Anxious, thrifty gardeners hovering, ready for Project Grow $1 plant sale to begin! [photo]
Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (May 2, 2012): The agenda was a light one, but several items of information resulted in some lengthy discussions.
Chief among those was a report on the debt crisis in Sylvan Township. The county picked up a $175,000 interest payment on May 1 that the township couldn’t afford to make, related to $12.5 million in bonds that were issued 11 years ago – and backed by the county’s full faith and credit – to build a water and wastewater treatment plant there.
Rob Turner – who represents District 1 on the county’s west side, where the township is located – reported that township officials hope to seek voter approval in August for a 20-year, 4.4 mill tax to cover the remaining payments. However, some commissioners expressed skepticism that township voters would approve a tax now, after rejecting a similar proposal in November. The county is also pursuing legal action for breach of contract, and is working with the township to reach a consent agreement that can be submitted to the court to outline a repayment strategy. If the millage doesn’t pass, it will be up to a judge to determine a tax levy. Commissioners were told that township residents will be assessed for the debt, one way or another.
In another report to the board, county administrator Verna McDaniel told commissioners that the county had agreed to a one-year extension to continue administering the Washtenaw Head Start program, through July 31, 2013. As part of the budget process last year, the county board had voted to relinquish its 46-year administration of the program on July 31, 2012. But the process to find another entity to administer Head Start has taken longer than expected, so the county reached an agreement with federal officials to operate the program another year.
McDaniel reported that the agreement waives a 20% local match of about $750,000 that the county had previously been required to provide. Because of that decrease there will be program changes, though details haven’t yet been worked out. While several commissioners praised the decision for easing the eventual transition to a new Head Start administrator, Ronnie Peterson expressed concern that the program’s high standards would be compromised.
The board also got an update on ongoing efforts to address how the county handles animal control services, in preparation to issue a request for proposals (RFP) later this year. Those services are currently being handled through a contract with the Humane Society of Huron Valley, which ends on Dec. 31, 2012. Board chair Conan Smith passed out a schedule for the board’s animal control policy task force meetings, with the first one set for Wednesday, May 9 from 8-10 a.m. at the county’s Learning Resource Center, 4135 Washtenaw Ave. The policy task force meetings will be open to the public.
Financial reports were also on the May 2 agenda, including the 2011 audit and an update on long-term liabilities. Wes Prater voiced concern that the county now has dramatically more in long-term liabilities than it did just five years ago. Total legacy liabilities, including pension and retiree health care benefits, have increased from $302.198 million at the end of 2007 to $346.572 million at the end of 2011.
Other items addressed during the meeting included: (1) an update from Yousef Rabhi on plans to put Project Grow gardens on the county-owned Platt Road site of the former juvenile justice center; (2) approval of up to $270,000 in bonds to fund an extension of the Sugar Creek drainage district in York and Augusta townships; (3) a resolution of support for the U.S. Clean Air Act; and (4) public commentary regarding the dangers of DTE Energy’s “smart” meters.
Commissioners also honored Hazel Bowman for her 25 years of volunteer service in the county’s foster grandparent program, giving her a standing ovation.
Ann Arbor park advisory commission meeting (April 17, 2012): The action items at this month’s PAC meeting focused on the upcoming fiscal year, with parks-related budget recommendations for July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013. Sam Offen, who chairs PAC’s budget and finance committee, observed that the FY 2013 budget is in better shape than in recent years.
This is the second year of a two-year budget cycle, and commissioners had recommended approval of budgets for both years at their April 2011 meeting. The recent recommendations for FY 2013 include: (1) increasing the frequency of the mowing cycle from every 19 days to every 14 days; (2) increasing seasonal staffing between April 15–October 15 to maintain active recreation areas better; (3) establishing three seasonal park steward/supervisor positions to improve park maintenance and enforcement; and (4) increasing seasonal staffing at the ice arenas to improve facility cleanliness.
Fee increases at several parks and rec facilities are also part of the budget recommendations, but most have already been implemented in the current fiscal year.
The April 17 meeting included a public hearing on the renewal of the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage, which will likely be on the November 2012 ballot. No one spoke at the hearing. In general, “there seems to be a great deal of relative silence” about the millage, parks and rec manager Colin Smith told commissioners. Few people have attended the recent public forums held by parks staff. The final forum is set for Thursday, April 26 from 6:30-7:30 p.m. at the Ann Arbor District Library’s Traverwood branch, 3333 Traverwood Drive.
Parks staff gave an update on deteriorating conditions at Windemere Park’s two tennis courts, and provided an initial estimate on costs to replace one or both courts at that location. No formal recommendation has been made, but options include moving the courts to another park. Commissioners discussed the need to assess the distribution and conditions of all of the city’s public courts – including ones in the public school system – as well as their overall usage, to get a better idea of where the greatest needs are.
Another update came from an engineer at the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner’s office, who described a drain replacement project that will affect Veterans Memorial Park later this year. Also related to Veterans Memorial, the request for proposals (RFP) for a skatepark there has been issued. [.pdf of skatepark RFP] The goal is to solicit proposals for a consultant to handle design and oversee construction of the skatepark, which will be located on city-owned property.
During public commentary, commissioners were given an update on the nonprofit Project Grow, which has several gardens located in city parks and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Another speaker urged commissioners to take control of the parking lots in city parks, and possibly increase revenues by installing metered parking.
At the Project Grow annual meeting, held on Oct. 8 at the Leslie Science Center, the same contentious issue surfaced as at last year’s meeting: Should the organic gardening nonprofit add members to its board or not?
Last year the answer was yes: Kirk Jones and Royer Held were voted onto the board by the members present at the meeting. [Chronicle coverage: "Project Grow Board Expands"]
This year was no different. In addition to re-electing Damaris Suffalko as a continuing board member, members elected Andrew Comai, David Corsa and Alice Telesnitsky as additions.
The ease with which board members can be added by a member vote is a function of Project Grow’s incorporation as a 501(c)3 membership organization as contrasted with a 501(c)3 directorship organization.
And although the meeting’s written agenda indicated board president Devon Akmon as a candidate for re-election to the board, he withdrew his name in the course of the meeting, which an attendee aptly summarized at one point by saying, “It feels very tense in here.”
The departure of Akmon from the board prompted board member Catherine Riseng to caution the roughly 40 people in the room: “We’re going to miss his skills more than you can possibly realize.”
When Royer Held decides which tomatoes to plant in his garden each year, he doesn’t look through seed catalogs. He simply sorts through a collection of plastic bags that hold his own private stash of tomatoes-to-be.
He’s a seed-saver, cleaning and saving seeds from his own stock of plants and trading with others who have varieties he’d like to try. It’s his way of saving the flavorful tomatoes he loves and maybe even developing a new strain by working with generations of hybrids.
“Seed-saving is the ultimate source of local food,” says Held, a computer programmer who’s been involved in gardening since he was a child.
Held’s slightly disheveled garden at Greenview Park – one of the Project Grow gardens there – is a library of tomato genetics, but with wood-and-wire frames in the place of shelves, and instead of handing you a volume to read, he might give you a tomato to taste – maybe a Lollipop cherry tomato or a sausage-shaped Pirkstine Orange.
Ann Arbor City Council Meeting (May 18, 2009): Ann Arbor’s city council approved the budget for fiscal year 2010 at its Monday meeting, spending little time discussing a separate resolution key to that budget, which approved an early-retirement inducement for police officers involving a one-time payment of around $6 million – depending on how many officers take advantage of the incentive.
The fact of the lengthy discussion over much smaller items was acknowledged around the council table, with councilmember Sandi Smith (Ward 1) making a note of it when she made an unsuccessful bid to eliminate or delay the introduction of parking meters into near-downtown residential neighborhoods. Smith was comparing the relatively short discussion of parking meters (involving potential additional revenues of $380,000) to the previous deliberations on Project Grow’s funding. And in the course of the more than 45-minute deliberations on Project Grow’s $7,000 grant, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted: “The least expensive ones are the ones we fight the hardest over.” Briere lost her fight for the community gardening nonprofit.
The approved budget did include amendments to allocate funds for the Leslie Science and Nature Center. Also related to the budget, the two resolutions to approve fee adjustments for the community services and public services areas were approved with no deliberations by council, leaving the issues raised at the previous night’s caucus by the chair of the market commission undiscussed publicly.
In other budget business, city council passed a resolution to create a taskforce to study options for the Ann Arbor Senior Center, which is slated for closure under the FY 2011 budget plan (i.e., not the budget approved by council at this meeting).
Council also approved an extension to the purchase-option agreement with Village Green for the First and Washington parcel, gave final approval to a completely new liquor ordinance, approved increased water/sewer rates, approved grant applications for multiple properties under the greenbelt program, and asked planning commission to review the C3 zoning regulations regarding the kind of temporary outdoor sales conducted in previous years at the Westgate farmers market.
The funding of the north-south connector study was again postponed, pending coordination with the Downtown Development Authority.
Ann Arbor City Council Meeting, Part I (May 4, 2009): Despite assurances from Mayor John Hieftje that he’d be surprised if Mack pool and Leslie Science Center weren’t funded, city council heard from several advocates of those facilities Monday night, along with supporters of Project Grow and the senior center.
Audible through the expressions of support for programs facing cuts was also a call for the council to focus attention on bigger ticket items. One of those bigger ticket items was a mediator-mandated agreement with the Ann Arbor Police Officers Association union, which council was constrained by state law to approve – an agreement that will cost the city about $650,000 more than it had anticipated. Another was approval of the early retirement option for police officers as a part of the employees retirement system, which the city is offering instead of mandatory layoffs.
Still another big ticket item surfaced in the form of the approval of an application for funding of the East Stadium bridge reconstruction – though it’s likely to be paid by federal tax dollars. The bridge fit into the general theme of transportation at the meeting, which showed up in the form of an agenda item authorizing a study for a north-south intra-city connector (which was postponed), as well as a lengthy discussion on the Ann Arbor transportation plan update, which was ultimately adopted, despite some sentiment for postponing it. [These items are reported in detail in Part II of our meeting coverage here.]
In other business, council approved two agreements with the public schools for operation of recreation facilities, gave initial approval to a revamped liquor licensing code for the city, and approved an amendment to the partnership agreement between the city and the Leslie Science and Nature Center. [This last accounts for the last word in the headline.]
Winter is so over. And what was all that about, anyway?
Gardeners have no time to fret over winter anymore. The time for looking at catalogs and polishing up pruner blades is over. It’s also past time for cruising through garden stores, peering at seed packets and picking through boxes of gladiola bulbs.
It’s time for getting out, for appreciating the early spring flowers (note to self: more crocuses and chinodoxia next year), clearing out the debris of leaves, windblown newspapers and fallen branches, maybe even cleaning out the garage on a warm day. It’s a maddening time of year: One week snow is covering your daffodils; the next temperatures hit 70s. You can’t be fooled by either extreme.
On those cold, wet days, you stay home and swear. On those warm and sunny days, you just have to get outside. In the past few weeks, I’ve been knocking around my yard like an outdoor Roomba, peering at the buds and new leaves on my lilac and redbud tree. I squint along the ground, looking for the first signs of emerging bloodroot and hepatica – the cutest of the cute spring blooms.
With snow on the ground outside and temperatures around 10° F and headed even lower, a dozen people gathered in the 5th-floor conference room of the Larcom Building to talk about warmer days ahead: a possible new Project Grow garden at Hunt Park, which could be implemented as early as this spring.
Amy Kuras, park planner for the city of Ann Arbor, and Melissa Kesterson, executive director of Project Grow, were joined at the meeting by neighbors of the park, which is located in the block bounded by Sunset, Spring and Daniel streets. Councilmember Sabra Briere, whose Ward 1 includes the park (it’s right on the boundary between Ward 1 and Ward 5), attended the meeting as well.
At the Project Grow annual meeting of membership, held Thursday evening at the Nature House at Leslie Science Center, news of a possible organizational arrangement with Matthaei Botanical Gardens led to an impromptu expansion of the board of directors to include two additional members. In addition to Catherine Riseng and Dustin Underwood, who were already on the slate for election, Royer Held and Kirk Jones were elected to the board. Project Grow’s mission is to make organic gardening accessible through the community and it does so most visibly through garden plots available at 14 different sites located throughout the city.
At the meeting, Project Grow board president, Devon Akmon, announced that Karen Sikkenga, associate director of Matthaei Botanical Gardens, had …