Ann Arbor Council Passes Watery Agenda

Council treads water on medical marijuana, composting

Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Nov. 15, 2010): On Monday, the council postponed action on some major policy questions, but approved six water-related items.

Ann Arbor City Council Swearing In

Ann Arbor city councilmembers are ceremonially sworn in to start their two-year terms. From left to right: Mayor John Hieftje, Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Margie Teall, Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3). Administering the oath, with her back to the camera, is city clerk Jackie Beaudry. (Photos by the writer.)

The council approved a $1,168,170 bypass around the Argo dam that will take the place of the current headrace, which is separated from the Huron River by an earthen embankment. The bypass will eliminate the portage currently required by canoeists. It would also allow the city to comply with the consent order it has with the state of Michigan that requires the city to address the repair of toe drains in the embankment.

Another item – on the funding of dam maintenance – was in its original form related more closely to the Argo bypass than in its amended version. The council approved a resolution that directed the city administrator to end the payment for repairs, maintenance and insurance of Argo and Geddes dams from the city’s drinking water fund. The shift in dam activity funding will be effective with the start of fiscal year 2012, which is July 1, 2011. An amendment to the original resolution, however, had the impact of leaving intact a previously budgeted $300,000 from the drinking water fund for possible construction of the Argo bypass.

The third water-themed agenda item approved by the council was $553,320 for fabrication of a piece of exterior art – a fountain-like sculpture – that had been commissioned from German artist Herbert Dreiseitl for the new municipal center. Dissenting votes were cast by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

The council also approved the receipt of a $216,723 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant for the purchase and demolition the structures at 215 and 219 W. Kingsley Street, which are located in the Allen Creek floodway. The area is subject to flooding during heavy rainstorms. The site will be modified in a way to create a small stormwater retention area, with $72,241 in city funds for the project to be drawn from the stormwater capital budget.

The council approved a drainage easement related to the new underground parking structure being constructed on Fifth Avenue. A final item related to water – in its frozen form – was an authorization to treat the Big Chill hockey game on Dec. 11 the same way that football Saturdays are treated, with respect to vending and parking near Michigan Stadium.

Among the postponed items was a modification to the zoning code to regulate medical marijuana facilities. In conjunction with that postponement, the council also extended a moratorium on the use of facilities for dispensing or cultivating marijuana for 60 days – until Jan. 31, 2011. At the council’s Dec. 6 meeting, it will give initial consideration to a licensing requirement for medical marijuana facilities. Then at its Dec. 20 meeting, it will give final consideration to both the zoning regulations and the licensing proposal.

Also among the postponed items was the conversion of the city’s composting facility to a merchant operation, which would offer a contract to WeCare Organics, a New York-based firm. The proposal on the compost operation will come back to the council at its Dec. 6 meeting. The council also postponed for a third time revisions to the city’s area, height and placement zoning regulations. For another zoning-related item, the council extended a deadline from Dec. 6, 2010 to Feb. 22, 2011 for the design guidelines task force to complete its work.

In other action, the 15th District Court judges will now have a place to sit in the new municipal court facility. A previously twice-postponed item to authorize a budget revision of up to $160,000 to purchase furniture for the court was approved. The dollar amount was reduced to about half that figure, after the court was asked to produce an itemized list of the furniture it intended to buy.

The council also entertained a customary range of public commentary and communications from its own ranks.

Drinking Water Fund, Dam Maintenance

Before the council was a resolution sponsored by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and Margie Teall (Ward 4) that would discontinue the funding of maintenance, repairs and insurance of Argo and Geddes dams from the city’s drinking water fund.

The original resolution placed on the agenda by Hohnke and Teall had a single resolved clause:

RESOLVED, That City Council direct the City Administrator to remove funding for any repairs, maintenance or insurance for Argo and Geddes dams from the City’s Drinking Water Enterprise Fund effective November 16th, 2010

A revision to the resolution made by Hohnke and Teall before the meeting reflected a revised date – to coincide with the FY 2012 budget year on July 1, 2011. They also added a resolved clause that tied the resolution explicitly to another item on the agenda, which authorized $1,168,170 for the construction of a series of descending pools to replace the headrace that’s currently held back by an earthen embankment. The embankment is the subject of a consent agreement the city has with the state of Michigan that requires the city to address issues with the toe drains in the embankment. For an historical overview of the issue, see Chronicle coverage: “Two Dam Options for Argo.”

The resolved clauses of the resolution in their original form before the council looked like this – the first one was later, during deliberations, amended out:

RESOLVED, That City Council direct the City Administrator to identify funding for the Argo Dam embankment and headrace reconstruction project that does not include funding from the Water Supply System Fund;

RESOLVED, That City Council direct the City Administrator to remove funding for repairs, maintenance and insurance for Argo and Geddes dams from the City’s Water Supply System Fund in the FY2012 budget and thereafter.

The amending out of the first resolved clause was done over dissent from Teall and Hohnke, joined by mayor John Hieftje.

At one point during the deliberations, Hohnke alluded to the fact that he’d brought the issue of dam funding before the council a year ago. A resolution brought at the council’s Dec. 7, 2009 meeting on the acceptance of the Huron River Impoundment Management Plan (HRIMP) included two resolved clauses that were amended out:

… RESOLVED, The Ann Arbor City Council recommends that operation and maintenance of the recreational dams (Argo and Geddes) not be funded from the Drinking Water Enterprise Fund; and

RESOLVED, The Ann Arbor City Council recommends that funds currently used for the operation and maintenance of the recreational dams from the Drinking Water Enterprise Fund be reallocated to implement the Source Water Protection Plan to protect Ann Arbor’s Drinking Water.

The version of the resolution that was approved by the council in December 2009 had several other resolved clauses amended out as well, leaving only:

RESOLVED, That the Ann Arbor City Council directs the Park Advisory Commission and Environmental Commission to evaluate the 30 consensus recommendations, and to present options for implementation to City Council for those that can be acted upon at little or no cost; and

RESOLVED, That the Park Advisory Commission and the Environmental Commission complete their recommendations and report back to Council within one year.

Drinking Water Fund: Public Commentary

Laura Rubin, executive director of the Huron River Watershed Council, spoke in favor of removing the support for the maintenance, repair and insurance of Argo and Geddes dams from the drinking water fund. She described how she’d served on a city advisory board starting in 2005, which had representatives from across the broader community, that had explored ways to make the Huron River cleaner and safer. The recommendation of that board, she said, was to create a source water protection plan (SWPP). The SWPP had never been funded, she said.

Rubin characterized it as an “accounting error” that maintenance and insurance for Argo and Geddes dams were paid for out of the drinking water fund, tracing the history of all four of the city’s dams back to the early 1960s when they were purchased from DTE. The dams are classified as recreational dams in the national register of dams, she said, and do not help control flooding, nor do they factor into the city’s emergency strategy for sourcing drinking water.

Drinking Water Fund: Council Deliberations

Margie Teall (Ward 4) led off the council’s deliberations by describing the importance of integrity and transparency of the budgeting process. It’s important to make sure that money is used for what it’s connected to, she said. She reminded her council colleagues that a year ago the environmental commission had recommended in a resolution that the Source Water Protection Plan be funded, and the resolution before them that night would provide an opportunity to do that, she said.

Margie Teall (Ward 4)

Margie Teall (Ward 4) weighed in for removing funding for dam maintenance from the city's drinking water fund.

Teall and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), the resolution’s two sponsors, serve as the city council’s representatives to the city’s environmental commission. And it was Hohnke who weighed in next, citing the pair’s service on the commission. The issue, he said, is about the appropriateness of using drinking water funds for the dam. There was no intent, he stressed, to strangle funding for the dam. There was also no intent to “move the needle” in the direction of eventual removal of the dam, he said. He stressed that they’d worked with the city staff to explore alternative funding scenarios to make sure that no user groups were unduly burdened.

Hohnke also noted that the previous May, the environmental commission had recommended removal of the dam maintenance costs from the drinking water fund and that they had brought the recommendation forward to the council last November. [The council postponed the decision to its first meeting in December 2009 – the outcome of that meeting is described in the introduction to this section.]

Hohnke noted that the resolved clause removing dam maintenance funding from the drinking water fund was amended out of the December 2009 resolution. Hohnke characterized several factors that all pointed to not funding the dam maintenance out of the drinking water fund: previous public discussion; the fact that the dams are classified as “recreational” facilities by the state’s regulatory agency; the original 1963 staff memo [written by Guy Larcom, the city administrator after whom the city hall building is named]; and the city’s drinking water contingency plans.

As a model, Hohnke cited the past work of Christopher Easthope in tightening up the expenditures made by the city out of the solid waste fund. [Easthope previously served in Hohnke's Ward 5 council seat, and now serves as a judge in the 15th District Court.]

In considering the bypass channel construction agenda item – which came towards the end of the agenda – Hohnke suggested that given the funding alternatives that were available, it was possible to support the resolution on the drinking water fund as well as the bypass channel construction.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked what it would cost to implement the Source Water Protection Plan – which was to be funded by the money previously allocated to dam maintenance and repair. Molly Wade, the city’s water quality manager, indicated that the cost was not known – the city had never budgeted for it.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked what the purpose of the plan was and who would administer it. Wade explained the plan would be administered by the city. It would involve looking at possible zoning changes, she said, as well as looking to upstream communities as partners. In response to further questions from Anglin, Wade said that the city had already begun a dialogue with the Dexter school system to develop a curriculum on stormwater.

Drinking Water Fund: Council Deliberations – $300,000 Amendment

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) asked that a resolved clause be stricken, in light of the agenda item on construction of the dam bypass, which included funding scenarios based on use of $300,000 previously budgeted for dam maintenance and repair out of the drinking water fund:

RESOLVED, That City Council direct the City Administrator to identify funding for the Argo Dam embankment and headrace reconstruction project that does not include funding from the Water Supply System Fund;

Striking this clause would eliminate the request to city staff to seek money not tied to the drinking water fund for the Argo embankment and headrace reconstruction project.

Hohnke responded to Smith’s suggested amendment by acknowledging that the city’s capital improvement plan (CIP) did include $300,000 allocated for the earthen embankment toe drain repair. However, he said, the CIP had been approved after the environmental commission’s recommendation and his and Teall’s efforts to bring forward the recognition that those funds were not appropriate to be used for recreational operations and maintenance. He continued by saying that simply budgeting funds for a particular use did not, in his view, amount to a justification for an appropriate use of those funds.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) supported Smith’s amendment on the grounds that the funding of the Argo bypass should be discussed separately – in connection to the related resolution on bypass channel construction.

Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), in supporting the amendment, cited the wider implications among various cost centers and suggested that such a decision should be handled during the budget process.

The amendment could be understood to express the idea that it would be bad policy in the future to fund dam maintenance out of the drinking water fund – starting with FY 2012 – but that it’s good policy to use funds already allocated out of the drinking water fund for that purpose. So Teall said she would not support the amendment, saying “If it’s bad policy, then it’s bad policy.”

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) also expressed his support of the amendment, saying that the council should have had the discussion last year when the budget was being discussed. He characterized a change to the status of the $300,000 now as “micromanaging” the budget.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) acknowledged that councilmembers had said the issue should be discussed during last year’s budget season, but that the council collectively had not brought the issue forward. She said the resolution appropriately directed city staff to address the issue in the context of formulating the budget.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) also expressed support for the amendment, saying that she did not want to make decisions that would affect this year’s budget, given the constraints of the current budget year. She characterized it as a precipitous decision to move $300,000 from one place in the budget to another, in the middle of the year. The issue has been “sequestered,” she said, since 2005, and there’s been ample time to decide to bring it up for anyone who thought it was a serious issue. It could have been brought up during last year’s budget process, she said, but for those on the council who did not think it was a serious issue, they had no reason to bring it up.

Teall stressed that she and Hohnke had, in fact, brought up the issue previously.

Smith said she would eventually like to see the four city dams analyzed together, noting that Barton Dam generates electricity and that Barton Pond is also the source of most of the city’s drinking water. So there’s “cross-contamination” from a budgeting perspective, she said. She said her goal would be to eliminate the sense that taking money from one place for another purpose is okay “only sometimes” but that other times it’s not okay at a particular moment when the money is wanted for something else.

Questions from mayor John Hieftje and Teall elicited from city staff the fact that revenue from Barton and Superior hydroelectric dams is deposited into the city’s general fund and the maintenance for the dams is taken from the general fund. Typically, the dams cover their own costs.

Briere suggested opening the agenda to consider the bypass channel construction at that time. There was little traction for that.

But at Hieftje’s request, the various funding options for the bypass channel were explicated by Sumedh Bahl, the city’s community services area administrator, who formerly was in charge of the dams. [Items in italics indicate items that vary across the different options.]

Option (1)

  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage: $683,000. Originally, funds in the amount of $1,385,860 had been transferred from parks to assist in the removal of trees affected by emerald ash borer (EAB). In July 2010 the project was completed and $683,000 was returned to the Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage Fund. Consequently, these funds are unallocated and their designation to this project does not result in the cancellation of any existing or scheduled parks project.
  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage: $195,000. This is from an existing budgeted river parks project that calls for the improvements of river parks.
  • Water Fund: $300,000. Funds budgeted for the repair of the toe drains.
  • Additional funding may become available from the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission to assist with the Border-to-Border trail portion of the project. This could amount to an additional $50,000.
  • Excluding potential funding assistance from the county, $1,178,000 is available for the project (only $1,168,170 is required).

Option (2)

  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage fund balance: $683,000 (this is the same as in Funding Option 1).
  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage existing river parks project: $195,000 (this is the same as in Funding Option 1).
  • Parks additional capital funds from savings on existing projects: $135,000.
  • Parks forestry funding: $155,170.
  • Total available funding, excluding potential funding assistance from the county: $1,168,170.

Option (3)

  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage fund balance: $683,000 (this is the same as in Funding Option 1).
  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage existing river parks project: $195,000 (this is the same as in Funding Option 1).
  • Parks additional capital funds from savings on existing projects: $135,000 (this is the same as in Funding Option 2).
  • Parks capital existing recreation facility updates: $155,170.
  • Total available funding, excluding potential funding assistance from the county: $1,168,170.

Option (4)

  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage fund balance: $683,000 (this is the same as in Funding Option 1).
  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage existing river parks project: $195,000 (this is the same as in Funding Option 1).
  • Parks additional capital funds from savings on existing projects: $135,000 (this is the same as in Funding Option 2).
  • General fund reserves: $155,170.
  • Total available funding, excluding potential funding assistance from the county: $1,168,170.

Hohnke inquired with Bahl whether Argo or Geddes dams have anything to do with the water supply – no, said Bahl. With respect to the Source Water Protection Plan, Hohnke noted that whether it’s funded or not is not relevant to the question of whether it’s appropriate to fund maintenance for dams out of the drinking water fund, if those dams have nothing to do with drinking water. Responding to Kunselman’s remarks about “micromanaging” staff, Hohnke said the council tries hard not to do that, but that he and Teall had attempted to give direction a number of times to the staff, who had asked the council for guidance in this specific area.

Hohnke concluded that the only reason the dam maintenance funding has continued to be paid for out of the drinking water fund for more than 50 years is because the council has not provided guidance. Hohnke contended that in the original 1963 memo from city staff, it was clearly recognized that the dams would not continue to be funded from drinking water funds, because that was not appropriate.

Responding to Briere’s concern that the resolution moved too fast, Hohnke noted that the council had the option of postponing consideration of the bypass channel construction. Hohnke reiterated that he and Teall had brought up the issue before. He said he’d heard the argument that the council should move forward with the funding because it’s already been budgeted, but he had not heard any argument about why it was appropriate to use the funds in that way.

Hohnke observed that it was a frequent conversation between the council and the public about why funds could not be taken from one place and spent in another, for example, from the greenbelt millage to fund public safety. He suggested that with respect to the drinking water fund and dam maintenance, the council need to “walk the walk.”

Briere responded to Hohnke’s contention about the contents of the 1963 memo by describing herself as a “stickler for reading stuff.” Before reading aloud from it, however, she stressed that when she said that the discussion should have happened earlier, she meant that it should have happened during the discussion of the budget. Her concern, she said, was for the budget. She expressed skepticism that no other programs would be affected, saying that when you put money into one place, you take it from another. Here’s the passage Briere cited from the 1963 memo [emphasis Briere's]:

Portions of the property will, in time, be designated as the responsibility of the Park Department and will be developed and maintained for park and recreation purposes under the City General Fund Budget. As these lands above water are so designated, they will no longer be the responsibi1ity of the Utilities Department.

Briere contrasted that description of the lands in the 1963 memo with the memo’s explicit treatment of the dams, which maintenance and operation costs were to be split between the water and sewer funds:

The annual payment of $80,000.00 will be split 50-50 between the Utilities Department and the Sewage Disposal System – $40,000.00 each per year. The operating costs, although the responsibility of the Water Department, will be split 50-50 each year between the Utilities and Sewage Treatment budgets.

That’s the way it was set up, Briere said, as a point of accuracy. This year’s budget should remain untouched, Briere said, but she was not arguing about next year’s budget.

Hieftje said that Hohnke had explained the situation very well, and that the city should have corrected it years ago, but that it never came up. He said the council would have addressed the issue during the last budget cycle, and that was the intention, but there were a number of other issues that had distracted focus from that. [For Chronicle coverage of discussion by staff and elected officials over much of 2009 and early 2010, relate to the intention to remove funding for Argo and Geddes, see: "PAC Recommends Argo Dam Bypass"] Hieftje concluded that he would not support the amendment.

Outcome: The council approved the amendment striking the first resolved clause that would have direction to city staff to find alternate funding for the bypass – funds that would not include funding from the water supply system fund. Dissenting were Hieftje, Hohnke, and Teall.

Speaking to the amended resolution, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) said he supported it broadly speaking. He wondered what the view of staff was about alternatives to funding the dam maintenance next year. He’d heard assurances at the park advisory commission that the dams could be covered by the parks budget. He wanted to know how big a hit the parks budget would take. Bahl explained that for Argo Dam, some money would come from the parks millage and what could not be covered by that would come from the general fund. He was not certain of the breakdown, but estimated around $38,000 a year.

Taylor ventured that – based on increased revenue from increased canoe trips – it might cover the maintenance. Bahl confirmed he was confident the parks budget could be called on to cover the dam maintenance costs.

Higgins objected to one “Whereas” clause, but city administrator Roger Fraser characterized those clauses as statements of history, not direction, and Higgins’ concern was allayed.

Smith suggested that it’s difficult to separate the resolution on funding out of the drinking water fund and the resolution to construct a bypass channel. She suggested that it might be necessary to challenge city staff to think creatively about going to the public to lease parkland in a way the community has not previously thought about it. Some of the revenue opportunities, she said, could involve public-private partnerships involving kayak rentals or cafes. There are therefore opportunities to replace the revenue from the drinking water fund, she said.

Fraser responded to Smith by saying that part of what they would do is to continue to provide the city’s parks and recreation staff with the chance to be imaginative and creative. The bypass channel, Fraser said, would provide a chance to add a new dimension to the city’s recreational opportunities.

Kunselman indicated that he would not be supporting the resolution. He characterized it as micromanaging the city administrator. With respect to the source water protection plan, he said he looked to the Huron River Watershed Council for leadership in protecting the city’s interests – for which the city pays HRWC membership dues. He also said it’s hypocritical to have concerns about the use of the drinking water fund on dam maintenance, when $347,000 worth of drinking water money had been allocated to the public art fund – along with $838,000 from the sewer fund.

Outcome: The resolution to stop funding dam maintenance, repair, and insurance out of the drinking water fund was approved, with dissent from Kunselman.

Argo Dam Bypass Channel

Before the council was a $1,168,170 project to build a bypass channel around the Argo dam that will take the place of the current headrace, which is separated from the Huron River by an earthen embankment. The bypass will eliminate the portage currently required by canoeists and kayakers. It would also allow the city to comply with the consent order it has with the state of Michigan that requires the city to address the repair of toe drains in the embankment. [See Chronicle coverage: "PAC Recommends Argo Dam Bypass Channel"]

Argo Dam Bypass: Public Commentary

Julie Grand, chair of the city’s park advisory commission (PAC), told the council that after the commission’s Oct. 19 meeting, she’d been as excited as she’s been in a long time. She cited four main benefits to the proposed bypass: (1) it would remove the necessity of portaging an 85-pound canoe, thus making canoeing more accessible to families and seniors; (2) the Border-to-Border Trail would be improved as a part of the project; (3) the white water feature – which she said should be added now so that it won’t cost more to add it later – would result in higher revenue projections than just the increase in canoe trips due to eliminating the portage; and (4) it will make Argo a destination, and getting more people in and around the river is a good thing.

BeckettRaeder Christy Summers Nov. 8 presentation

Christy Summers of Beckett & Raeder presents a rendering of the bypass channel at the council's Nov. 8 work session. The channel is the series of pools above the river.

Also speaking in favor of the proposed bypass was Michael Psarouthakis. He was speaking on behalf of his wife, who is the president of Pioneer High School’s rowing club. He stated that he supports the modification of the embankment, saying it could become a major attraction, because of the portage-free trips. It also will allow rowers to maintain their current venue on the pond. The proposal combines the slow and fast water sports, he said, providing the best of both worlds. He suggested that one thing everyone could agree on is that it’s been a very tough process.

During his communications to the council, Mike Anglin (Ward 5) noted that the athletes who train on Argo Pond go on to excel at higher levels, citing the case of Pioneer High School grad Grace Luczak, who won a bronze medal with the U.S. four-woman boat at the 2010 World Rowing Championships in New Zealand. Luczak does her collegiate rowing for Stanford University.

Argo Dam Bypass: Council Deliberations

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) led off deliberations by declaring that it is a really exciting proposal, echoing the sentiments of the chair of the park advisory commission during public commentary. She characterized it as like a “bubble in the air.” She stressed that the current conversation is not a dialogue about dam-in versus dam-out.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said it’s possible that the reason she and Smith find it exciting is because the dam is in Ward 1. Briere said she had not been canoeing since she her son was 11 years old, but she did remember that the portage was a “pain in the rear.” She said the idea of making Argo a destination is exciting.

She stated that the city should have fixed the toe drains earlier. The proposal, however, eliminates the need to fix the toe drains, and there’ll be fewer of them.

Mayor John Hieftje noted that the resolution requires the council to designate one of the funding options.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who had moved the resolution, and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who had seconded the motion, specified funding option (3), which skirts the controversy of using drinking water fund money for the project:

Option (3)

  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage fund balance: $683,000 (this is the same as in Funding Option 1).
  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage existing river parks project: $195,000 (this is the same as in Funding Option 1).
  • Parks additional capital funds from savings on existing projects: $135,000 (this is the same as in Funding Option 2).
  • Parks capital existing recreation facility updates: $155,170.
  • Total available funding, excluding potential funding assistance from the county: $1,168,170.

Taylor said he was delighted with the proposal, and felt the hit to be taken by the parks [a delay in upgrades to the canoe liveries at Gallop and locker rooms at Veterans Memorial Ice Arena] would be “de minimis.” The locker room upgrade he characterized as useful but not critical. It was an appropriate balance, he said, between the delay in certain capital improvements and the council’s conclusion earlier that evening that drinking water funds should be used only for that purpose.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) said she’d visited the locker rooms and that she was not willing to wait a year. She did not want to ask the parks and recreation staff to be creative at the last minute and said she didn’t have a problem with funding it using $300,000 from the drinking water fund. She asked to amend the resolution to specify funding option (1):

Option (1)

  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage: $683,000. Originally, funds in the amount of $1,385,860 had been transferred from parks to assist in the removal of trees affected by emerald ash borer (EAB). In July 2010 the project was completed and $683,000 was returned to the Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage Fund. Consequently, these funds are unallocated and their designation to this project does not result in the cancellation of any existing or scheduled parks project.
  • Parks Rehabilitation and Development Millage: $195,000. This is from an existing budgeted river parks project that calls for the improvements of river parks.
  • Water Fund: $300,000. Funds budgeted for the repair of the toe drains.
  • Additional funding may become available from the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission to assist with the Border-to-Border trail portion of the project. This could amount to an additional $50,000.
  • Excluding potential funding assistance from the county, $1,178,000 is available for the project (only $1,168,170 is required).

In supporting the selection of option (1), Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2) cited his experience serving five years on the park advisory commission and the ongoing need for capital improvements. Staff was forced to “play a little game” of bumping projects around from year to year.

Smith noted that there is a potential funding partner in the county, plus the possibility of using DTE property as a staging area that could reduce costs. She asked that the $300,000 from the drinking water fund be designated as the portion to which savings or additional revenues would be applied. Higgins, who had proposed the amendment specifying option (1), nodded her assent to incorporate that stipulation as a friendly amendment.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5)

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) questioned Abigail Elias of the city attorney's office about the appropriateness of using the drinking water fund to pay for recreational dam expenses.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) began by saying that he would not rehash all the arguments, which earned him a thank-you from the mayor. Responding to Rapundalo’s reference to having to “play a game” to fund parks capital improvements, he said that he did not think that taking money from the drinking water fund was any better a practice.

He suggested to Higgins that her concern about public art being funded out of different areas of the budget – which he didn’t share – should apply here as well. He strongly encouraged his colleagues to consider whether the use of the drinking water fund was appropriate to this project. In return for moving back the locker room improvements for a year, the council would get fidelity to fiscal prudence, Hohnke said.

The previous resolution passed by the council, which directed the city administrator to remove funding for dam maintenance and repair out of the drinking water fund, then came back into play. It included a “Whereas” clause as follows:

Whereas, Argo Dam and Geddes Dam create impoundments that are recreational in nature;

Hohnke asked the city attorney about possible legal exposure due to the council’s adoption of that resolution with its accompanying resolved clause. The council, in adopting the resolution, he said, had recognized the dams as recreational. What the council was now considering was using drinking water money for this recreational asset.

City attorney Stephen Postema deferred the question to staff attorney Abigail Elias, but characterized all the funding options as “reasonable.” Elias said that part of the issue was the 1963 purchase of the dams and ponds, which Briere had cited in earlier deliberations. At that time the council had considered the dams as “water assets,” Elias contended, saying they’d been considered water assets since that time. If the council were to designate them and “move them,” then a different funding source might be appropriate. But they have a history of being considered water assets and will be maintained as water assets “until they are transformed.”

Hohnke indicated that he understood the history. However, he noted that yes, impoundments have water in them, but to describe them as water assets did not seem completely accurate – when talking about a drinking water fund. The dams have nothing to do with drinking water. Even understanding the history and the need to provide for maintenance of the assets, he said, independent of a prior council designation, the resolution that night with its accompanying “whereas” clause meant that “we have that on the record” as the council’s view that the dams are recreational assets. To him, he said, that seems to change the legal analysis.

Elias said she did not think the previous resolution was clear enough to transform the dams into no longer being water assets. She pointed out that drinking water funds are not used to fund Barton Dam’s maintenance, even though it is involved with drinking water – there’s been a mixture of funding used for the dams, she said.

Hohnke wondered what kind of action it would take in order to change the dams’ status. He noted some indications that the transformation has already taken place: (1) the city does not include Argo and Geddes dams and their ponds in the drinking water contingency plan; and (2) they are classified as recreational by the state’s regulatory agency. He told Elias he did not understand the argument she was making based on a notion of “water assets.” The city doesn’t have a category of “water assets,” Hohnke pointed out – there’s a water treatment facility, a drinking water supply facility, etc.

Elias came back to the fact that the four dams and ponds were purchased as part of the drinking water system in 1963. The city was undergoing an expansion and that included an expansion in its water supply system. She said she was not privy to the conversations among staff at the time. If you look at the history, at that time the designation of the dams as water assets was appropriate, and thus the maintenance of them as assets of the water system was also appropriate. She said she was not sure how the financial system handles transfer of assets among systems because she doesn’t deal with that.

At that, Hohnke gave a deep sigh. He said he was trying to ask a very clear question. He told Elias that he’d understood her to say that absent any declaration that Argo and Geddes were not “water assets,” there was no legal exposure. So what kind of action, he asked, would re-designate the dams and make clear that they have no role in the city’s drinking water system? Elias told Hohnke that what she’d said was the dams are and have been water system assets, and that if the council does not want to treat them as such and wants to transfer them, the council can make that decision. How would that look different from the previous resolution? asked Hohnke. Elias said she didn’t read the resolution as saying that “They are hereby transferred.” And with that, Hohnke ended his questioning of Elias.

Smith stressed that the resolution to which Hohnke was referring specified a future time when drinking water funding would not support Argo and Geddes dams, so she disagreed that anything had happened that evening. Hohnke clarified that he’d been referring to the “whereas” clause.

In support of option (1), which had been recommended by PAC, Higgins that she felt it was not appropriate to change the funding scenario from the one PAC had recommended, without consulting with PAC members. Taylor, who sits as a council representative to PAC, acknowledged Higgins’ concern but felt that option (3) reflected a good balancing.

Outcome on funding option: The council amended the resolution to specify option (1). Voting for option (1) were Smith, Briere, Rapundalo, Kunselman, Higgins and Anglin. For option (3) were Derezinski, Taylor, Teall, Hieftje, Hohnke.

In continuing deliberations on the main resolution, assuming option (1), Hohnke indicated that he had hoped to support the resolution and he’d tried to find a way to get there. He noted it was no secret that the city’s environmental commission had concluded that no environmental case could be made to keep the dam. However, the environmental case, he said, is not the only case – there’s also the financial case and the recreational case. He’d come to the conclusion that repairing the toe drains in the embankment would provide a way for the debate to cool off a bit. He said he supported the construction of the amenity, but could not support its partial funding with drinking water money.

Hieftje indicated his support for building the bypass, saying that it would turn the community’s face to the river.

Teall said it would be easier to vote for the proposal without the drinking water fund involvement, but she would vote for it. This decision should not be tied to the dam-in or dam-out question, she said.

Outcome: The council approved construction of the bypass channel and whitewater amenity, with dissent from Hohnke.

Dreiseitl Public Art

Before the council was the authorization of $553,320 for fabrication of a piece of exterior art – a fountain – that had been commissioned from Herbert Dreiseitl for the new municipal center, at the corner of Fifth and Huron. Quinn Evans Architects will act as the general contractor to complete the work’s fabrication. The authorization for the design, at a cost of $111,400, was given during council’s Dec. 21, 2009 meeting. At that meeting, Stephen Kunselman had questioned whether the city had met its obligation under the public art ordinance to provide an estimate of maintenance costs associated with a work of art before making a decision to acquire it. From Chronicle coverage:

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) then spoke to what he characterized as an “urgency” to move the project forward, a feeling he said he understood but did not share. He was more concerned, he said, that the council followed its own ordinance that it had passed in November 2007.
Kunselman then ticked through requirements of the ordinance that he felt potentially had not been met. The text of the ordinance cited in relevant part by Kunselman:

1:836.  Ownership and maintenance of work.
(1) No work of art shall be considered for acquisition under this chapter without an estimate for future maintenance costs.

With respect to the required estimate of maintenance costs, it was Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, who addressed the question. Kunselman was correct that the estimate was required, she allowed, but she presented that night’s agenda item in the following context: It was the second of three action steps, only the third of which was “acquisition.”

The first action step, explained McCormick, had been the conceptual design, which had been approved in March of 2009. What they were doing that evening was the bid to design what would be installed, complete with plans and specs for concrete and plumbing – the second action step.  The authorization of the purchase would come sometime in April, and that was “acquisition,” said McCormick. At that time, an estimate for maintenance costs would be required.

No estimate of maintenance costs had been calculated at the council’s meeting on Monday.

The city’s public art commission had originally commissioned three pieces of art from Dreiseitl, but the two interior pieces were not approved by the commission. The project budget for the three pieces was $750,000. According to the city, the total cost for the single exterior water sculpture will come to $741,720. For The Chronicle’s most recent coverage: “Funding Set for More Art at Municipal Center.”

Dreiseitl: Council Deliberations

Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, led off the discussion by reminding the council of their December 2009 approval of the conceptual design funding. She described how Dreiseitl’s piece of art was meant to illustrate the cycle of stormwater as rain fell and flowed across the land. She described how the art drew its funding from public art funds that had been contributed under the city’s Percent for Art program from the water, wastewater, and stormwater funds.

The city’s public art program is based on expenditures for capital projects, setting aside 1% of all projects for art, with a limit of $250,000 per project. Here’s what the balances look like as of mid-November, which Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) elicited from McCormick during deliberations:

Budget Summary as of 11-13-10

                       Revenues   Transfers/  Available
                                    Expend.   Balance
General Fund                  -         -          -
Street Millage          419,189     9,344    409,844
Parks Millage            28,137    10,657     17,479
West Park                10,000    15,279     (5,279)
Solid Waste              33,782       331     33,450
Water                   347,378   218,459    128,918
Sewer                   838,189   533,949    304,239
Stormwater               47,683    32,859     14,823
Airport                   6,520       103      6,416
Energy                    3,564         -      6,416
Court/PD Facility       250,000    47,569    202,430
Dreiseitl/Utility       750,000   185,487    564,512 

Total Avlble for Art  2,734,442 1,054,042  1,683,251
FY 2011 Admin. Allctn    35,408     4,237     31,170
Remaining Admin.        143,975    31,859    112,115


Mayor John Hieftje stressed that there was very little or no money put towards the public art program that came out of the general fund, but noted there are still people in the media who misrepresent that.

McCormick described the public art program as an obligation related to capital asset investment: When the city invests in a capital asset, she said, it must also think about the aesthetics. It’s not required that a piece of art be physically attached to the capital asset, just that it serve the purpose of the fund from which it came or a message around that fund. The monies from which public art funds are drawn do not fund personnel, health care, or pensions, she said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) picked up on the maintenance theme he’d established a year earlier: He wanted to know out of what fund would maintenance for the Dreiseitl piece be funded. McCormick said that no maintenance budget had been established, but that those costs would be drawn proportionally from public art fund contributions in the project budget: $210,000 from the water supply fund; $510,000 from the sanitary sewer; $30,000 form the stormwater fund. Percentage-wise, that’s 28% from water; 68% from sanitary sewer, and 0.04% from stormwater. Kunselman indicated that he would leave that for his counsel colleagues to contemplate and for the city attorney to tell him whether it was legal or not. City attorney Stephen Postema did not respond.

[For background on the request that Kunselman made last year for a written legal opinion from the city attorney, which is required by the city charter to be filed with the city clerk's office, see "Getting Smarter About City Charter." Postema never filed an opinion with the city clerk's office.]

Later in deliberations, Kunselman said he would not vote for the project without a legal opinion from the city attorney justifying its legality. Attorney-client privileged communications, he said, could not be used to justify the legality of the ordinance. When he’d voted for the program, he said, he had not voted to use restricted funds like street millage and utility money. There are important legal precedents, he said, that suggested to him the spending was not appropriate.

Sabra Briere with her hand raised to speak

Sabra Briere (Ward 1), with her hand raised to speak. To her left is Tony Derezinski (Ward 2).

Mayor John Hieftje started the rollcall vote, when Sabra Briere (Ward 1) interrupted him, observing that she’d had her hand raised to speak. However, she indicated that she was content to vote without speaking. After some back and forth with the mayor, during which he encouraged her to go ahead and speak, Briere held forth on the Dreiseitl project.

She noted that this was the first time she’d had a chance to speak on any of the Dreiseitl project votes. Previously, she had left town on the day of the council’s meeting, thinking the item would not be on the agenda, but it was added late. On another occasion she’d left the council chambers briefly to get a cup of coffee during the meeting and the vote had happened just that fast. She apologized to the public for that.

She said she had several reasons for voting against it and they were “mild reasons.” She reported that she’d expressed her concerns about the project in terms of its design, its value to the community and its cost. Those are the criteria she should use, she said, to determine whether to “throw money” at a project that is supposed to last 50 years. She said she didn’t think the council should have funded the design costs last year, and she would not vote to fund construction costs this year. She concluded by echoing Margie Teall’s statement in connection with funding dam maintenance out of the drinking water fund: “If it’s bad policy, then it’s bad policy. And I think it’s bad policy.”

Hieftje asked Briere if her objections were related to the public art program in general or if she objected to this particular project. Briere answered that she felt the program should have been decreased from a 1% level of funding to 0.5% level. [In December of 2009, the council contemplated such a reduction but did not have enough votes to pass it on the second reading. Voting for the reduction were Smith and Kunselman – Briere was absent from that meeting. At that same meeting the Dreiseitl design had been voted through: "Council: Art Key to Ann Arbor's Identity"]

In November 2007, said Briere, the council had no idea how much money would be reserved for art through the program. She said she believes she made a mistake in voting for the program then, and said she was sorry.

Picking up on the idea of the implementation of the program, Kunselman inquired how many other communities in Michigan had implemented similar public art programs using similar funding mechanisms. If it’s such a great approach to funding public art, he wondered, why weren’t other communities emulating Ann Arbor. He objected to the particular project by saying that it’s too extravagant and puts too much money in one project. Communities like Seattle, he said, spread the wealth. “We’re putting all our money in a fountain,” he said, “and a phallic fountain at that.”

Marcia Higgins

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) expressed concern about the high level of funding for public art.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted that the level of funding had been a concern for a while – 1% might be too high. But it’s a good program, she said. [Higgins was perhaps one of the first to float the question of whether the 1% allocation should be reduced somewhat, in February 2009: "Discontent Emerges at Council Caucus"]

After discussing with McCormick the amount of money available in the public art program, Higgins inquired if the monies for the public art fund derived from construction bonds. McCormick explained that the money came from millage revenues and fees. It’s money that could be used for other items in those funds.

The 1% figure, McCormick continued, is within the 10% contingency that is generally established for construction projects. She also explained that the large contribution to the public art program from the sanitary sewer fund is due to the fact that there has been a major reconstruction of the wastewater treatment facility.

Higgins said she’d be voting no, but that it was not a vote against public art. In this she echoed what Kunselman had said earlier. Higgins said she was concerned about the amount of money that is being put towards the program.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) picked up on Kunselman’s point that no other communities in Michigan had followed Ann Arbor’s leadership on its public art program. He elicited from McCormick the fact that Ann Arbor was not the first community nationally to enact a similar program and that Ann Arbor had not been pioneering in that regard. McCormick went on to explain that the Dreiseitl project was the first project begun under the public art program. A second project, in West Park, was started subsequently and is now complete.

Teall noted that other communities have public art programs that range from 0.5% to 2%. She also noted that the task force for public art at the municipal center is looked at other opportunities to install art there. That includes possible re-installation of the large multi-panel mosaic by Gerome Kamrowski – which previously was located near at the entrance to city hall and is now in storage.

Ken Clein of Quinn Evans Architects explained that last December, Quinn Evans had been given the charge to advance the design. He described how the initial estimates had come back high, but that they’d worked with the bidders to reduce the costs. The lead fabricator, he said, is a blacksmith and an artisan. He explained that the sculpture contains not just a water feature, but also a lighting feature.

Higgins asked what would happen to the sculpture if there were 60 days with no rain. Clein explained that there is a 15,000-gallon cistern under the fountain. Higgins wanted to know if it would operate through the winter – no, Clein said, only the lights would operate then.

Kunselman said that it sounded like a complex system with filters, pumps and lights. He wanted to know what the replacement costs for one of the glass “pearl” lights would be – $50 each, said Clein. Clein told Kunselman, in response to a query, that the fountain would not have submetering that would allow precise measurement of how much it cost to operate the fountain. Kunselman wondered how algae would be controlled. Clein told him that UV treatment is part of the filtering system.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) thanked Clein for doing the due diligence and bringing in Michigan contractors. He asked if there is a warranty of some kind and wondered about the life of the equipment. Clein told Anglin that typical for the various pieces of equipment would be that they’d have a one-year warranty.

Briere established with Clein that the fountain would not operate as a fountain for nearly half the year. Clein suggested that there might not be water, but that there was a possibility that the water would freeze on the fountain in a way that was aesthetically pleasing.

Outcome: Funding for the fabrication of the Dreiseitl project was authorized, with dissent from Briere, Kunselman and Higgins.

Drainage to Underground Parking Garage

Before the council was a proposal to grant an easement to the properties to the northwest of the underground parking structure being built between Fifth Avenue and Division Street. The easement would be used to drain stormwater into the garage’s detention system, which has excess capacity for detention in its 40,763-cubic-foot tanks. The underground garage itself only requires 19,491 cubic feet of stormwater detention. Water in the detention tanks is cleaned before being released into Allen Creek.

The properties in question are at 320 S. Division and 330 E. Liberty.

Susan Pollay, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, which is constructing the parking garage, clarified that the properties in question are located upslope from the parking garage, and the arrangement takes advantage of the natural direction of surface flow. Asked by Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) why the property owners are not paying for the easement, Pollay cited the overall benefit to the community.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the easements.

Demolition of Kingsley Houses

Before the council was the receipt of a $216,723 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant for the purchase and demolition of the structures at 215 and 219 W. Kingsley Street, which are located in the Allen Creek floodway. The area is subject to flooding during heavy rainstorms. The site will be modified in a way to create a small stormwater retention area, with $72,241 in city funds for the project to be drawn from the stormwater capital budget.

Council deliberations were fairly brief. Sandi Smith (Ward 1), whose Trillium Real Estate offices were previously located across the street from the property in question, characterized the property as a “black eye in the neighborhood,” and said that Allen Creek practically ran through the basement of the house. The intersection floods regularly in a way that makes it impassable, she said. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) thanked the city staff for their work in securing the grant from FEMA.

Outcome: The council unanimously voted to accept the FEMA funding.

Compost Operations: A Private Operator

Before the council was a proposal to approve a contract with WeCare Organics to operate the city’s composting facility, which is not to exceed $200,000 annually. On Nov. 8, the city council had received a presentation at a work session on the proposal.

Compost: Public Commentary

Nicholas Nightwine spoke, as he had at the council’s previous meeting in late October, on behalf of the AFSCME Local 369, which represents many city workers, specifically positions at the city’s composting facility. He noted that the council had received a presentation on the proposed merchant operation to be contracted to WeCare Organics at a work session the previous week. At that work session, the presentation highlighted losses projected for the city’s composting operation, which is one program in the city’s solid waste fund.

By way of background, the city’s projections for losses over the next five years under current operations, compared to losses under WeCare, look like this:

       CITY        WECARE
FY10  ($682,000)    n.a.
FY11  ($699,775)  ($634,513)
FY12  ($713,909)  ($337,629)
FY13  ($732,904)  ($345,157)
FY14  ($752,468)  ($354,261)
FY15  ($772,620)  ($365,382)


The overall solid waste fund itself, however, operates with a slight surplus, which is projected to continue for the next five years. The solid waste fund is supported by a millage – listed as CITY REFUSE on property tax bills – and is levied at a rate of 2.467 mill.

In his comments Monday evening, Nightwine noted that the composting operation is still projected to operate at a loss for the next five years, even with WeCare’s operation – it’s just that the loss is not projected to be as great. He suggested that part of the reason for the extent of the losses is that the city’s prices for finished compost are too low. The history of finished compost [CY=cubic yard]:

   CY   2008   2009    2010
   10   $ 15   $ 7     $ 9
10-24   $ 10   $ 5     $ 7
   25   $  8   $ 2.75  $ 5


Nightwine contended that comparing rates with other sources of compost showed facilities charging anywhere between $15 to $50 per cubic yard.

The city, Nightwine concluded, set itself up for a loss by not pricing the finished product at the market rate. He also noted that no city staff had made a site visit to any of WeCare’s facilities. What if the arrangement doesn’t work out, he wondered. He asked why the city was not investing in its own employees. He asked the council to postpone their consideration of the proposal until answers to the many outstanding questions could be found.

In the mid-1990s, the composting manager and assistant solid waste manager for the city of Ann Arbor was Ray Ayer. Ayer addressed the council on Monday night on many of the same themes he’d covered the previous evening at the council’s caucus, attended by Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5). At the Sunday caucus, he’d said that as a former city worker, “My heart beats for the city of Ann Arbor.” On Monday he described himself as a “compost advocate.” He described the proposal to contract the operation of the city’s operation to WeCare as giving away the city’s $5-million, award-winning composting site. “It stinks,” he said, and predicted that the site would also stink.

By way of background, control of odor was one focus of Ayer’s management of the city’s facilities in the past. From “Ann Arbor Composting Program,” a program description written by Ayer, and available in a Michigan State University online archive:

Leaves and brush are blended in with the grass to obtain an approximately 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen mixture. This mixture with frequent turning of the windrows allows the site to be operated with no offensive off site odors. In 1992 the City ceased collecting yard waste in plastic bags as it found grass in plastic bags had already turned anaerobic by the time they collected it and it was very difficult to control the incoming odors.

Ayer’s paper on the program stressed the need to allocate adequate resources to the composting program – a point which mirrors Nightwine’s call for the city to invest in its own employees:

The above requires the application of the M & Ms principal. Money, manpower, & motivation, none of the above will happen if the program is squeezed in between other duties. A person must be put in charge with adequate time, management support and money.

On Monday evening, Ayer described part of the problem with the facility now as “missing management.” He described how the facility built by “scrappy, environmental Ann Arbor” was a model for other communities. He described how WeCare had burned up one of their tub grinders a year ago. The city’s AFSCME workers would never abuse the equipment that way, he said, because “it’s owned by us.” He noted that WeCare would not bear the cost of re-capitalizing the equipment.

Ayer also criticized the proposed program because it will charge the city for every ton it tips at its own facility. Ayer also pointed out that the composting facility is fully funded – due to the solid waste millage.

Also addressing the council on the proposed composting program was Thomas Mesko, who introduced himself as a 20-year resident of Ann Arbor. He echoed the sentiments of Ayer and Nightwine. He asked the council to delay their decision, just as Nightwine had asked them to. He agreed with Ayer that the composting facility is a great part of what the city is – he’s been using it for 15 years. He described it as a small operation, with just two employees, a manager and a mechanic. He said that employees’ voices weren’t being heard.

Compost: Council Deliberations

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) led off deliberations by expressing concern that a Michigan company had bid on the contract [Spurt Industries in Zeeland, Mich.], but had not been selected. Instead it was a company based in New York, WeCare Organics, that had been recommended. Smith allowed that Spurt Industries did not have a lot of experience, but she noted that their numbers were close to what WeCare had proposed. She was still not quite comfortable, she said. The composting facility is a point of pride for many people and it’s become an Ann Arbor institution, she said. She observed that the city has made a number of investments in land and equipment. The beneficiary of those investments, she feared, would be a private company. She said she could be convinced to postpone the measure, but could not support it as written.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) indicated that she was prepared to move a postponement, because she’d submitted questions to which she’d not received answers. She asked for a postponement until the first meeting in January 2011. Mayor John Hieftje responded to the length of the postponement by observing: “That’s a long time.” Briere justified the time by saying that she had a feeling that December would be busy. A councilmember, who had been blessed with a sensitive microphone, seemed to concur with Briere’s assessment of a busy December by noting, “No shit!”


Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) demonstrates commitment to core principles in deliberations on composting.

As it turned out, shit – a.k.a. “biosolids” – was next up for discussion. Mike Anglin (Ward 5) wanted to know if any biosolids that might be brought in to the site could contain heavy metals that could eventually result in the city facing an environmental cleanup bill.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) indicated support for the postponement, also citing concern about the possibility that WeCare might pursue contracts with other municipalities for “sewage sludge.” He also wondered about the 25% charge to the composting facility for the scalehouse. He characterized the proposal not as a public-private partnership but as “privatization.”

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) observed, in the interest of moving the people’s business forward, that the city staff responsible for the proposal were in the audience and available to answer questions, thus making a gambit for Smith and Briere to withdraw the motion to postpone. Smith shook her head no. Hieftje suggested that he’d support only a much shorter postponement, and the proposed delay was shortened. The council’s first meeting in December, on Dec. 6, was a date to which Smith and Briere were willing to agree.

Outcome: The decision to contract with WeCare to operate the city’s composting facility was postponed to Dec. 6.

Medical Marijuana

Before the city council for its second reading was a set of zoning regulations restricting the locations of medical marijuana dispensing and cultivating facilities.

Among other restrictions, the proposed zoning regulations include a provision that medical marijuana dispensaries can only be located in zoning districts classified as D (downtown), C (business), or M (industrial), or in PUD districts where retail is permitted in the supplemental regulations. Also, medical marijuana cultivation facilities would only be located in C (business), M (industrial), RE (research), or ORL (office/research) districts.

The council had given initial approval to the zoning regulations at its Oct. 18 meeting. The city’s planning commission had put the proposed medical marijuana zoning through the process of its ordinance revision committee, and the planning commission had recommended approval of the changes at its Oct. 5 meeting. The planning commission’s exploration of the issue came at the direction of the city council given at its Aug. 5 meeting. That direction was part of a 120-day moratorium the council had imposed on the use of facilities inside the city for dispensing or cultivating marijuana. At that meeting, it was revealed that prior discussion of medical marijuana had taken place by the council at a July 19 closed session of the council, a meeting that is currently the subject of pending litigation against the city by The Chronicle.

Medical Marijuana: Public Hearing

Mayor John Hieftje indicated before the hearing began that there was a strong possibility that consideration of the zoning ordinance would be postponed.

Charmie Gholson told the council that she wanted to focus not on safe access or on the intent of Michigan’s medical marijuana law but rather on the perspective of an organization she’s worked with called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). The organization is working to stop the failed drug war, she said. She reviewed the history of the prohibition of alcohol, when women and mothers like her had advocated to make alcohol illegal. That had proven to be a mistake. She spoke of how the drug war had transformed our law enforcement system. She suggested that we don’t yet know what things would look like if certain drugs were actually legal. Making them illegal simply results in black market activity. Gholson characterized the city council’s approach to the regulation of medical marijuana as thoughtful and sane.

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a disabled senior citizen, who had come of age in the 1960s when marijuana was popularized. He described himself as a lifetime non-marijuana user. He urged the council to amend the ordinance in a way that would require education about the possible risks versus the pain-relief benefits of smoking anything.

Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations

An item added to the agenda that evening proposed to extend the moratorium another 60 days – from Dec. 3 to Jan. 31, 2011. If the city passes ordinances regulating medical marijuana before Jan. 31, then the moratorium would expire on their passage. The extension of the moratorium was contemplated because the council wanted to postpone until Dec. 20 the possible passage of the zoning regulations to which it had already given initial approval.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1), who had urged the shortening of the moratorium from 180 to 120 days when it was first contemplated, said she respected the complexity of the challenge and was convinced that the work was progressing smoothly.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked if it would be possible to schedule a council work session on the idea of licensing, given that she was not familiar with the various issues surrounding licensing. City attorney Stephen Postema construed her remark to be about medical marijuana licensing in particular, and told her that the reason she was unfamiliar with it is because the idea is unprecedented. City administrator Roger Fraser told Briere that if questions emerged, a work session could be scheduled. The current intent is for the city attorney’s office to produce the draft text of a medical marijuana licensing ordinance for initial consideration at the council’s Dec. 6 meeting. Assuming it receives initial approval, the licensing could then be considered for second and final approval at the same time that the zoning regulations are considered on Dec. 20.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the extension to the medical marijuana moratorium and the postponement of the zoning regulations.

Design Guidelines

When the A2D2 rezoning of downtown Ann Arbor was completed, the A2D2 oversight committee was disbanded in favor of a design guidelines committee, which was charged with completing the last remaining piece of the project. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), who serves as the council’s representative on the committee, indicated that there would be a work session in February. The deadline for the committee to report back with a recommendation to the council had been Dec. 6, 2010. The work was proceeding smoothly, Higgins said, but the committee needed a bit more time.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the extension of the deadline for the design guidelines committee’s work until Feb. 22, 2011.

Greenbelt Acquisitions

The council considered three appropriations from the city’s open space preservation millage to purchase development rights in an area around the city known as the greenbelt. Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), the council’s representative to the greenbelt advisory commission (GAC), noted that all of the properties are contiguous to existing greenbelt properties and that they helped complete a 1000-acre block in Webster Township and a 400-acre block in Ann Arbor Township.

The properties recommended by GAC to have their development rights purchased: Norman Ledwidge Farm ($179,025); Bradley D. and Mary J. Clark Farm ($182,939); and Edward C. and Muriel Pardon Farm ($145,154).

For The Chronicle’s most recent GAC meeting coverage, see “Time to Expand Greenbelt Boundary?

District Court Furniture

Before the council was a $36,000 revision to the current FY 2011 budget to allow for the purchase of furniture for the 15th District Court, which will be housed in the new municipal center that’s nearing completion next to the Larcom building, at Fifth and Huron. The initial request had been postponed at the council’s Oct. 18 meeting, when councilmembers had closely questioned the court administrator, Keith Zeisloft, over a request for up to $160,000 worth of furniture. The council again delayed action at its Nov. 4 meeting.

The memo provided by Zeisloft for Monday’s meeting, which resulted in the council’s approval of the expenditure, itemized $37,573 worth of refurbished furniture and $33,947 worth of new furniture. The authorization for the refurbished furniture will come to the council at a later date.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the $36,000 for court furniture.

Area, Height and Placement

Before the council were changes in the city’s zoning code for areas outside the downtown, across most of the city’s zoning classifications. The changes affect area, height and placement (AHP). Not included in the changes to AHP is the R4C (multi-family dwelling) zoning classification. The changes are intended to allow more compact use of land, preserve natural systems, accommodate new growth along transit corridors, and locate buildings to promote non-motorized access. Previous Chronicle coverage of the city planning commission’s deliberations on AHP changes: “AHP Zoning Revisions Go to City Council.

The measure had been postponed from the council’s Oct. 4 meeting, at the request of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). At the council’s Oct. 18 meeting, Higgins brought forth amendments that confined a height cap on buildings to areas adjacent to residential areas. After some deliberation on the merits of the amendments, Higgins withdrew them and the council again elected to postpone the measure.

At the Monday, Nov. 15 meeting, the council again elected to put off a final vote on the proposal.

Outcome: The revision to the city’s AHP ordinance was postponed to Dec. 6.

Stormwater and Urban Forestry

An item on the consent agenda that piqued the curiosity of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) involved a $56,260 contract with JJR to facilitate public engagement on the city’s urban forestry plan. The money will be appropriated from the city’s stormwater fund.

In the course of deliberations, city administrator Roger Fraser made an often-noted observation about the relationship between trees and their impact on stormwater and runoff. Higgins was assured that city staff would be present for the engagement process, but that it’s common for the city to use professional facilitators for these kinds of encounters.

Outcome: The JJR contract for public engagement was unanimously approved.

Internal Council Business

In addition to the ceremonial swearing in of councilmembers Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Margie Teall (Ward 4) Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) and mayor John Hieftje, each of whom won re-election on Nov. 2, the council accomplished other housekeeping as well.

Internal Business: Council Calendar

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) made a bid to revise the council’s calendar for the coming year in July to accommodate the Ann Arbor Townie Party, which falls on July 18 in 2011, the date of a regular Monday council meeting. Given that the council’s meeting is shifted already from Monday to Tuesday to accommodate the July 4 holiday, Smith proposed shifting both July meetings by a week – to July 11 and 25. Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) noted that the city charter stipulates the first and third Mondays of the month for council’s regular meetings and suggested that the Townie Party was not a substantial enough reason to shift the schedule.

Outcome: The council’s calendar was not modified to accommodate the Townie Party. Voting for Smith’s calendar amendment were: Smith, Derezinski, Teall, Hohnke, and Anglin. Voting against: Briere, Rapundalo, Taylor, Kunselman, Higgins, Hieftje.

Briere noted that the calendar as proposed did not acknowledge the Aug. 2 primary election and moved to change the meeting date from Aug. 1 to the following Thursday, which is the council’s post-election custom.

Outcome: The council approved the change in the first August meeting date from Aug. 1 to Aug. 4.

Internal Business: Committee Appointments

The council approved its committee appointments with virtually no differences from last year except administrative changes. For example, the assignment of the council’s representative to the planning commission is the same: Tony Derezinski (Ward 2).

The budget committee remains constant: Mike Anglin, Sabra Briere, Marcia Higgins, Stephen Rapundalo, Christopher Taylor. The council administration and labor committee also remains the same: Tony Derezenski, John Hieftje, Marcia Higgins, Margie Teall, Stephen Rapundalo.

The council’s mutually beneficial committee, responsible for negotiating the new parking contract with the DDA, was left off the list last year in what Higgins characterized this past spring as an administrative oversight. It was included this year: Carsten Hohnke, Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall. One of the substantively new appointments was for Sandi Smith to represent the city council on the city’s human rights commission.

Outcome: The city council unanimously approved its committee assignments.

Internal Business: Mayor Pro Tem and Order of Succession

Without comment, the council considered a resolution naming Marcia Higgins mayor pro tem and the order of succession for acting mayor for the other nine councilmembers as follows: Margie Teall, Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Carsten Hohnke, Sandi Smith, Christopher Taylor, Stephen Kunselman. The order is based first on seniority on council, then alphabetically.

Outcome: The city council unanimously approved Marcia Higgins as mayor pro tem and the order of succession.

Re-Opening the Agenda

Midway through the agenda, after the council had voted on the drinking water fund issue, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) moved to re-open the agenda in order to move the construction of the bypass channel to an earlier slot. Voting for re-opening the agenda were: Briere, Derezinski, Taylor, Kunselman, Anglin, and Hieftje. Voting against re-opening the agenda were: Smith, Rapundalo, Teall, Higgins and Hohnke. On the 6-5 vote the agenda was re-opened.

Briere then amended the agenda so that the Argo Dam bypass channel item came in an earlier slot. The vote was 7-4, with Teall joining the side of those in favor. City clerk Jackie Beaudry indicated the motion had failed, because it had not achieved the 3/4 majority required by council rule. The 3/4 rule regarding agenda revision reads as follows:

Matters not on the published agenda may be added at the time of approval of the agenda with the consent of 3/4 of the members present. The Mayor or City Administrator may delete items from the published agenda at the request of the initiator of the proposed action prior to approval of the agenda.

Later in the meeting, when the council had nearly reached the bypass construction agenda item, city attorney Stephen Postema drew the council’s attention to the fact that with seven votes, the agenda change should have passed – it had been an amendment of an existing item, not an addition of a new item, to which the 3/4 requirement applies. By then, however, the point was moot.

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: Huron Hills Golf Course

Susan Morrison spoke on behalf of Ann Arbor for Parkland Preservation as the group’s legal counsel. The group is against the privatization of operations at Huron Hills golf course, one of two municipal golf courses operated by the city. The city issued an RFP (request for proposals) asking for proposals that would maintain the land for golf operations. In response, Miles of Golf (MOG) has submitted one of the two proposals. Morrison referred councilmembers to a letter she’d sent on behalf of the group with objections to the MOG proposal for Huron Hills. She reviewed several highlights of the letter. Morrison contended that:

  1. Miles Of Golf’s proposal for its retail golf store on public parkland does not comply with the zoning ordinance or the RFP requirements.
  2. Miles of Golf’s proposal to build its retail golf store on public parkland does not comply with the concession exemption under the lessee-user tax act as required by the RFP.
  3. Miles of Golf’s proposal to build its retail golf store on public parkland does not comply with the city council resolution of Oct. 22, 2007 regarding municipal golf courses.
  4. Miles of Golf’s proposal to build its retail golf store and a driving range on public parkland does not comply with the city’s parks and recreation open space (PROS) plan.

Libby Hunter rendered her commentary in the form of a song, as has become her custom. The tune was from “Bye Bye Birdie” and featured the lyric, “Bye Bye Parkland.”

Comm/Comm: Peace Talks

Henry Herskovitz addressed the council on the topic of conditions in Palestine. He described how the current mainstream media portrays the peace talks as stalled, which is really a euphemism for doing nothing, he said. They begin, they stall, then they’re terminated. Herskovitz allowed that the group that demonstrates on Washtenaw Avenue every Saturday outside the Beth Israel Temple, calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, might seem small. But he expressed confidence that just as a white-supremicist state had failed in South Africa, a Jewish-supremicist state would fail in Israel.

Comm/Comm: Christmas Trees

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) inquired with the city administrator Roger Fraser about what residents should do with their Christmas trees this year. The city is discontinuing their pickup. Fraser told Briere he’d have to get back with her on that. The regular compostables pickup is being extended to Dec. 10, Fraser reported.

Comm/Comm: Parks Proclamation

Chuck Warpehoski and Nancy Shore were honored by a mayoral proclamation for their work at Winewood Thaler Park. The council tries to recognize park volunteers at one of its two monthly meetings.

Comm/Comm: Keep Your Chin Up

Thomas Partridge introduced himself as a recent candidate for Michigan state senate and a Democratic Party leader. He called on everyone to take heart and be of good will – unity should be given priority, he said. We should not be forlorn. We should keep in mind the moral imperative to put the least among us first.

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: Dec. 6, 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 liberalnimby
    November 19, 2010 at 9:06 pm | permalink

    Any specifics as to why council postponed the Area, Height, Placement revisions… again? Plans to invest in the community *now* are being put off while council dithers. It’s a classic economy-bleeding “non-decision” that has much more far-reaching consequences than some of the recent, actively-despised individual project brew-ha-has. Who is doing the postponing, and who is going along with this?

    I gave up trying to find this agenda item as the meetings-on-demand video service has apparently swallowed a bottle of quaaludes.

  2. November 19, 2010 at 9:19 pm | permalink

    Another fantastic of example of the thoroughness you provide. Thank you for your continued fair reporting of news– a rarity in today’s world and something greatly appreciated by this reader. Out of curiosity… which article currently has the highest word count?

  3. November 19, 2010 at 9:23 pm | permalink

    Re: [1] “Any specifics as to why council postponed the Area, Height, Placement revisions… again?”

    It’s a matter of nailing down the proposed amendments that would lift the height restrictions except for those areas that abut residential. Marcia Higgins floated an initial draft of the amendments at the Oct. 18 meeting.

    From The Chronicle’s Oct. 18 meeting report:

    Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) led off deliberations by recounting at least six public meetings on the topic. She described how restrictions on height near residential areas are essential, but that in areas in the south part of town – near Briarwood Mall, for example – such restrictions are not necessary, because those areas do not abut residential neighborhoods. She noted that part of the intent behind the AHP zoning overhaul is to help make these areas employment and economic drivers for the city – height restrictions might impinge on that.

    Higgins introduced amendments to the AHP proposal that removed height restrictions for areas that do not abut residential neighborhoods.

  4. November 19, 2010 at 9:25 pm | permalink

    Re: [3] highest word count

    This one is one of the longest at over 12K. We don’t actually track it.

  5. November 19, 2010 at 10:06 pm | permalink

    Like Mozart, lots of notes (words). How can that be too many?

  6. By liberalnimby
    November 19, 2010 at 10:20 pm | permalink

    Re: [3], much appreciated!

    Re: [2] and [5], I third the sentiment.

  7. By John Floyd
    November 20, 2010 at 12:56 am | permalink

    If the dams will no longer be funded out of water & sewer fees, what will become of the fee revenue no longer used for dams? Returned to rate payers? New capital projects? Overruns on existing projects? More public art ? No one seems to have raised this issue, which seems pretty basic to me.

    Mr Kunselman’s point was not, to me, effectively answered: public art is no more – and on the face of it, even less – related to water & sewer service than is dam maintenance. Why is it that new art projects in the police station are OK uses of water & sewer fees, but the 50-year practice of funding the dams is suddenly a problem? “‘ ‘Cause all the other kids do it” does not strike me as an adult answer to Mr. Kunselman’s adult question.

    As to the claim that “Public art is central to Ann Arbor’s identity”, it seems like a silly claim if we have not previously had public art. More like, “It’s central to how we on council think our new identity should be”. I may be the only person in town who does not depend on actions of the city council to determine his identity, but I suspect not. Most of us build our identities around things like our relationships with others, our work, the way we live our lives, not around council’s latest fad.

    A sidebar: More and more, the parallels between recent council discourse, and Sinclair Lewis’s novel, “Main Street”, appear striking. Council’s public art craze is eerily similar to the fictitious Gopher Prarie’s Great White Way lighting project. There are other similarities.

    As to the claim that the sewer and water fees used for the police station fountain do not come from funds used for salaries or pensions, from what sources are water department employees, and the city’s pension fund contributions, paid, if not water fees?

    I have heard it claimed that as much as $800,000 of the police department budget is funded from water fees under the theory that the police department protects the water system. Does anyone know if this is verified?

  8. By Libby Hunter
    November 20, 2010 at 10:53 am | permalink

    Here are the lyrics I sang at the meeting.

    Sung to By By Blackbird

    We can solve our budget woes
    “Repurposing” Here we go
    By By Parkland
    A parking structure for the U
    A golf strip mall in a park near you
    By By parkland
    Every neighborhood park repurposed to make money
    Keeping all that green space is just loony
    Football parking, park and ride lots
    Riverfront restaurants, tell us what you want
    Parkland By By

    This will soon be on Youtube – just type in my name.

  9. November 20, 2010 at 11:07 am | permalink

    Re: [7] “If the dams will no longer be funded out of water & sewer fees, what will become of the fee revenue no longer used for dams?…No one seems to have raised this issue, which seems pretty basic to me.”

    Actually, Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) at one point did have our back on this. The exchange between her and Fraser suggests a return to rate payers. From the Nov. 5, 2009 city council meeting:

    Fraser indicated that while there’d been discussion of putting the maintenance and operation of Geddes and Argo dams into the parks and recreation budget instead of the water fund, at this time it was the water fund that currently supported those dams. The maintenance and operation of those dams is built into the fee structure for water, he said. In response to a question from Higgins, he allowed that changing the funding to the parks and recreation budget should have an effect – how much was hard to say – on calculating the water rate structure.

    I have not looked at the numbers. But we’re talking about relatively small amounts of money for dam expenses in the context of the very large drinking water budget. I suspect that it could turn out that if you reduce rates by $.01 [the minimum amount possible] you’d reduce revenue by substantially more than the decreased expenses due to dam maintenance. That is, the reduced dam expenses should push the calculation in rate payers favor, but probably not enough to notice. It’s fair question, though, and I think someone will remember to ask it when drinking water rates are set next May as a part of the budget.

  10. By Junior
    November 20, 2010 at 2:12 pm | permalink

    Kudos to the councilpersons who are questioning the appropriteness of the One Per Cent For Art Ordinance.

    Its a colossal waste of public revenue when many residents are in the throes of financial distress.

    Why not do as the county is doing now and allocate funding for persons who need assistance in home foreclosures?

  11. By Sabra Briere
    November 20, 2010 at 3:02 pm | permalink

    Re [10]: The City provided $1.275 million from the General Fund for Human Services for FY2011; of this, a portion was allocated for prevention of home foreclosures; another portion was allocated for helping find emergency housing for those who have lost their homes.

    According to the % for Art accounting, the General Fund has contributed nothing (a blank amount) toward this fund.


  12. By ChuckL
    November 21, 2010 at 10:02 am | permalink

    The thing that is most galling about the use of 1% for Art is not that Ann Arbor has made a commitment to funding art with public funds. But rather, such a huge percentage of the amount was used on one project by a non-local artist. The funds wasted on the Dreisetl could have gone very far in supporting our local art community, which was effectively dissed by this decision. I am very disappointed that the city used a process that in the end, appears to have been nothing more than an impulse purchase by some political appointees who were out of touch with residents of this city.

  13. By Jack F
    November 21, 2010 at 12:02 pm | permalink

    “According to the % for Art accounting, the General Fund has contributed nothing (a blank amount) toward this fund.”

    No it’s just magic fairy dust money, not from the General Fund but STILL from the taxpayers. And perhaps illegal to boot. Guess if Council is gutless is repealing it (or like ONE council member, so arrogant she’d gladly raise it to TWO per cent if she could) or the City Attorney in issuing a written opinion, we’ll like see this taken to court in the near future.

  14. By Jack F
    November 21, 2010 at 12:04 pm | permalink

    “Percentage-wise, that’s 28% from water; 68% from sanitary sewer, and 0.04% from stormwater. Kunselman indicated that he would leave that for his counsel colleagues to contemplate and for the city attorney to tell him whether it was legal or not. City attorney Stephen Postema did not respond.”

    Kind of like George W. Bush saying waterboarding was legal because the ‘lawyers told him it was ok’.

  15. By Jack F
    November 21, 2010 at 12:07 pm | permalink

    “Briere established with Clein that the fountain would not operate as a fountain for nearly half the year. Clein suggested that there might not be water, but that there was a possibility that the water would freeze on the fountain in a way that was aesthetically pleasing”


  16. By suswhit
    November 21, 2010 at 1:04 pm | permalink

    Re [15]: That is a good one! LOL! I hope they’ve planned for extra parking to accommodate the throngs of people this will bring downtown.

  17. November 21, 2010 at 1:29 pm | permalink

    RE: [13] “… or like ONE council member, so arrogant she’d gladly raise it to TWO per cent …”

    The apparent reference seems to be to this line of the report: “Teall noted that other communities have public art programs that range from 0.5% to 2%” I think it’s inaccurate to characterize Teall’s comments that evening as indicating a willingness to raise the public art allocation to 2%. It’s possible that the intended reference was to some other councilmember on some other occasion, but I’m not aware of any such occasion.

    That said, I think the public art program is a good occasion to reflect on the general disconnect at all levels of governance between (1) our expectations of what government should provide and (2) how much it costs to meet those expectations. I think it’s fair to say that there’s a consensus — not unanimous by any means, but still a consensus — that the arts are important to Ann Arbor as a community, and that it’s appropriate to use public money to support the arts. That is, we as a community expect the local government to provide support for the arts. Fine.

    But when push comes to shove, we as a community don’t have as great a consensus that we really want to pay for that support. Why don’t I think so? Part of the rationale for funding the public art program through capital investments we’d make anyway is based on the idea that 1% is still less that the 10% contingency that is built into all capital projects — money that would be spent anyway.

    Is this really part of the rationale? Yes. In addition to McCormick’s remarks at Monday’s meeting, consider this passage from a December 2009 AAPAC meeting:

    Currently, the percent for art comes out of a project’s contingency fund, which is typically 10% of the total project, Parker said. The half percent would likely remain in the contingency fund, she said. Zuellig, a landscape architect who also serves on the Ypsilanti planning commission, said she doesn’t recall ever seeing a project that ended up with anything left over in its contingency fund. Unless there’s a political reason not to spend it, she said, if it’s in the budget, it gets spent.

    What is said in support of the public art program is not: We think the arts are important, and we’ll reach into our pocketbooks and pay for it. Instead what we’re saying is: We think the arts are important, and we have been clever enough to figure out a way to fund it without it costing anything. It doesn’t cost us any dollars that could be spent on fire protection, on police protection or anything else — so goes the narrative.

    But the simple fact is that more that $2 million in funding has accumulated into this program since its inception. This is not a di minimus amount of cash. It could be used to buy a couple more feet of water mains, stormwater drains, or fix a few more potholes. So it does cost something — indeed it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that every capital project costs 1% more than it would in the absence of the 1% program. And that’s why the narrative that implies it’s somehow not really costing anything strikes many residents as disingenuous.

    Further, if they’re being interpreted correctly by the city attorney, the legal requirements involved in drawing money from various funds make it impossible to fund a broad range of activities that it would be desirable to fund — if we as a community really want to support the arts with public money. The performing arts, for example, are completely left out of the equation.

    Steve Bean’s suggestion that the funding of a public art program should most appropriately come from a millage dedicated to the arts would have two effects: (1) establish whether there really is a connection between the local community’s consensus that we want to use public money to support the arts and the local community’s willingness to pay for that support (2) allow a broad range of activities and different kind of artists to be supported with public money.

    Here’s a back-of-the-napkin millage rate calculation for what kind of millage rate could support some public art in Ann Arbor. A rate of .025 mill would generate a little over $100,000 per year. That’s comparable to what we spend explicitly every year on economic development in the form of general fund support to SPARK — $75,000. A .025 mill tax would cost the owner of a $200,000 house, with taxable value of $100,000, about $2.50 a year. So the question for taxpayers would become: Are you willing to reach into your pocket and take out $2.50 [give or take, depending on your property taxes] and hand it to the city government to invest in support for the arts? My guess is that better than 50% of Ann Arborites would actually vote for that, even given the current economic climate.

  18. November 21, 2010 at 2:56 pm | permalink

    Good analysis (#17) but here is another point: if we wish to support “the arts” with tax dollars, is this (the Percent for Art) really the way to do it? Buying just a few examples of “public” art chosen by a committee?

    I’d think that there are many other ways “the arts” can be supported, including making it easier for local artists to work and live here. You hint at this in your paragraph about a hypothetical millage. I’d think that a 2-hour brainstorming session with any 10 Ann Arbor lovers of the arts could come up with a long laundry list of activities that might do more to support an active art presence here. I’ll name just one: how about some support for FestiFools?

    There is a hollowness to the current program, which clearly has caught the public imagination in a way deleterious to enjoyment of the arts, rather than otherwise. It reminds me of the continuous insistence that because Ann Arbor shows up on various award lists, we must be happily enjoying a better quality of life. It is the symbol of the thing, not its actual existence.

  19. By Jack Eaton
    November 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm | permalink

    The delay in the Area Height and Placement (AHP)zoning changes are not causing any investments to be put off. Current economic conditions have dried up available funding. Lenders are not willing to fund risky developments and there is little demand for new development.

    In addition to the economic reality, the AHP proposals seem ill-timed and poorly conceived. The zoning code changes encourage conduct that seems counterproductive.

    The AHP proposals encourage new, dense development at a time when the City is losing population. Additional housing units will increase the already high vacancy rates. High vacancy rates cause declining property values and declining property tax revenues.

    Currently, the population of Ann Arbor is less than it was ten years ago. SEMCOG estimates project that it will be decades before our population will increase beyond what it was in 2000. You cannot build your way out of a housing surplus.

    The AHP proposals encourage demolition and replacement development. That scheme incurs a significant carbon footprint which takes even the most energy-efficient new building decades to recover. The so-called “best practices” would replace most commercial development in areas like Washtenaw near US23 with high-rise, multi-use. All of the existing buildings would end up in a landfill. Retro-fitting the existing buildings would have a greater environmental impact.

    The City is pressing ahead on the AHP proposals as an ideological matter, in spite of the ill-effect that the zoning changes will have. Further delay in moving these changes forward are of little consequence. It’s too bad that they will eventually pass.