Council Plows Ahead With Human Services

Also: new, stricter stormwater code for more impervious area

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Nov. 4, 2010): At its first meeting of November – held on Thursday instead of the usual Monday to accommodate Tuesday elections – the Ann Arbor city council transacted a fair amount of business in its relatively short session.

Snow Plow

Russell Hanshue, with the city's IT services unit, describes how a sensor attached to a snowplow would record the plow's state as up or down. The city plans to purchase software to monitor remotely the on-board systems of its vehicles. (Photo by the writer.)

That business ranged from authorization of a coordinated human services funding approach to approval of new GIS software.

The coordinated funding approach to human services would extend the collaboration among the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and the Urban County to include two nonprofit funders – United Way of Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

The GIS software will allow remote monitoring of engine and system performance on board the city’s vehicle fleet. The vehicle monitoring software has the ancillary benefit of allowing residents to view a real-time map of snowplow activity during a snowfall. At Thursday’s meeting, the council also authorized the purchase of $330,000 worth of road salt that city trucks will, if necessary, spread on the roads this winter.

In other business, the council gave final approval to a new stormwater code, which requires some kind of mitigation any time more than 200 square feet of impervious surface is added in residential areas.

The council again took no action on a $160,000 request from the 15th District Court to purchase furniture. The request had been postponed at the council’s previous meeting, pending production of a list of items to be purchased. The list was not ready, and the issue was again postponed.

The council received a presentation on the installation of a new HAWK pedestrian crossing signal at Chapin and Huron, which was in substance identical to one the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority had received the day before.

A range of topics were addressed during comments from the public, perhaps most significantly remarks from Nicholas Nightwine, who spoke on behalf of the Local 369 AFSCME union on the issue of privatizing the city’s composting operation. The city council is due to hear a presentation at a Monday, Nov. 8 work session on the proposal, which they may vote on as early as Nov. 15.

Coordinated Human Services

Before the council at Thursday’s meeting was a resolution to extend a model of integrated funding it currently uses to allocate human services funding to nonprofits. The approach, which currently includes the city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, will add three more organizations to the mix: United Way of Washtenaw County, the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) and the Urban County.

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners voted at its Nov. 3 meeting, the previous day, to approve the coordinated funding approach. The Urban County executive committee has discussed the issue and was expected to vote on the issue at its October meeting, but that meeting was canceled. The Urban County executive committee is now expected to vote on the issue at its Nov. 16 meeting.

Coordinated Human Services: Public Commentary

Jim Mogensen led off public commentary by observing that throughout the U.S., the public sector has over time been outsourcing the human services support network to the private sector. He likened human services funding to a coffee grinder: Money goes in the top and it gets ground through, and at the bottom is supposed to be the social safety net. He characterized the basic approach used by the city as “a pretty good process.”

Mogensen suggested that there should be bonus points for nonprofits that tried to serve the most challenging populations. He suggested that in his experience – working in the religious community trying to raise money for affordable housing – there’s a faulty assumption that there’s a vast amount of money that can be raised. He suggested that we think in terms of a “public balance sheet” – if we do not spend money on challenging populations now, we will eventually spend money on them anyway in the form of the prison system.

Hugh Morgan addressed the council on behalf of the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation – he’s the chair of that organization’s board. He reported that the previous week, the AAACF board had unanimously approved the coordinated funding process – they’d worked on the proposal for the last year. He said that AAACF typically asked nonprofits it funded to collaborate, and now the AAACF was “taking their own medicine” by collaborating with other funders. One goal, he said, is to simplify and streamline the grant application process.

Lily Au appeared before the city council to speak against the coordinated funding proposal, as she has on several previous occasions. She criticized Washtenaw County commissioner Mark Ouimet’s participation in the county board of commissioners’ vote the previous day – Ouimet is vice chair of the local United Way board, and it’s a conflict of interest, she contends. [At the meeting of the county board, corporation counsel Curtis Hedger gave his opinion that Ouimet need not recuse himself from voting on the measure.] Au objected to the idea of tax dollars being administered by private entities. She contended that there had not been enough public participation on the issue. She cited the concerns about the coordinated funding approach that had been expressed by the Interfaith Council on Peace and Justice.

[Those include: 1) institutional gaps in coverage, 2) different costs for providing service to different constituencies – these should be recognized when evaluating outcomes, 3) money saved from this approach should be reinvested into human services programs, 4) new projects and small nonprofits should have access to coordinated funds, and money should be set aside for startup funding to help launch new projects that have potential for big results, 5) the proposed system would concentrate power over funding decisions in the office of community development – robust checks-and-balances are needed to provide accountability, and 6) community funding efforts should recognize the different roles of funders and agencies and maintain appropriate separation of duties. These issues are fleshed out in more detail on the ICBJ website.]

Au tried to address the council again during the time allotted for the public hearing on the stormwater ordinance, saying she wanted an assurance that there would not be co-mingling of funds.

During her communications time, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) clarified an apparent misunderstanding on Au’s part about the potential for co-mingling of funds between the various funding partners. No tax dollars would be co-mingled with private monies, she said. What is being proposed is a shared set of policies. Each entity in the coordinated approach, said Briere, would continue to allocate its own funds.

City administrator Roger Fraser chimed in to say that up to now each entity had been making decisions without attention to what others are doing. The goal, he said, is communication.

Coordinated Human Services: Council Deliberations

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) – who has helped lead the effort over the last few years to establish objective scoring criteria to underpin the city’s human services funding allocations – led off council deliberations. The key highlight was his characterization of the new coordinated funding effort as a way to fund actual programming, not redundant administrative overhead.

Mary Jo Callan, head of the city/county office of community development, described the coordinated effort as a further evolution of increased coherence in the approach to funding. She said it’s not an effort to figure out who not to fund. Rather, it’s a way to target the community’s investments to meet the needs of residents.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) noted that the nature of nonprofit organizations is that they have very specialized areas of focus, so he wanted to know how “maverick organizations” would enter the coordinated funding process.

Callan hesitated a moment, asking, “Did you use the term, ‘maverick organization’?” Once the usage was clarified, Callan explained how her office had worked with representatives from several organizations and one of the questions they considered was: What are the unintended consequences? She said they did not want to lose support for new, creative, innovative ideas. She said she felt that new organizations – Anglin’s mavericks – would have a better chance under the coordinated approach. That’s because one of the focuses of the coordinated approach is on “capacity building,” she said, which includes planning and training.

On the same subject of how a new nonprofit can get itself into the funding mix, Rapundalo mentioned that a brand new program had been funded last year by the city/county allocation program. Callan confirmed that they absolutely want to support innovation. At the same time, she said, there are 455 nonprofits in the county, which means 455 directors. For around 300 of those, there are paid staff, she said. As a former nonprofit director herself [at the Ozone House], Callan said there is a lot of effort that goes into just keeping the doors open.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked Callan to address some of the fear that there would turn out to be more administrative costs as a result of the coordinated funding approach. Callan noted that from the point of view of the nonprofits who are seeking funding, there would be less time required to research funding opportunities, apply for them, and to report on outcomes.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) wanted to know what nonprofits themselves had to say. Callan described two “listening sessions” that had been conducted to get feedback. She described the feedback as “mixed.” Most people are afraid, she said. They have a relationship with their funder they fear could be jeopardized. But a lot of folks are also in support of the coordinated approach, she reported.

Briere described how in the old model, a nonprofit might have pursued funding from the United Way, AAACF and the city of Ann Arbor. Under the new model, she said, the nonprofit might not need money for “capacity building” – the resources to write grant applications – at all.

Mayor John Hieftje indicated that a coordinated approach had been talked about for a long time. He noted that the city might get to a point where they need to do even more triage. Hieftje asked Callan if the coordinated approach would make that triage easier – yes, she replied.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the move to a coordinated funding approach for human services that would include the city, the county, the Urban County, United Way and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.

Winter: Salt, Plow Trackers

The city council considered authorization of around $500,000 spread across two items connected to the approaching winter weather. A purchase of $330,000 worth of ice control salt from Detroit Salt Company was authorized, with little deliberation. A clarification elicited by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) from the head of systems planning, Craig Hupy, was that the salt barn is about 3/4 full with salt left from last year.

In addition, the council considered authorization of a lifetime project budget of $200,000 for a vehicle location tracking system, which will allow GPS tracking of city field services vehicles like street sweepers and snowplows. It will be possible for residents to log on to a webpage and watch the snowplow activity in real time so that they can better anticipate the arrival of plows in their area and assure themselves that snowplowing is happening. Residents will also be able to explore archived data and historical analysis of past snowstorms.

However, in an email to The Chronicle before the meeting, director of IT services Dan Rainey wrote that the mapping capability is not driving the software purchase. What’s important to the city, he said, is the ability of the software to actively manage and monitor the operation and systems on a vehicle, by directly tapping into a vehicle’s engine codes. The system is expected to be operational sometime this winter, but likely not before the first snowfall. The source of the  proposed $200,000 was IT charges collected outside the general fund from water, sewer, solid waste, and major streets funds.

Plow Trackers: Council Deliberations

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) noted that the $200,000 proposed for the software system was for the lifetime of the project. She asked what the expected lifetime of the project is. Russell Hanshue, with the city’s IT department, indicated that the mobile data terminals had a lifetime of 7-10 years, while the “proximity sensors” – the magnetic sensors attached to the vehicle to measure, for example, whether a plow is up or down – had an uncertain lifespan. Later it emerged that such sensors are relatively inexpensive – less than $100. But the environment for the sensors near the plows is a “really rough environment.”

Hanshue described the mobile data terminals as modified to work with the Cityworks maintenance management system (MMS). It gives drivers the capability of putting in work orders and recording data, he said. Briere ventured that the system would cost about $20,000 per year, based on the lifetime of the data terminals. Hanshue indicated that the cost of the system for the city’s 100-vehicle fleet is around $62,000 per year.

Hanshue explained that the cost is somewhat contingent on the update interval, but they had been conservative in budgeting for a 10-second update interval, when realistically a 1-minute interval is probably sufficient.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) seemed skeptical, asking: What does this give us? Craig Hupy, head of systems planning for the city, explained how residents would be able to see where the city is plowing snow with an aged trace of where the plows had already been.

Higgins wanted to know why garbage trucks needed the system, too. Hupy explained that if the city gets a call about a location with missed service, they can dispatch the nearest truck to do the collection. They could also monitor whether it is truly a missed service, or if the person simply set their trash cart out late. Drivers would be able to hit a button for “no can out” as they serviced a route. Drivers would also be able to log pothole locations as they were out on their routes, he said.

Higgins wanted to know why all the data entry the drivers would be doing did not count as “texting while driving.” Hupy explained that it would amount to a single-button operation.

Mayor John Hieftje wanted to know if the city staff had seen such systems work in other communities. Hupy indicated that they’d seen lesser systems work. He indicated that the city had collaborated with the vendor of the Magic Bus system used by the University of Michigan to track bus locations and looked at a solution that involved smart phones, but that it turned out not to be viable.

Hieftje wanted to know if it were possible to do a pilot program with just 10 vehicles. He noted that there’d been complaints for several years about the quality of the snowplowing done by the city, but that he felt it had been getting a bit better.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) described it as a “nifty idea,” but said she felt like it might be an extra bell or whistle that the city should perhaps not be spending money on at this point. She said the discussion to that point had not convinced her, and she challenged Hanshue and Hupy to change her mind. One example of a cost savings offered to Smith is that the city staffs a snow desk telephone line during snowstorms with a full-time employee. The new system would allow most of the questions to be answered through the city’s website.

Smith wanted another example – one not involving snowplows. Hupy returned to the example of being able to dispatch the closest vehicle for a missed trash pickup. He also discussed how the integration of the system with every vehicle’s engine data – including fuel consumption – would lead to cost savings. Hanshue clarified in response to a question from Smith that the city’s police cars are already equipped with a GIS tracking system.

Hanshue offered another example of potential cost savings: by monitoring road temperatures, the proper amount of salt could be dispensed. [Salt is effective only in a certain temperature range – it's less effective when temps drop below 20 F.] If a 10% cost savings could be realized due to more judicious spreading of salt, he said, that would reflect a $30,000 savings – based on the salt purchase the council had just authorized – paying for half the system in the first year, he said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) also declared that he was not totally convinced – the city has made it this far without this kind of technology. He worried about disruption of GIS communications during snowstorms. He also wondered if closest-vehicle information could be determined simply by using a radio. Kunselman also questioned the funding source. From Dan Rainey, Kunselman wanted to know which of the funds the money had been collected from have projected deficits for the next year. Rainey told him that none of the funds – water, sewer, solid waste, and major streets funds – had projected deficits.

Higgins wanted to know if the system would be implemented this winter – yes, but not at the start. She wanted a resolved clause in the resolution that would require a report on the system’s success. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) allowed that there is a public relations benefit to the system, but he wondered about priorities, citing the possible closure of Mack pool and the senior center, which the council had considered in previous years – over smaller dollar amounts.

Hanshue then elaborated in somewhat more detail on the use of vehicle diagnostics by the proposed system. It’s not the same kind of system as a check-engine light, where you’re aware of an issue only when there’s a malfunction. The system to be purchased will allow integration with the fleet management system so that maintenance can be scheduled appropriately to maintain the city’s expensive assets.

Asked to price out what the budget would be to equip just the city’s snowplow trucks with the system, the arithmetic worked out to $88,000. Hieftje noted that it was still a “chunk of change.” Higgins proposed an amendment to reduce the project budget from $200,000 to $88,000.

Outcome: The amendment adjusting the dollar amount to $88,000 passed, with dissent from Tony Derezinski, Stephen Rapundalo and Stephen Kunselman.

Hieftje suggested that he was interested in having more time to dig deeper into the issue and asked that someone move for a postponement. Kunselman made the motion, and it was seconded by Smith.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) asked what the point of the postponement would be. Hieftje’s answer was that he wanted to make sure they were solid on the numbers. Smith said she wanted to see the specifics on the savings that could be realized, broken down in dollars. Anglin stressed that he wanted to see some kind of measurement of customer satisfaction.

Higgins put the question to Craig Hupy as to whether the city could implement the system yet this winter, if the council postponed the decision to the next meeting. Based on an earlier response from Hupy, she said, she didn’t think he was confident. Hupy himself alllowed, “You picked up on my hesitation, yes.” He said he was unsure what the vendor’s scheduling load was as far as the ability to do the installation and that he could look into it. He characterized the situation as not a “must have” for that night. He told the council, “I’d rather have you folks comfortable.” Higgins said that if postponing meant a delay in implementation that resulted in an inability to collect data on how the system worked this winter, then she would not support it at all. Briere echoed Higgins’ sentiment.

Kunselman asked how the public relations would be handled. He wanted to know if there is an iPhone application for the snowplow map. Hupy indicated that he was not sure if the city would be able to go live with the map this year – it would be later in the winter.

Outcome: The motion to postpone failed with only Carsten Hohnke, Sandi Smith, John Hieftje, and Stephen Kunselman voting for it.

Outcome: The approval of the amended resolution to authorize funds to equip just the city’s snowplow trucks with the new software was unanimously approved.

Stricter Stormwater Code Gets Final OK

On the city council’s agenda was final approval for a change to the city’s stormwater code. Under the new requirements, any time more than 200 square feet of impervious surface is added to single and two-family residential property, controls must be put in place to handle stormwater runoff from a “first flush” downpour. The “first flush” is the runoff from the first 1/2 inch of rain during any rainstorm. About 40% of land area in the city of Ann Arbor is zoned for single-family and two-family uses.

Stormwater: Public Comment

Joan Martin, who coordinates the Adopt-a-Stream program for the Huron River Watershed Council, urged the council to pass the ordinance. She noted that the city’s ordinance regulating the use of phosophorus-based fertilizer had helped water quality, but that the volume of water also needs to be addressed.

The Malletts Creek Association’s Jesse Gordon also weighed in to support the ordinance. The measure would help keep stormwater from flowing across lawns and streets, where it would pick up various pollutants.

Gwen Nystuen, a member of the city’s park advisory commission who spoke on behalf of the Mallets Creek Association, emphasized that the steps required of property owners who are adding impervious surface are not that big a deal. It’s a simple form to fill out, she said, and there are easy ways to satisfy the requirements of the ordinance.

Jim Mogensen stressed that communication is important for the success of the proposal.

Stormwater: Council Deliberations

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) led off deliberations by noting that the proposal had arisen out of a recommendation by the Mallets Creek Association and had been reviewed by the environmental commission. He described the proposal as asking property owners who add 200 square feet or more of impervious surface to their lots to remedy that addition in some way. He characterized the ordinance as “highly useful” and urged everyone to support it.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) contended that he’d had an opportunity to “dig into” the ordinance as a city council representative to the city’s environmental commission. He described the land in the city as consisting of 50% commercial properties, 25% residential and 25% public right of way. Commercial properties currently are regulated by Chapter 63 of the city code on stormwater. The public right of way is also covered by various regulations and is within the control of the city to make stormwater improvements, like adding swirl concentrators when Liberty Street or Stadium Boulevard were reconstructed. The residential area, which the ordinance addresses, is currently a gap, he said.

Mayor John Hieftje then stated that when there is a heavy amount of rainfall, when it falls in a wooded or forested area, the ground is able to absorb the influx, but this is not the case for streets and rooftops. The flow can result in a surge of water into creeks and storm sewers.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked her colleagues Taylor, Hohnke and Margie Teall (Ward 4) – who also serves as a representative on the city’s environmental commission – to give an example of how the new ordinance would affect a residential property in the Allen Creek area. In the ensuing conversation it emerged that Briere simply wanted to establish that the ordinance would apply citywide, not just in the Mallets Creek area.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), who lives on Mallets Creek, noted that the Mallets Creek Association had been working on the proposal for several years. He asked Jerry Hancock, the city’s stormwater and floodplain program coordinator, if a situation could arise where a homeowner could be denied a permit, if they could not meet the conditions of the ordinance? Hancock described how the ordinance required simply that a form be filled out. If a grading permit is required, he said, there already needs to be a grading plan. The grading plan would need to show how the new stormwater requirement is being met.

Hancock was skeptical that a situation could arise where someone has taken up literally all of the available space on the property that could be used for mitigation. He offered the example of planter boxes as one type of remedy.

Asked for a rationale behind the 200 square feet, as opposed to some other amount of area, Hancock explained that accessory buildings could be built smaller than 200 square feet without needing a building permit. It would be virtually impossible to monitor the new requirement for projects where no building permit is required, said Hancock.

Briere inquired whether a property owner could receive credits under the city’s stormwater utility charges for the mitigation required under the new ordinance. Hancock indicated that installation of, for example, rain barrels under the new ordinance would qualify the property owner for credits under the city’s stormwater utility.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know how many houses the ordinance would affect. By way of reply, Hancock said that in 2008, there had been 111 projects that would have needed to fill out the form under the new ordinance. Higgins wanted to know how many houses there are citywide to which it would hypothetically apply. Later in deliberations, Kunselman offered the number 19,000 based on some information he’d just looked up.

Higgins was concerned about the amount of public process that had taken place citywide. She said it was obvious that there was support for the ordinance on the city council, but wondered if there would be any negative impact if its enactment were delayed. Craig Hupy, head of systems planning for the city, indicated that the only negative would be some uncertainly with the homebuilders groups about it.

Hieftje sought to establish that the required remedies for the additional impervious area were fairly inexpensive – two rain barrels might cost $250. Hancock listed off some other alternatives, which included cisterns – which he described as “a bigger rain barrel” – dry wells, rain gardens and planter boxes.

Higgins offered a motion to postpone the measure until March 1 to allow for more public process. The motion died for lack of a second.

Outcome: The council approved the new stormwater mitigation ordinance for residential areas, with dissent from Higgins.

Solid Waste

Two issues related to solid waste cropped up at the meeting. The first was an agenda item, which allocated $102,000 for costs related to the facility upgrade at the materials recovery facility (MRF) – the destination for the recyclable materials that the city collects curbside. The amount covers two kinds of costs: One is for unplanned costs related to the MRF fire suppression sprinkler system.

The other is for costs related to an incoming materials tipping door and outgoing materials loading dock – which need to be upgraded to accommodate a 60% increase in materials since the facility began processing single-stream recycling. The increase does not stem from the city’s conversion to single-stream style curbside collection, but rather from an additional influx of materials from Lansing and Toledo.

The second way solid waste came up was in the form of public commentary on a proposal the city council will consider in the near future, on the privatization of its composting operation.

Solid Waste: Public Commentary  – MRF

During public commentary reserved time, Libby Hunter sang forth her remarks – as is her custom. The melody, she said, was from “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie.” [For readers unfamiliar with the song, it's been recorded by several artists, including Slim Whitman.] Hunter’s lyrics altered the original to “It’s a cinch to tell a lie.” Her contention was that the city’s claim that the single-stream recycling program would save money is a lie.

Solid Waste: Council Deliberations – MRF

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) led off deliberations by noting that the single-stream program appeared to be successful given the increase in volume, but noted that the increase stemmed from outside the city. He asked about the previous investment the city had just made in the MRF.

Tom McMurtrie, the city’s solid waste program manager, explained that the city makes money off the program – 30% of the revenue that is collected on non-city tons above the sale price of $54/ton. The increase in tonnage from outside the city, said McMurtrie, would reduce the projected payback period of 7.1 years for the city’s several million-dollar investment by approximately 0.2 years. Anglin wanted to know what the actual revenues were, not the analysis of the payback time. McMurtrie said he could provide the numbers, but he did not have them with him.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked why FCR, the company the city contracts with to operate the MRF, was not making a significant contribution to this expense. McMurtrie responded by saying that FCR is contributing to the building expansion project with around $500,000. Kunselman pressed the issue. McMurtrie explained that if the city wanted an additional contribution from FCR, then FCR would likely want to renegotiate the current 30% payment it makes to the city for any amount above $54/ton. In response to a query from Kunselman, McMurtrie said that the current market was around $80-$90/ton.

Mayor John Hieftje called the appropriation a “practical solution.” McMurtrie noted that the facility is currently running two shifts for five weekdays, sometimes for seven weekdays.

Outcome: The resolution authorizing the $102,000 for the MRF was unanimously passed.

Solid Waste: Public Commentary – Compost

Nicholas Nightwine spoke on behalf of the Local American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 369, noting that it is the largest labor group in the city, working a range of different jobs, from work in streets, solid waste, signs and signals, taking meeting minutes, community standards enforcement, and several other ares.

Nightwine said there is low morale among the work force, which is at least partly attributable to a city strategy of replacement of full-time positions with temporary workers and outsourcing work that should be done by city union workers. He cited a specific instance of outsourcing work to Beal Construction for a project related to Ann Arbor housing commission properties. He described how AFSCME workers were asked to “fetch supplies” for the Beal workers.

Nightwine spoke specifically against the possibility of outsourcing jobs at the city’s compost facility, which the city council will be asked to consider at its Nov. 15 meeting. [The council addressed the topic at a work session on Nov. 8.] The city had won awards for the quality of its composting product, Nightwine said, but now the city is contemplating awarding a contract to a New York company [WeCare Organics] to manage its composting operations.

Nightwine indicated that the union would take legal action on the issue. He noted that the union had not been involved in any of the discussions, and he criticized the city for essentially saying: This is what we’re going to do, and if you don’t like it, you can fight us on it.

By way of background, the AFSCME Local 369 recent litigation history with the city has been successful, winning a Michigan Court of Appeals case in 2009 over a me-too clause dating back to the early 2000s. According to a Crain’s Detroit Business brief, that ruling cost the city $400,000 in back wages.

Nightwine also addressed the city council back in the spring when the idea first formally surfaced – on a term sheet developed by the city and the Downtown Development Authority – to have the DDA take responsibility for the enforcement of parking rules. From Chronicle coverage:

Nicholas Nightwine, spoke on behalf of the Local 369 AFSCME union on the issue of privatization and the contracting out of work in violation of their union contract. Specifically, he addressed the possibility that parking code enforcement would become the responsibility of Ann Arbor’s DDA. It is community standards officers’ job to provide that enforcement, he said. He questioned why the council would give away union work.

Over the summer of 2010, the negotiations between the city and the DDA – via their respective mutually beneficial committees – have essentially taken off the table the idea of DDA enforcement of parking rules.

Later on Thursday evening, when city administrator Roger Fraser reported that the 2010 Pillar Award for Outstanding Government Agency had been given to the Ann Arbor Building Services Unit — by the Builders & Remodelers Association of Greater Ann Arbor – it elicited a quiet “Yay!” from the many AFSCME workers seated in the row behind The Chronicle.

Fixed Charges for Water Main Improvements

Pulled out of the set of consent agenda items for separate consideration was an item that established the fixed charges for water main improvements – it’s set every year by a council resolution as stipulated in Chapter 12 of the city code:

1.217 Definitions …”Water main improvement charge fixed charge” shall mean the charge per residential unit for water main improvements, set by city council annually by resolution and calculated on the basis of the city’s average actual cost per residential unit for the 10 most recent publicly constructed water main improvement projects preceding the date the fixed charge is set by city council, with the costs of said projects adjusted as needed to be brought current, using the most recently published Handy-Whitman Index for “Distribution Plant Mains, Average All Types.”

Sanitary sewer improvement charges are defined in a parallel fashion. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) pulled the item out from the consent agenda for separate consideration because she wanted to know why it was being considered now, instead of at budget time.

After an interaction with both city administrator Roger Fraser and project manager Elizabeth Rolla, it emerged that the timing stemmed from a request by the Builders & Remodelers Association to have the charges set by the beginning of each calendar year because that is how they plan their work. The charges for 2011 were proposed as:

  • Water main improvement fixed charge: $14,539.00 per residential unit served
  • Sanitary sewer improvement fixed charge: $22,530.00 per residential unit served

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the fixed charges for water main and sanitary sewer charges.

$160K for Furniture: Again Delayed

The council again delayed a modification to its FY 2011 budget that would allocate up to $160,000 for furnishings for the new municipal center. At the council’s Oct. 18 meeting, Keith Zeisloft, who is court administrator of the 15th District Court, was closely questioned by councilmembers about his reasons for not including a provisional line item for inclusion in the FY 2011 budget, even if exact costs were not known at the time. Councilmembers had voted to postpone the allocation, pending the provision by Zeisloft of a list of items to be purchased. The court needed additional time to compile the list.

Outcome: The $160,000 for furniture was again postponed.

HAWK Pedestrian Signal

At the start of their Nov. 4 meeting, the city council received a presentation on the installation of a high intensity activated crosswalk (HAWK) traffic signal at the intersection of Chapin and Huron. It was essentially the same presentation that the board of the Ann Arbor DDA had received the previous day. City traffic engineer Pat Cawley had given that presentation.

What drivers and pedestrians will see when a HAWK signal is activated. (Image links to .pdf with higher resolution images.)

He had stressed how the city had worked with the Michigan Department of Transportation on the project. It’s considered a pilot project, the first to be installed in Michigan on a state trunk line. He had stressed the need for pedestrians and motorists to know what to expect.

At the city council meeting, Cawley was joined by representatives from MDOT – Kerry Martin, a transportation planner, and Wendy Ramirez, a traffic and safety engineer. They walked the councilmembers through the phases of the signal.

When not activated, motorists will see three black balls – two on top and one on the bottom. When a pedestrian presses a button to activate the signal, Cawley said, there is some lag time for the signal to coordinate with other traffic signals. Then motorists see a flashing yellow, followed by a solid yellow, which is then followed by a twin-red solid stop beacon. Pedestrians get a seven-second white walking signal. That’s followed by flashing red for motorists and a 30-second countdown for pedestrians.

It’s hoped that the ribbon cutting can take place on Nov. 17.

There was minor discussion among council members. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) tried to elicit from Martin a statement that the HAWK signal is nearly as effective as a full traffic signal. Martin responded to Hohnke’s gambit by saying that she was not aware of any studies comparing a HAWK with other traffic control devices that cause motorists to stop for pedestrians. A full signal was not warranted at that location, based on traffic and pedestrian volume, she said.

Hohnke followed up by saying that he recalled from a Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) policy meeting that a HAWK signal was nearly as effective as a traffic signal – better than a yield sign. [Hohnke is the council's representative on the WATS policy committee.] Martin indicated that MDOT would be undertaking a before/after study of pedestrian experiences and motorist behavior at the crosswalk.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) wanted to know if side street traffic turning onto Huron across the pedestrian crosswalk would be able to see the HAWK signal. She felt that the city’s new pedestrian ordinance would help ensure that motorists actually stopped at the HAWK. [It's an ordinance in which she played the key role in strengthening. On the night that the council deliberated on the ordinance she was successful in persuading the sponsors of the ordinance – Hohnke and mayor John Hieftje – as well as the rest of her council colleagues, to change the language to make it clear that motorists are required to "stop" for pedestrians in or approaching crosswalks.]

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) compared HAWK signals to roundabouts – perhaps they were at first controversial, but once they were installed, people came to accept them.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) expressed appreciation to MDOT for their assistance. He was told that the MDOT grant, which had helped to fund the installation, had been worth around $102,000.

Communications and Comment

There are multiple slots on every agenda 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: Sustainable Living

Addressing the council during public commentary reserve time was Kermit Schlansker – on the topic of sustainable living. [Schlansker is a retired engineer, who served on the city's energy commission back in the early '90s.]  He suggested construction of an apartment building on a parcel of land that could run off of power generated only on that parcel. The project would depend partly on reducing the energy consumption of the building to 25% of what is typical for an apartment building. The plan included solar energy, windwills, and a bio-digester that would convert sewage, manure, paper and leaves into compost.

During his communications time, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) mentioned in connection to Schlansker’s remarks that the oldest Net Zero home is now in the city of Ann Arbor on Seventh Street. [It's the home of Kelly and Matt Grocoff – Matt Grocoff is founder of Greenovation TV.]

Comm/Comm: Dam Maintenance, Drinking Water Fund

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) indicated that he and Margie Teall (Ward 4) would be bringing a resolution forward that would move the funding for maintenance of Argo dam out of the city’s drinking water fund. He contended that the planned repairs of the earthen embankment could be undertaken without using the drinking water funds. [See Chronicle coverage of the Argo embankment repairs, which includes the year-long history of discussion by staff and elected officials about the intent to move dam maintenance out of the drinking water fund: "PAC Recommends Argo Dam Bypass"]

Comm/Comm: Rehabbing of Houses

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) noted that two houses on Springbrook were now being re-habbed.

Comm/Comm: Design Guidelines Extension

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) indicated that the design guidelines committee – charged with completing the final piece of the A2D2 initiative to rezone Ann Arbor’s downtown – would likely be asking for an extension of its Dec. 3 deadline. There would likely be a January 2011 work session on the subject. Higgins noted during her comments that it was nice to have city administrator Roger Fraser back. [Fraser has been ill.]

Comm/Comm: Stadium Bridges

During his communications, city administrator Roger Fraser noted that the city had now received a total of $17 million in funding – counting federal and state grants – for the $23 million East Stadium Boulevard bridge replacement project. The 75% of the project that’s being funded with non-local money, he said, compares to 53% for the Broadway bridges project. He allowed that when construction starts, “it’s going to be a mess down there for a while,” but concluded by saying, “We’re on our way.”

Comm/Comm: CIP Survey

City administrator Roger Fraser announced that a capital improvement plan survey represents an opportunity for public input. The survey is being handled through [Link to city of Ann Arbor capital improvements survey]

Comm/Comm: Golf RFP

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) announced that the city had received two proposals in response to the RFP it had issued for Huron Hills Golf Course. [Chronicle coverage in more detail: "Two Huron Hills Golf Proposals Submitted"]

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: Nov. 15, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]


  1. By Stephen Landes
    November 8, 2010 at 10:36 pm | permalink

    Thanks to Marcia Higgins for her request that there be at least some discussion of what this new storm water ordinance would cost individual homeowners and the group in total. I am not judging the ordinance itself one way or the other, but passing such a requirement without knowing what it really costs to comply is improper and certainly means to me that Council, once again, doesn’t really represent property owners. (ah, property owners, those pesky residents that actually foot the bill for all of Council’s decisions).

  2. November 9, 2010 at 12:02 am | permalink

    “The increase in tonnage from outside the city, said McMurtrie, would reduce the projected payback period of 7.1 years for the city’s several million-dollar investment by approximately 0.2 years. ”

    This assumes certain quantities of each material and certain prices for materials. Staff tend to be conservative in such projections. Nevertheless, the phrasing of the statement and the level of precision in the payback periods might be unintentionally misleading. It might have been more appropriate to simply state that the projected payback period isn’t expected to increase as a result of the added investment.

    “Tom McMurtrie, the city’s solid waste program manager, explained that the city makes money off the program – 30% of the revenue that is collected on non-city tons above the sale price of $54/ton.”

    The value of $54/ton might more accurately (if still simplistically) be called the base sale price.

    “[Hunter's] contention was that the city’s claim that the single-stream recycling program would save money is a lie.”

    Did anyone contend that it would “save money”? It won’t. It will result in increased revenues, probably exceeding the total new investment after a period of time.

    Is it “a cinch to tell a lie”? I don’t know, but it sure is easy to miscommunicate and misinterpret.

    Thanks to CMs Hohnke and Teall for addressing the drinking water fund misappropriation.

  3. By Alan Goldsmith
    November 9, 2010 at 7:01 am | permalink

    “The new system would allow most of the questions to be answered through the city’s website.”

    That process is a joke. For anyone who has tried to find out the delivery time of a compost cart or get information on a building inspection for a replacement furnace, it’s not customer friendly, questions never get answered and when you follow up with phone calls to the city, it’s voice mail hell. Only after emailing city staff directly on one of these issues did I get a reply. If the city is paying anyone for this software, they are being robbed.

  4. November 9, 2010 at 10:13 am | permalink

    I’m not clear one why a stoplight unlike any that drivers have ever seen is desirable. Drivers are trained to see stoplights without any lights on as a sign of power failure and come to a stop. And double reds? Could not the blinking be achieved with a single blinking light?

    To me it just appears to be unnecessary tinkering with a system every driver on the road deeply understands. Could not the same effect have been achieved with the standard light arrangement? I understand the concern about the low volume that necessitates a light, but if the light were to stay green until a pedestrian initiated the “give pedestrians the right of way” process, I don’t see how this would impede traffic. Here’s an image I made showing the mapping of this signal’s needs to a traditional light: [link]

  5. By Jane Smith
    November 9, 2010 at 4:05 pm | permalink

    We do not have money for basic services but yet we are going to spend $200,000 on tracking our snow plows? Are we out of our minds?

  6. By Mark Koroi
    November 10, 2010 at 2:22 pm | permalink

    It may be a matter of keeping plow personnel honest and making sure we have city streets being serviced in a timely manner.

    I am sure there must have been some perceived performance deficiencies that prompted this measure.

    With these real-time monitors in place A2 citizens can rest assure that city plow operators won’t be slacking off.