Stories indexed with the term ‘recycling’

Recycling Pilot OK’d for Multi-Family Units

A two-year $95,694 contract with Recycle Ann Arbor for a recycling incentive program for multi-family residential units has been approved by the Ann Arbor city council at its June 16, 2014 meeting. Such a pilot program is included in the city’s solid waste plan, which the city council adopted at its Oct. 7, 2013 meeting.

The solid waste plan includes evaluating methods to increase recycling participation through pilot programs. Among those methods is the introduction of a recycling incentive program for multi‐family housing units. The city council discontinued the RecycleBank incentive program for single-family residential units with a vote on May 22, 2012, which eliminated funding for the RecycleBank program in the FY 2013 budget. After two years … [Full Story]

Platt & Ellsworth

Long line at recycling drop-off station. Washtenaw County sheriff’s deputy community service work detail made super quick work of unloading my bicycle trailer load of glass and Styrofoam. Thanks!

Waste as Resource: Ann Arbor’s 5-Year Plan

Initially scheduled for consideration earlier this summer, a new five-year solid waste plan may now see action by the Ann Arbor city council sometime this fall, according to solid waste manager Tom McMurtrie.

Recycle Ann Arbor booth at the annual Mayor's Green Fair held on June 14, 2013 this year.

The Recycle Ann Arbor booth at the annual Mayor’s Green Fair held this year on June 14. The relative size of the containers reflects the goals for the amount of compostables, recyclables and material to be landfilled. (Photos by the writer.)

The council will be asked to adopt a draft plan that includes a number of initiatives, including goals for increased recycling/diversion rates – generally and for apartment buildings in particular. A pilot program would add all plate scrapings to the materials that can be placed in the brown carts used to collect compostable matter.

And if that pilot program is successful, the plan calls for the possibility of reducing the frequency of curbside pickup – from the current weekly regime to a less frequent schedule. Also included in the draft plan is a proposal to relocate and upgrade the drop-off station at Platt and Ellsworth. The implementation of a fee for single-use bags at retail outlets is also part of the plan.

City staff had originally intended to place the adoption of the solid waste plan on the council’s legislative agenda much earlier than this fall. The work on updating the plan had already begun over 18 months ago, in January 2012. And a bit more than a year later, on Feb. 28, 2013, the city’s environmental commission had voted to recommend that the city council adopt the plan.

This article begins with a look at one reason for the delay – which was not related directly to the plan itself. That’s followed by a brief look at the solid waste fund, which pays for the collection of trash, recyclable materials and yard waste.

Revenue to the fund is then considered in terms of the idea that solid waste is a resource, something that’s reflected in the title of the proposed update to the city’s solid waste plan: “Waste Less: City of Ann Arbor Solid Waste Resource Plan.” In particular, this report looks at a recent $2.50/ton negative impact the fund recently needed to absorb – due to the cancellation of a contract with the company that was purchasing the recycled glass product from Ann Arbor’s materials recovery facility (MRF).

Even though prospects for replacing the contract with a different buyer appear good, the cancellation of that contract highlights a significant consideration: Waste collection services in a local municipality depend in part on revenues that are subject to market forces that can lie beyond the direct control of that municipality.

So one section below takes a look at prospects for developing more influence on the markets – at the level of state economic development efforts. That includes the unintended negative impact that an expansion to the state of Michigan’s bottle bill could have on revenues to local MRFs. One argument for the bottle bill’s expansion is that it will reduce litter from newer types of containers. That’s also one argument for the possible local plastic bag fee recommended in the draft solid waste plan.

Beyond financial viability, success is also defined in the five-year plan partly as increased “diversion rates.” So this report also looks at that statistic and what it actually means. [Full Story]

Sustaining Ann Arbor’s Environmental Quality

Ann Arbor city staff and others involved in resource management – water, solid waste, the urban forest and natural areas – spoke to a crowd of about 100 people on Jan. 12 to highlight work being done to make the region more environmentally sustainable.

Matt Naud

Matt Naud, Ann Arbor's environmental coordinator, moderated a panel discussion on resource management – the topic of the first in a series of four sustainability forums, all to be held at the Ann Arbor District Library. (Photos by the writer.)

It was the first of four public forums, and part of a broader sustainability initiative that started informally nearly two years ago, with a joint meeting of the city’s planning, environmental and energy commissions. The idea is to help shape decisions by looking at a triple bottom line: environmental quality, economic vitality, and social equity.

In early 2011, the city received a $95,000 grant from the Home Depot Foundation to fund a formal sustainability project. The project’s main goal is to review the city’s existing plans and organize them into a framework of goals, objectives and indicators that can guide future planning and policy. Other goals include improving access to the city’s plans and to the sustainability components of each plan, and to incorporate the concept of sustainability into city planning and future city plans.

In addition to city staff, this work has been guided by volunteers who serve on four city advisory commissions: Park, planning, energy and environmental. Many of those members attended the Jan. 12 forum, which was held at the downtown Ann Arbor District Library.

The topics of the forums reflect four general themes that have been identified to shape the sustainability framework: Resource management; land use and access; climate and energy; and community. The Jan. 12 panel on resource management was moderated by Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator. Panelists included Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council (and a member of the city’s greenbelt advisory commission); Kerry Gray, the city’s urban forest and natural resource planning coordinator; Jason Tallant of the city’s natural area preservation program; Tom McMurtrie, Ann Arbor’s solid waste coordinator, who oversees the city’s recycling program; and Chris Graham, chair of the city’s environmental commission.

Dick Norton, chair of the University of Michigan urban and regional planning program, also participated by giving an overview of sustainability issues and challenges that local governments face. [The university has its own sustainability initiative, including broad goals announced by president Mary Sue Coleman last fall.]

The Jan. 12 forum also included opportunities for questions and comments from the audience. That commentary covered a wide range of topics, from concerns over Fuller Road Station and potential uses for the Library Lot, to suggestions for improving the city’s recycling and composting programs. Even the issue of Argo Dam was raised. The controversy over whether to remove the dam spiked in 2010, but abated after the city council didn’t vote on the question, thereby making a de facto decision to keep the dam in place.

Naud said he’s often joked that the only sure way to get 100 people to come to a meeting is to say the topic is a dam – but this forum had proven him wrong. The city is interested in hearing from residents, he said: What sustainability issues are important? How would people like to be engaged in these community discussions?

The forum was videotaped by AADL staff and will be posted on the library’s website. Additional background on the Ann Arbor sustainability initiative is on the city’s website. See also Chronicle coverage: “Building a Sustainable Ann Arbor,” and an update on the project given at the November 2011 park advisory commission meeting. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Recycling Contract

At its Nov. 10, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted to ratify a revision to its contract with RecycleRewards (parent company of RecycleBank), starting Dec. 1, 2011. Under terms of the new contract, Ann Arbor’s base payment to RecycleRewards will be reduced from $0.52 to $0.35 per household per month. Annually, that translates to a reduction from $149,244 to $100,455.

Under the contract revision, RecycleRewards will receive a $50 per ton incentive for any increase above 11,332 tons – that’s the amount collected in the first year of the RecycleRewards program (Sept. 1, 2010 to Aug. 31, 2011). However, even with possible incentives, the city’s payment is limited to a maximum of $150,000 in any fiscal year.

At its Sept. 19 meeting, the council had made the decision to direct city staff to renegotiate the new contract, after weighing the possibility of terminating it.

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

Recycling, Yes for Now; Public Art, Postponed

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Sept. 19, 2011): The council’s agenda contained a raft of significant items, which could have easily pushed the meeting past midnight. But councilmembers maintained a brisk pace, postponing a few key issues that allowed them to wrap up the meeting in around four hours.

Christopher Taylor, Marcia Higgins, Stephen Kunselman

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) before the city council's Sept. 19 meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Public commentary was dominated by the theme of public art, with several people weighing in against a proposed change to the city ordinance setting aside 1% of all capital improvement projects for public art. One of the changes would exclude the use of funds generated by the street/sidewalk repair tax from inclusion in the public art program. Those taxes are on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The deliberations on the public art ordinance provoked some overt politicking at the table between Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), which concluded with Kunselman challenging his council colleagues to direct the city attorney to write a formal legal opinion justifying the legal basis for the public art program.

The proposed changes to the public art ordinance were motivated in part by a desire to assure voters that their street/sidewalk repair millage would not instead be spent on public art. However, the council postponed the public art ordinance revision until its second meeting in November – after the vote on the millage. That’s also well after the planned dedication ceremony for the Dreiseitl water sculpture on Oct. 4 – a project paid for with public art funds.

At its Monday meeting, the council also postponed a vote on a resolution of intent expressing the council’s plan for spending the sidewalk/millage money.

The council also considered a proposal to cancel a 10-year contract signed last year with RecycleBank, a company that provides a coupon-based incentive program for city residents to participate in the city’s recycling program. The data from the first year of the contract was not convincing to councilmembers that the RecycleBank program was having a positive impact.

However, councilmembers voted instead to direct city staff to negotiate towards a revised contract that RecycleBank had offered, which reduces RecycleBank’s fee by one-third.

The council approved a settlement with its police union, retroactively to 2009. The new contract is similar to those that other city unions have also settled on – including no wage increases, and pension and health care plans that require a greater contribution from employees than in the past. The city still has two unions (firefighters and police command officers) with contracts yet to be settled. Contracts with those unions will now have to conform to the requirements of new state legislation, effective Sept. 15, that limits the amount that the city can contribute to the health care costs of its employees.

Also related to police staffing, the council authorized the use of federal money to hire five police officers, if the city is awarded a grant for which it has applied.

In another employment-related issue, the council gave final approval to a revision to its retirement system, which lengthens the vesting period to 10 years and computes the final average compensation (FAC) based on five years instead of three.

Land use and property rights were a recurring theme throughout the meeting. Those items included: approval of the sale of a strip of city-owned downtown land to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; postponement of a request from a medical marijuana business for rezoning a parcel on South State Street; authorization of city staff to begin with the systematic annexation of township islands located within the city boundaries; and initiation of the process to levy a special assessment of Dexter Avenue property owners to fill in sidewalk gaps.

Items fitting the general category of economic development included a tax abatement for Picometrix, the setting of a tax abatement public hearing for Arbor Networks, and the expression of the council’s intent to establish a property assessed clean energy (PACE) district. The PACE program is a way for the city to offer loans to commercial property owners for the purpose of making energy improvements.

Among other items on the agenda, the council also passed a resolution calling on Gov. Rick Snyder not to sign legislation that would eliminate same-sex domestic partner benefits for public employees.  [Full Story]

Recycling Facility Contract Gets Final OK

At their Sept. 21, 2011 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners gave final approval to a contract that would help pay for a $3.2 million facility operated by the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority (WWRA). The contract is part of a deal that will include the county authorizing the issuance of $2.7 million in bonds, backed by the county’s full faith and credit.

The WWRA plans to use $500,000 from its reserves to fund part of the project. The $2.7 million in bonds would be repaid through special assessments on households in participating WWRA communities – the city of Chelsea, Dexter Township, Lima Township, Lyndon Township, and Manchester Township. Bridgewater Township is participating in the WWRA, but will not help fund the new facility. The … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Retains RecycleBank Contract

At its Sept. 19, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council considered but did not approve a resolution that would have ended its 10-year contract with RecycleBank, a company that organizes a program to provide incentives to residents to set out their single-stream recycling carts for curbside collection. The contract has been in place for a year.

Instead, a substitute resolution was put forward directing the city administrator to negotiate a contract revision offered by RecycleBank that would reduce the per-household charge by about one-third, from $0.52 to $0.35 – which translates into a monthly payment reduction from $12,400 to $8,371. Under the new to-be-negotiated contract, if the tonnage of recyclables collected increases above current levels, RecycleBank could earn an additional $50 per ton, for each ton collected above existing levels. There would be a cap of $150,000 per year.

The resolution to cancel the contract had been postponed from the council’s Aug. 4 meeting. The cancellation resolution indicates termination would have given savings to the city of $149,167 per year on that contract. RecycleBank would have been entitled to $120,000 for the depreciated cost of equipment in recycling trucks as part of this program.

The impetus for canceling the contract had been based in part on skepticism that the first year’s worth of data really showed a measurable positive impact on recycling in Ann Arbor due purely to ReycleBank’s coupon incentives.

The interest in canceling the contract was also based in part on a desire by some councilmembers to find replacement revenue to fund a $107,042 annual increase in the contract with Recycle Ann Arbor (RAA), the company that the city hires to empty the curbside recycling carts. That increase was seen as necessary due to the financial stress under which RAA was operating, exacerbated in part by the lower-than-expected value of the contract with the city. The city deployed fewer curbside carts citywide than projected, and because RAA’s contract was based in part on the number of carts deployed, it received less revenue than had been forecast.

The financial stress at RAA may have played a role in the replacement a few weeks ago of its CEO, Melinda Uerling. The RAA website now lists Kirk Lignell in that position.

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

Council Weighs Art of Street Repair, Recycling

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Aug. 4, 2011): In the early part of the meeting, mayor John Hieftje effectively headed off a debate that might have otherwise unfolded among councilmembers on the relationship between the taxes collected for street and sidewalk repair and the city’s public art program. The mayor announced that he’d be nominating Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) to serve on the public art commission as a replacement for recently resigned commissioner Jeff Meyers. And Hieftje went on to say that in September he wanted to take a longer look at the city’s public art program.


From left: Stephen Kunselman and Mike Anglin congratulate each other on winning their respective Democratic primary elections two days earlier. Kunselman represents Ward 3. Anglin represents Ward 5. Both are incumbents. (Photo by the writer.)

That assurance was enough for now to hold off a council discussion of an explicit restriction on the street/sidewalk repair tax – a restriction that would prevent those tax monies from being used to pay for public art under the city’s Percent for Art program. At the meeting, the council approved ballot language for Nov. 8 that will ask voters to renew the street repair tax (at a rate of 2.0 mills) as well as to approve an additional tax to repair sidewalks (at a rate of 0.125 mills).

But no discussion took place on a possible restriction on those monies in connection with public art. It’s technically possible for the council to revisit the issue at its next meeting, on Aug. 15, which falls one day before the ballot language must be filed, according to the state election statute.

If the discussion of appropriate funding mechanisms for public art is pushed to September, it will join another topic the council voted at its meeting to postpone for two months – termination of the city’s contract with RecycleBank. That company administers a coupon-based incentive program in connection with the city’s new single-stream recycling program.

It was a year ago, in July 2010, that the new single-stream system replaced Ann Arbor’s decades-old dual-stream system. Councilmembers questioned the evidence that RecycleBank’s program had any significant impact on residents’ recycling behavior. The measure needed an eight-vote super majority of the 11 councilmembers, and based on deliberations, there were only seven clear votes to terminate. But instead of voting, the council postponed the issue.

The council did take action on a related recycling issue, voting to increase its annual contract with Recycle Ann Arbor, which empties the curbside recycling carts set out by residents. The increase was set for $107,000 a year and was meant to offset diminished revenue that Recycle Ann Arbor was getting under the contract, due to a smaller number of carts being deployed in the city.

In other business, the council gave final approval to changes in employee benefits. It also approved terms of a contract with Steve Powers, who on Sept. 15 will become the city’s newest employee as city administrator. Highlights include a $145,000 base salary and participation in a 401(a) plan instead of the city’s pension system.

Allen Creek was the geographic focus of two items on the agenda. The council approved another extension to the purchase option agreement with Village Green – for the City Apartments project to be located at First and Washington. The council also approved a general expression of support for the idea of constructing a greenway in the Allen Creek corridor.

The council also approved revisions to the proposed Burton Commons housing development, located on Burton Road near Packard and US-23. And receiving initial approval were changes to the boundaries for the city’s five wards.

Highlights of council communications came from Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Smith alerted her colleagues to possible legislation she’d be bringing forward in the future that would restrict video surveillance. Kunselman announced that he would eventually be bringing forward possible revisions to the city’s ordinance that governs how its downtown development authority operates.

A highlight from public commentary was praise heaped upon the Ann Arbor police chief, Barnett Jones, by a representative of the Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights (WICIR). [Full Story]

Recycle Ann Arbor: Yes | RecycleBank: Maybe

At its Aug. 4, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council voted unanimously to increase by $107,000 the city’s contract with Recycle Ann Arbor (RAA) for curbside collection of the city’s single-stream recycling carts.

Later in the same meeting, the council considered but ultimately postponed a decision – until its second meeting in September – to fund the increased RAA contract by terminating its contract with RecycleBank for administering a coupon-based incentive program. That would have ended a 10-year deal approved last year by the council. The termination of the contract would include a budget appropriation to fund the RAA contract change, and would require 8 votes. Based on deliberations on Aug. 4, it’s uncertain if those 8 votes will be achieved.

The Recycle Ann Arbor contract change reflected the council’s choice to revisit a decision it had made at its July 5 meeting to reject that contract change. The decision to reconsider the July 5 vote came at the council’s July 18 meeting, which the council then postponed until Aug. 4.

The change reflects a bump from $3.25 to $3.55 per month per cart, for a total of $107,042 annually. The city council had voted on March 15, 2010 to adopt the single-stream recycling program, which began a little over one year ago, on July 5, 2010.

At that time, the city approved a contract with RAA that called for a payment of $3.25 per month for each cart that is deployed in the the city (whether it is set out for collection or not), plus a per-ton payment of between $18.74 and $30.00. The amount of revenue RAA has received through these two kinds of payment was less than projected for the last fiscal year. Specifically, the tonnage payments received by RAA for fiscal year 2011 (which ended June 30) for recyclable material were projected to be $406,332 but in fact only generated $187,560 for RAA – only 46% of what was expected. The shortfall was $218,772.

Also, the city expected to distribute 32,779 carts, but it turned out that only 29,734 carts were deployed, or 9.3% fewer than planned. A staff memo accompanying the July 18 resolution explained the reduced number this way: “… many of the smaller multi-family residential units that were previously using the 11-gallon recycling ‘totes’ are able to share recycle carts, resulting in a smaller number of deployed carts.” In terms of revenue, the reduced number of carts meant that RAA received only $1,159,626 compared to the projected $1,278,381 – for a shortfall of $118,755.

Summing the shortfalls in the two kinds of revenue ($118,755 + $218,772), RAA received $337,527 less than it expected for FY 2011. The increase in the monthly per-cart service fee – approved by the council for all five years of the five-year contract – works out to nearly cover the annual shortfall that was due only to the decreased number of carts: $107,042 versus $118,755.

The overly-optimistic projections were made by the city’s recycling consultant Resource Recycling Systems and RecycleBank, a company that administers a coupon-based incentive program to encourage residents to recycle. When the council approved the single-stream recycling contract with RAA last year, it also struck a 10-year deal with RecycleBank to administer a coupon-based incentive program to help boost recycling rates in conjunction with the single-stream rollout.

Also at the Aug. 4 meeting, the council considered giving direction to city staff to give RecycleBank 30-days notice of cancellation of its contract with the city. The resolution indicates termination would give savings to the city of $149,167 per year on that contract. RecycleBank would be entitled to $120,000 for the depreciated cost of equipment in recycling trucks as part of this program. RecycleBank also has claimed that it would be entitled to an additional amount up to $80,000 due to the timing of the cancellation. The council’s resolution, which it will take up at its second meeting in September, stipulates that city staff are to proceed with termination of the contract only if the cost of termination is $200,000 or less.

Of 624 respondents to an online survey conducted by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), only 11% said they opposed canceling the coupon contract and allocating the funds to Recycle Ann Arbor’s contract instead. Only 13% said that they’d both signed up for the coupon program and felt like it had increased the amount that they recycle. Of those residents responding to the survey, 99% indicated that they recycle.

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

Powers Gets Admin Nod; Recycling Revisited

Ann Arbor city council meeting (July 18, 2011): Councilmembers completed their first two significant tasks in under an hour on Monday evening.

I will vote buttons

The speaker’s podium at Monday’s meeting was graced with a basket full of buttons stating: I WILL VOTE. The city’s primary election is Tuesday, Aug. 2. The buttons are part of a city clerk’s office effort to increase participation in the elections. (Photos by the writer.)

During the time reserved for council communications at the start of the meeting, councilmembers decided to reconsider a 5-4 vote they’d taken on July 5. That vote, which failed to achieve a six-vote majority, had the outcome of rejecting an increase to Recycle Ann Arbor‘s contract to provide curbside recycling service in the city. After agreeing to reconsider the vote, the issue was again fresh before the council.

Councilmembers then unanimously agreed to postpone action on the contract until the next meeting, which falls on Aug. 4 – after the Aug. 2 city council primary elections. Based on remarks from Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), it appears likely that the council may discontinue a contract with RecycleBank (an incentive program provider) in order to free up funds to supplement Recycle Ann Arbor’s contract.

Next up was a resolution that had been moved forward on the council’s agenda to a spot before all the consent agenda items. After brief deliberations, the council agreed to offer its open city administrator position to Steve Powers. The decision for Powers over another finalist, Ellie Oppenheim, came after two rounds of interviews on July 12-13, including a televised session on the morning of July 13. [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Search Concluding for Ann Arbor City Admin"]

Although Monday’s meeting was brief, the council ticked through a raft of significant votes after those two main business items. The expected start of the East Stadium bridges reconstruction project was reflected in the approval of stormwater control projects near the construction site, and in the approval of a deal to use land as a construction staging area. For a property just down State Street from the bridge, but unrelated to the project, the council approved a sanitary sewer hookup at the location where Biercamp Artisan Sausage and Jerky has opened for business.

Related to the city’s emphasis on the natural environment, the council approved a contract that will allow the planting of 1,200 trees in city rights of way, and added 110 acres of land to the city’s greenbelt program.

The city renewed its membership in the Urban County, a consortium of local governmental entities that allows the city to receive federal funds through a variety of federal U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs. The council also appointed Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) as a hearing officer for liquor license revocation recommendations. Initial approval was also given to two ordinance changes related to employee benefits – one of them for union employee retirement benefits, the other for non-union retiree health benefits.

Only three people addressed the council during public commentary at the start of the meeting. Two of them were the owners of businesses – Earthen Jar and Jerusalem Garden – adjacent to the construction site of the underground parking structure along Fifth Avenue. They reiterated the same theme they’d conveyed to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA) at that body’s July 6 meeting – their business is suffering due to the construction.

And related to the DDA, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) continued a pattern of using his council communications slot to update his colleagues on his campaign to press the DDA to provide more information about its budget. It’s a highlight of his re-election campaign in Ward 3, where he’s contesting a three-way primary on Aug. 2. [Full Story]

Council Preview: Redistricting, Recycling

On the day after Independence Day, the Ann Arbor city council’s agenda for its meeting – shifted from Monday to Tuesday due to the holiday – is comparatively light. But it features a few items that could prolong the meeting, which starts at its usual time in its usual place, broadcast on its usual channel: 7 p.m. in city council chambers at the municipal center, located at 301 E. Huron St., and aired on Channel 16.

One of those items features a proposal to redraw the boundaries for the city’s five wards. The resolution before the council would change the boundaries during the time between the Ann Arbor city council primary election in August and the general election in November. While the changes to the boundaries are relatively minor and are not the subject of great dispute, the proposed timing of the changes is controversial enough that several redistricting experts may appear at the council’s meeting to weigh in on the topic during public commentary.

And the council reportedly may decide to convene a closed session on the subject, citing attorney client privilege. If the council were to convene such a closed session, it would be the first such session convened since being sued by The Chronicle over a similar session in early September 2010. After publishing a July 2 column – “Ann Arbor Ward Shifts Should Wait” – The Chronicle has established that city staff were aware of the issue with sufficient time for the city council to take action. However, that did not result in resolving the redistricting issue before the primary election candidate filing deadline.

A second agenda item that may generate some discussion among councilmembers is a resolution that would increase voluntarily the payment the city makes to Recycle Ann Arbor for curbside collection of the city’s single-stream recycling carts – from $3.25 to $3.55 per month per cart. The city council had voted on March 15, 2010 to adopt the single-stream recycling program, which began exactly one year ago, on July 5, 2010.

The rationale for the change is that RAA is receiving less revenue than anticipated under the adopted contract. In the first year of the contract, RAA received less money from its cart-emptying service, because there are fewer carts deployed in the city than projected. And although the tonnage of recyclable material collected has increased, it has not increased by as much as projected, so RAA is receiving less revenue for tonnage than expected.

Not on the agenda – and not expected to be announced at tonight’s meeting – are names of the finalist candidates for the city administrator job. However, the council’s search committee is scheduled to meet in a closed session on Tuesday afternoon (July 5) to winnow down the applicant pool to a handful. Robyn Wilkerson, head of human resources for the city, indicated in an email to The Chronicle that she did not expect that names of finalists would be released until Thursday or Friday.

For Chronicle readers who want immediate reports on the votes taken by city council, check out The Chronicle’s Civic News Tickers – brief reports on actions taken by the council that will be filed during tonight’s meeting. [Full Story]

Washtenaw Board Previews Consolidations

Washtenaw County board of commissioners briefing (June 28, 2011): At a briefing this week to preview agendas for their July 6 meeting and July 7 working session, county commissioners focused most of their questions and comments on a proposed departmental merger and trial court consolidation.

Ronnie Peterson Verna McDaniel

Washtenaw County commissioner Ronnie Peterson, right, and county administrator Verna McDaniel before the start of the chair's briefing on Tuesday, to preview agendas for the July 6 board meeting and July 7 working session. (Photo by the writer.)

Generating significant conversation was an item on the planned consolidation of three departments: The office of community development, the economic development & energy department, and the employment training and community services (ETCS) department. Commissioners wanted clarification on the status of the employee count listed out on the agenda: 11 positions eliminated, 3 jobs created, 20 reclassifications, 5 title changes and 1 position held vacant. County administrator Verna McDaniel told commissioners that while that seems like an extensive set of changes, in terms of people, all but one person had been given a “soft landing” within the county’s organization.

Another item that generated interest among commissioners was the second phase of the trial court consolidation project. Phase two will renovate the first floor of the downtown Ann Arbor courthouse to consolidate some trial court operations, as part of a restructuring that included moving the juvenile court from its Platt Road location earlier this year to the courthouse at Main & Huron. The consolidation was made possible in part due to the relocation of the 15th District Court from the downtown courthouse to the city of Ann Arbor’s new municipal center at Fifth & Huron. Commissioner conversation centered around the purview of the board’s space committee (consisting of Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Rob Turner) in connection with the future of the Platt Road building.

The board’s July 7 working session agenda led to an extended conversation about prioritization of the three items listed: (1) the split of the Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO) from Washtenaw County; (2) the Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority; and (3) the Ann Arbor Skatepark. Chair of the working session, Yousef Rabhi, did not attend Tuesday’s briefing, but with the consent of the working session’s vice chair, Rob Turner, the order to the agenda items was revised to put the WCHO item last. The rationale was to allow an open-ended time for adequate discussion – commissioner Ronnie Peterson figured he might need at least an hour for discussion on that item alone.

The presentation that commissioners will hear on the skatepark is likely to be similar to the one presented by Friends of the Skatepark at the Ann Arbor city council’s June 20 meeting.

Tuesday’s “chair’s briefing” was in a format similar to administrative briefings used in the past to preview upcoming adendas. Those administrative briefings were abandoned due to concerns expressed by some commissioners about accessibility. The June 28 briefing was conducted in the county boardroom and was video-recorded. It was the second in a series of three such briefings scheduled for the summer – the next one takes place on July 26, starting at 4 p.m., to prep for the Aug. 3 board meeting. [Full Story]

County Board Acts on Millages, Fees, Bonds

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners meeting (Sept. 15, 2010): In a meeting remarkable mainly for its brevity – lasting less than 30 minutes – county commissioners on Wednesday passed several resolutions, ranging from approval of a millage that funds services for indigent veterans to new fees for remote-access online searching and copying of land records from the county register of deeds database.

Yousef Rabhi, Leah Gunn, Jim Dries

Yousef Rabhi, left, who won the District 11 Democratic primary for county commissioner, talks with commissioner Leah Gunn (District 9) and Jim Dries, chief deputy clerk, before the Sept. 15 county board meeting.

No one spoke during any of the four opportunities for public commentary, nor did anyone speak at a public hearing for the indigent veterans millage. The board set another public hearing for Oct. 6 to seek input on an economic development millage it plans to levy.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, the board passed the five-year master plan for Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation, and gave initial approval to backing a bond for a $2.8 million Western Washtenaw Recycling Authority project. The project will include a facility upgrade to handle single-stream recycling.

The board also approved a $6.5 million first-quarter budget and personnel changes for the Community Support & Treatment Services (CSTS) department, which operates under a fiscal year that’s aligned with the state and begins on Oct. 1. CSTS is in the process of merging with the Washtenaw Community Health Organization (WCHO), a partnership between the county and the University of Michigan Health System. The board got an update on that merger at its Sept. 16 working session. [Full Story]

Living Wage: In-Sourcing City Temps

At their March 15, 2010 meeting, the Ann Arbor city councilmembers heard an update from city administrator Roger Fraser during his regular report to them: The staffing of temporary positions administered by Manpower, a temporary staffing agency, would be be brought back in-house.

And two months later, attached to the city council’s May 3, 2010 agenda was a communication about Health and Human Services guidelines for poverty levels – there was no change this year. That means there’s no change to the minimum compensation required under the city’s living wage ordinance.

How does the living wage ordinance relate to the approximately 35-40 temporary employees who are transitioning from Manpower to the city’s payroll? It doesn’t. The city itself is not required to pay its own workers at the level stipulated by the living wage ordinance – it applies to outside contractors with the city, like Manpower.

But the majority (with some exceptions) of the transitioned workers won’t see a drop in their wages – and that’s viewed as a positive outcome by the city. On the other hand, there’s no health insurance benefits through the city for those workers – Manpower had offered a health insurance option. And a hoped-for increase in temporary workers’ wages – a move supported by some city supervisors – did not materialize, foundering on an overall budget climate that made talk of wage cuts easier than a discussion of increases.

The recent move away from the use of Manpower as an agency to staff temporary city positions provides a good excuse to review the living wage ordinance itself, and its less-than-obvious connection to the upcoming Ann Arbor Summer Festival and to the city’s recycling program. In the case of the recycling program, the city is spending several hundred thousand dollars over a 10-year period to ensure that workers for a private company operating the city’s materials recovery facility are paid in compliance with the living wage ordinance. [Full Story]

Environmental Indicators: Resource Use

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series written by Ann Arbor city staff on the environmental indicators used by the city of Ann Arbor in its State of Our Environment Report.

Trash and Recycling in Ann Arbor

Recycling totes and a trash cart await collection in Ann Arbor. The totes will be replaced with bins similar to the blue trash cart in mid-2010. (Photo by The Chronicle.)

Although Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator, is listed as the author of this piece, he received “a boxload of help” from Adrienne Marino, Tom McMurtrie, and Nancy Stone.

The SOE report is developed by the city’s environmental commission and designed as a citizen’s reference tool on environmental issues and as an atlas of the management strategies underway that are intended to conserve and protect our environment. The newest version of the report is organized around 10 environmental goals developed by the environmental commission and adopted by the city council in 2007. This installment focuses on responsible resource use.

All installments of the series are available here: Environmental Indicator Series.

With the closing of the 2009 holiday season, and many of us surrounded by lots of new “stuff” – including the associated boxes and packaging – and even a few of us with New Year’s resolutions to “simplify” our life in the coming new year, it seems like a good time to talk about all of the stuff we buy, use, reuse, recycle, and then throw out in Ann Arbor. [Full Story]

Free Stuff? Slow Down!

Late August in Ann Arbor brings any number of signs by the curb announcing that the items set out there are free for the taking. Here’s an example of a such a sign that turns out to have been composed by Kevin Leeser. Whatever had been left out under the sign was already gone by the time The Chronicle noticed it, so we pounded on the door this morning to find out. [Full Story]

The Art of Bundling Cardboard

When Ann Arbor residents leave their corrugated cardboard out (before 7 a.m.) for curbside pickup by Recycle Ann Arbor, sometimes it doesn’t disappear by the time they’ve returned home in the evening. It will be sitting in the same neat pile they left it in – with one difference. Stuck to the top of the pile will be an orange sticky note declaring: “Your corrugated cardboard wasn’t prepared properly.” [Full Story]