul Krutko as the new CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK. He’d been selected after a national search. Krutko told councilmembers that he will give them a report on SPARK at their work session on May 9. Standing before the council, he said, is like being at home. Having spent 30 years working in economic development in cities like Cleveland, Jacksonville and San Jose, he is familiar with the city-manager form of government, he said.

    Paul Krutko Ann Arbor SPARK

    Paul Krutko, CEO of Ann Arbor SPARK, approaches the podium to address the city council.

    Krutko characterized Ann Arbor as a great community with great potential on the national and world stage. He said he can attest that companies can start in an incubator and become a major player on the world stage.

    He said there is an excellent team at SPARK, which is a blessing and curse. When Michael Finney was tapped to lead the Michigan Economic Development Corp. by newly-elected Gov. Rick Snyder, he had taken key staffers with him to the state, Krutko said. So there are a number of key positions to fill at SPARK. That day was his 11th day on the job, he said. He concluded by thanking the councilmembers for the opportunity to appear before them.

    Comm/Comm: Planning Commission Retreat

    Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) is the city council’s representative to the city planning commission. He reported on the commission’s retreat on April 26, which had a theme of a regional approach to planning. The idea is to coordinate with other communities. At the retreat, the commission had focused on Washtenaw Avenue, the area’s busiest corridor. Commissioners had done a “community crawl” using an Ann Arbor Transportation Authority bus for the afternoon.

    The bus stopped along the way at various points: across from Whole Foods; Arborland; and Glencoe Hills. At Glencoe Hills, the commission visited with Albert Berriz, CEO of McKinley, which owns that property. They also heard from Mandy Grewal, supervisor of Pittsfield Township, and Ypsilanti Township supervisor Brenda Stumbo, and a city of Ypsilanti planner. Derezinski called the corridor a good possibility for urban collaboration. The planning commission took a positive step in hearing what other communities thought, he concluded.

    Comm/Comm: Wet Meadow – Buhr Park

    Jeannine Palms was on hand to receive a mayoral proclamation honoring her work and those of several other volunteers in connection with the Buhr Park Wet Meadow Project. In her remarks, Palms traced the effort to establish the three wet meadows back to 1996. The plantings help protect Mallets Creek. She noted the educational aspect of the project.

    Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Yousef Rabhi chat before the start of the meeting.

    Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and county commissioner Yousef Rabhi chat before the start of the meeting.

    Andy Brush, the webmaster for Washtenaw County, said he’d been volunteering with the project since he met Jeannine when a bulldozer was out working to sculpt the wet meadow. He thanked several people, including Amy Kuras (city parks planner), Jeff Dehring (former city parks planner who’s now with the county), Jason Frenzel (former Ann Arbor natural areas preservation volunteer coordinator, who’s now with the Huron River Watershed Council); Janis Bobrin (the county water resources commissioner), and all the members of the community who volunteered for the project.

    Brush’s daughter Clare also addressed the council, telling them that she’d started volunteering with the wet meadow when she was three years old, still in preschool. Sophia Werthmann also dated her involvement to the age of three.

    Also tracing his history with the project to his youth was current Washtenaw County commissioner Yousef Rabhi. The project meant a lot to him on a personal level, he said – it had shaped his University of Michigan degree. It had inspired him to run for public office. He took the opportunity to make a “shameless plug” for people to show up to the May 15 planting day – it goes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Buhr Park.

    Comm/Comm: Wet Sanitary Sewer

    Interim city administrator Tom Crawford, who is the city’s chief financial officer, spoke about the city’s sanitary sewer system. Due to the wet spring, local soils are now saturated, so any additional rain that falls becomes runoff. During the last week of April, from 7 a.m. Wednesday to 7 a.m. Thursday, he said, two inches of rain fell, and that runoff flowed into the Huron River.

    During a three-hour period on April 28, the river peaked above flood stage, he said. [USGS flow rates for Huron River]. That morning, many trunk sewers were surcharged, running “more than full.” The system stands a risk of overflowing with additional rain. A few weeks of little or no rain will be required to dry the system out.

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

    Next council meeting: May 16, 2011 at 7 p.m. in the second-floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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