Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 22, 2013): One item on the consent agenda was responsible for extending the city council’s meeting by at least 40 minutes – the annual setting of fixed charges for water main and sanitary sewer improvements. The council chose not to approve the increase that had been calculated by city staff. That left the charges at their current levels – $15,552 and $24,665 for water and sewer, respectively – instead of raising them by just under 3% to $15,967 and $25,370, respectively.
The charges are due when a single- or two-family property connects to water and sewer for the first time. The charges are paid by either the contractor/developer or the property owner, depending on who makes the request for a connection.
Consent agenda items – a subset of the council’s business – are by definition voted on as a group, but councilmembers can choose to pull out items from the consent agenda for separate discussion.
That’s what happened at the Jan. 22 meeting. After an attempt to postpone the item failed, the council simply chose not to adopt the increases. But councilmembers were split on the question, with Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje voting for the increased charges. Arguments against the increase were based on the amount of the increases, their possible impact on the likelihood of infill development in lower-income neighborhoods, and the fairness of charging new connections for depreciation costs.
The other major chunk of the council’s meeting was devoted to a briefing from Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton on the transition of police dispatch operations for the city to the sheriff’s office – Washtenaw Metro Dispatch (WMD). Highlights of that presentation included benchmark metrics. For example, WMD answers 97% of all calls within 20 seconds (4 rings). Total call processing time – from when the call is received until some unit is dispatched – ranges from 2.2 minutes for robberies to 5.16 minutes for disorderly conduct calls. According to Clayton, over the last six months since operations have been shifted to WMD from Ann Arbor police dispatch, the cost per 911 call has been decreased by more than half – from just under $40 per call to around $16 a call.
The council also established a project planning budget for a sidewalk on a quarter-mile stretch of Newport Road just north of Wines Elementary School. In other business, the council approved establishing a residential parking district off Washtenaw Avenue southeast of the University of Michigan campus, because streets in the neighborhood were being effectively used as a commuter parking lot for students taking the bus further into campus.
The new residential parking district is located in a neighborhood in the vicinity of the Beth Israel Congregation. Beth Israel came up during communications time as Chuck Warpehoski (Ward 5) responded to public commentary critical of him for not yet bringing a resolution to the council table on the topic of Palestinian rights. Warpehoski essentially indicated he would not be contemplating such a resolution as long as demonstrations continue outside Beth Israel on Saturdays during worship services.
Half of the public commentary at the start of the meeting was on the topic of a proposed dog park – in West Park, across the street from the New Hope Baptist Church. The proposal had been expected by supporters to be on the council’s agenda, but it had not been included. So some turned out to urge council to pursue a dog park at that location. Others simply advocated for establishing a centrally-located dog park somewhere in the city.
The decision to pull the item from the agenda had come after the city’s park advisory commission had voted in December to recommend establishing a dog park in the West Park location for a one-year trial period. But subsequently, parks staff and commission leaders were convinced by members of the New Hope congregation not to push the proposal ahead for consideration by the city council.