Archive for May, 2011

Ann Arbor Council Finally Passes Budget

At the May 31, 2011 session of its meeting that had begun two weeks before, on May 16, the Ann Arbor city council finally approved its FY 2012 budget. The budget as proposed totals roughly $78 million in general fund revenues and tapped the reserves for a bit more than $1 million.

At their May 16 meeting, councilmembers had chosen to recess the meeting until 7 p.m. on Monday, May 23, 2011 because of uncertainty about the status of a new parking agreement with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. The decision to recess the meeting and continue it a week later was driven by a city charter requirement that the council adopt its budget no later than the second meeting in … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs Human Services Funding

At the May 31, 2011 session of its meeting that had begun two weeks before, on May 16, the Ann Arbor city council approved a resolution to allocate $1,244,629 in funding to nonprofits in the city that provide human services. At the same meeting, the council approved an amendment to its FY2012 budget that drew $85,600 from the city’s general fund reserve to increase the human services allocation.

The original $1,159,029 amount to be allocated reflected a 9% reduction from FY 2011 human services funding levels. The council had postponed consideration of the human services allocation at its May 2, 2011 meeting in order to explore ways of “finding another dime.”

The city’s support for human services is allocated in coordination with … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Approves Fee Changes

At the May 31, 2011 session of its meeting that had begun two week before, on May 16, resumed briefly on May 23, only to be immediately recessed, the Ann Arbor city council approved a raft of fee changes in the community services and public services area. They included items in parks and recreation services like bumping daily admission at public swimming pools from $4 to $5. Fee changes also included items like increasing fees for removal of utility poles in the right-of-way from $70 to $72.50 – the charge for each additional pole increased from $27 to $28.75. [.pdf of all fee changes as proposed]

An attempt was made to eliminate a new $45 monthly fee for downtown trash … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Postpones Water Main Study

At the May 31, 2011 session of its meeting that had begun two weeks before, on May 16, the Ann Arbor city council again postponed a $208,984 contract with AECOM for a study of its water distribution system. The issue will be taken up at the council’s July 5 meeting.

The money for the study, which dates from a 2007 request for proposals (RFP), was allocated in the fiscal year 2011 budget of the city’s water fund. The level of service (LOS) study to be done by AECOM would recommend a sustainable level of service for the city’s water distribution system, and determine how much investment it would take to achieve that level. The study would also help the city decide, … [Full Story]

City Accepts Prior Payment for Excess TIF

At the May 31, 2011 session of its meeting that had begun two week before, on May 16, resumed briefly on May 23, only to be immediately recessed, the Ann Arbor city council agreed to accept prior contributions of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority toward city of Ann Arbor projects as payment for the city’s share of excess tax increment finance (TIF) capture that the DDA has received since 2003.

At a special meeting on Friday, May 20, the DDA had calculated that a total of $1,185,132 should be returned to taxing authorities that levy property taxes in the downtown district. The city’s share of that is $711,767. The council’s resolution states that the acceptance of prior contributions to city … [Full Story]

Council Ratifies Parking Contract, Backstop

At the May 31, 2011 session of its meeting that had begun two weeks before, on May 16, the Ann Arbor city council voted to ratify its side of a contract with the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority to continue to manage the city’s public parking system. The contract would transfer 17% of the parking system’s gross revenues to the city. An amendment offered by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) to retain a veto for the city council on parking rates failed on a 2-9 vote, getting support only from Briere and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3).

The vote on the contract was unanimous.

The DDA had ratified its side of the deal at a special meeting convened last Friday, May 27. The contract, which has now been ratified by both the city and the DDA, would give the DDA the sole authority to set parking rates. Under the old contract, the DDA proposed rate changes, which were then automatically enacted unless the city council acted to veto them. The new contract requires consultation by the DDA with the city on parking rate changes.

As part of the contract, the city council also approved an “underwriting” or “backstopping” clause to the contract, which is to run over an initial 11-year term, with one 11-year renewal option. Key features of that clause include: (1) it’s applicable only through 2016; (2) it’s triggered if combined the DDA fund balance falls below $1 million; (3) the trigger is evaluated based on the annual audit of DDA books in September or October, for the previous fiscal year; (4) if underwriting were triggered, it would take the form of reducing existing payments that the DDA makes to the city; (5) the city’s liability is limited to $1 million annually and $2 million cumulatively; and (6) any money the city is deprived of through this underwriting would be restored to the city, at whatever point the DDA’s cumulative fund balance reaches $4 million.

During the parking contract discussion, Kunselman did not offer a planned resolution that would have amended the city’s fiscal year 2012 budget by transferring the balance in the DDA’s parking fund to the city, eliminating two DDA employees, and using the proceeds of that move to fund police officer positions.

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

Report Shows Impact of Nonprofits on Economy

The city of Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County office of community development released a 16-page report on Tuesday, May 31, that attempts to quantify the economic impact of the 37 local nonprofits that are funded by the county and city. In 2011, the combined investments from the city and county in those nonprofits totaled $2.7 million. According to the report, those funds leveraged more than $34 million in non-local revenue.[.pdf of nonprofit investment report]

The report highlights six “return on investment” categories: (1) stabilizing the workforce and community by providing services like childcare, food and affordable housing; (2) leveraging millions of dollars in additional funding; (3) providing jobs – if combined, human services nonprofits funded by the city and county … [Full Story]

A2: Film

Michigan Movies and More posts some photos taken at the “Five Year Engagement” shoot in downtown Ann Arbor. ”Early this morning filming was happening in front of Grazi and the Chop House on Main St in Ann Arbor. Jason Segel was there, switching from T-shirt to winter clothes between takes which involved him waiting outside the Chop House and going into Grazi.” [Source]

A2: Mackinac Conference

The Detroit News reports on the dust-up from comments by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who objected to adding Washtenaw County to a panel of southeast Michigan government leaders at this week’s Mackinac Policy Conference. Conan Smith, chair of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, will be joining Patterson, Detroit mayor David Bing and leaders from Macomb and Wayne counties in a June 3 panel titled ”Strengthening Southeast Michigan Through Collaboration.” [Source] A Michigan Live post also looks at Patterson’s recent comments. [Source]

Plymouth & Barton

Between Traver & Plymouth: AARR train placing crushed stone where tracks washed out; looks nearly fixed. [photo] [Stopped.Watched. series starting May 25: embankment failure]

Update: Crew spreading stone: [photo] Additional equipment waiting nearby, west of Traver: [photo]

Hill & State

Sounds like the Ann Arbor Railroad is going through downtown to test out the repair work up on Traver and Bowen. I’m at Hill and State and hearing it blow its horn.

A2: Girl Scout Cookies

Time magazine reports on efforts by two Ann Arbor Girl Scouts – Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen – to eliminate palm oil from Girl Scout cookies. ”Last week Vorva and Tomtishen had a two-hour meeting at the organization’s national headquarters in New York City, and the group agreed to research palm oil to see if they can get more of the ingredient sustainably, or replace it. The entire campaign is a reminder that one of the most effective ways to achieve environmental change is to engage the major companies and organizations that source natural resources from around the world, and pressure them to change.” [Source]

Liberty & Ashley

Windows and door of Old Town are draped – the restaurant is closed and being used for staging and a shoot of “Five Year Engagement.” [photo] A base camp of trailers and tents for the film is set up at the DTE/MichCon property off of Broadway. [photo]

Third & Washington

Near Third and W. Washington: pieces of wood flew off the back of a truck; they came back and picked it up. [photo]

DDA Finalizes Its Side of Parking Deal

Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority special board meeting (May 27, 2011): At a special DDA board meeting held at noon on Friday, board members voted to give final approval to a contract under which the DDA would continue to manage the city’s public parking system. The vote was unanimous among the 10 board members who attended. Absent were Gary Boren and Newcombe Clark.

Roger Hewitt John Hieftje Leah Gunn

(Left to right): DDA board members Roger Hewitt, mayor John Hieftje, and Leah Gunn at the special May 27 DDA board meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

The financial part of the contract calls for the city to receive 17% of gross revenues from the public parking system, and would have an initial term of 11 years, with one renewal option for another 11 years. That would end the contract in 2033, which coincides with the DDA’s currently established endpoint.

The contract includes a new underwriting clause for the DDA’s fund balance. Key features of that clause are: (1) it’s applicable only through 2016; (2) it’s triggered if combined DDA fund balance fall below $1 million; (3) the trigger is evaluated based on the annual audit of DDA books in September or October, for the previous fiscal year; (4) if underwriting were triggered, it would take the form of reducing existing payments that the DDA makes to the city; (5) the city’s liability is limited to $1 million annually and $2 million cumulatively; and (6) any money the city is deprived of through this underwriting would be restored to the city, at whatever point the DDA’s cumulative fund balance reaches $4 million.

After brief deliberations, the DDA board voted unanimously to ratify the contract, which now includes the underwriting clause. [.pdf of ratified draft contract]

With that vote, the DDA board also approved a new contract clause that specifies how the DDA board and city council will handle a contractually required consultation between the two groups, in conjunction with parking rate changes. The consultation by the DDA will now be a required agenda item at annual joint working sessions between the DDA board and the city council. Currently, the DDA proposes rate changes, which are automatically enacted, unless the city council vetoes them. The new contract stipulates that the DDA would have sole authority to set rates.

The city council may now ratify the parking contract on Monday, May 31, which would help settle part of the city’s revenue issues in its fiscal year 2012 budget. It would allow the council to finalize its budget on that same evening. [For additional background, see Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Council Defers Action Again"]

Councilmembers Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) sat in the audience of the DDA’s May 27 meeting. On May 31, the contract could face stiff opposition from at least those two, and possibly other councilmembers. After the DDA’s May 27 board meeting, Kunselman characterized the underwriting clause to The Chronicle as a “no-layoff clause for the DDA.”

Another lingering DDA issue that could result in discussion not just by the Ann Arbor city council – but also by the Washtenaw Community College board of trustees, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, and the Ann Arbor District Library board – is the return of excess TIF capture by the DDA. [Full Story]

A2: MIA in Iraq

The Detroit News talks to the family of Staff Sgt. Ahmed Altaie, an Army reservist from Ann Arbor who’s been missing in action in Iraq for five years and is now the last missing POW there. His wife, Israa Sultan, says she’s worried about what will happen when the military pulls out of Iraq later this year. A military spokesman says they’ll continue to search for Altaie. [Source]

School Board Calls Extra Session on Budget

Ann Arbor Public Schools board of education meeting (May 25, 2011): The May 25 meeting of the AAPS board of education opened on a somber note, with board president Deb Mexicotte requesting a moment of silence to honor Huron High School junior Seth Harsch, who died Tuesday after stepping in front of a train. Mexicotte noted that crisis counselors have been on hand at Huron to offer support to students and staff, who are dealing with the loss to their community.

A handful of residents addressed the board during a public hearing on the proposed 2011-12 AAPS budget. The board will hold an additional study session on the budget on Fri., June 3 at 3:30 p.m. in the main conference room of the Balas administration building, and the public is invited.

The session will focus on prioritizing objectives, in case the finalization of the state budget leads to greater revenue for the district than initially expected. If revenue projections increase, the board may choose to restore high school busing, decrease class sizes, or make other amendments to the currently proposed budget. A final vote on the budget is scheduled for June 8.

Public commentary on the Haisley Elementary School parking lot continued. Although many of the speakers requested additional changes to the design, the board approved the proposal as it had been presented at the board’s first briefing, along with a host of other facilities improvement projects. Trustees also approved the purchase of a new standardized assessment tool, the Northwest Evaluation Association Assessment (NWEA), primarily for use in grades K-5.

Late in the meeting, which lasted over seven hours, the board engaged in a frank discussion regarding the Washtenaw Intermediate School District’s (WISD’s) budget as it relates to state reimbursement of special education services as well as local tax levies. Though trustees eventually passed a proposal in support of the budget, some board members registered strong concerns.

Finally, the board heard first briefings on a number of other items, including the 2011 millage resolution that will accompany the final budget vote, and updates on both the AAPS strategic plan and a set of board policies. [Full Story]

Public Art Commission: “Get the Word Out”

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (May 25, 2011): Wednesday’s AAPAC meeting began with introductions – commissioners were meeting the city’s new public art administrator, Aaron Seagraves, for the first time.

Public art signs

Signs designed by the Ann Arbor public art commission's public relations committee, featuring a QR code for smart phones that directs people to AAPAC's website. (Photos by the writer.)

Seagraves, who started his job earlier this month, had already attended a neighborhood forum for a proposed mural project at Allmendinger Park – five residents showed up, he reported.

That low attendance reflected one theme touching several topics throughout this month’s AAPAC meeting – the need to get the word out about various public art projects. Three nominations had been received so far for the annual Golden Paintbrush awards, with a deadline of May 30. And only two people had responded to a request seeking artists for public art in the lobby of the city’s new municipal center, at the corner of Fifth and Huron. A deadline for submission has been extended through mid-July, in hopes that additional artists will respond.

Commissioners also got updates on the Herbert Dreiseitl sculpture – expected to be installed in front of the renovated city hall in August – and on plans for public art in the proposed Fuller Road Station. Though Fuller Road Station hasn’t been formally approved, a task force is working on placing public art at the structure. The station will be a large parking facility, bus depot and possible train station that would be jointly built by the city of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan.

Finally, commissioners wrapped up the meeting with their only action item: Electing Malverne Winborne as vice chair. [Full Story]

Barton & Traver

Damaged chimney at Northside Elementary School on Saturday, after getting hit by lightning last week. It looks like they put in a temporary fix with plywood. [photo]

Plymouth & Barton

Photo of Saturday’s railroad repair taken by Norm Kerr. [photo] Notice the new rails ready to go – just off to one side. Rumor has it they’ll be back in business as early as May 31!

Liberty & Main

Man in a werewolf/wookie(?) mask playing beautiful tunes on his fiddle. [photo]

Argo Dam

Pulling catfish from high water at Argo Dam spillway.

Ypsi: GM’s Willow Run

Lisa Waud of Pot & Box posted a collection of photos and videos she shot at GM’s Willow Run plant, which was opened to the public prior to an auction there this month. GM had closed the sprawling auto plant last year. [Source]

Ashley & Washington

Lured to Mark’s Carts by the scent of roasted meat. Jay Scott, who owns Debajo del Sol, tells me he’s cooking the inaugural paella in his new paella grill. [photo] Hard to tell if the great smells come from his paella, or the nearby Humble Hogs and The Lunch Room carts – all are open for dinner.

Transit Center Construction Manager Hired

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (May 19, 2011): In a relatively brief meeting, the AATA board handled two pieces of business: (1) approving a contract with its CEO Michael Ford; and (2) hiring a construction manager for the reconstruction of the Blake Transit Center, AATA’s downtown hub.


This AATA-owned parcel, where Blake Transit Center is located, sits in the middle of the block bounded by Fourth and Fifth avenues on the west and east, and by Liberty and William streets on the north and south. Among the outstanding issues in a project to rebuild BTC is discussions with the city of Ann Arbor over a city-owned 6-foot-wide strip that runs along the southern edge of the parcel’s western half. (Image links to higher resolution view. Parcel map and aerial photo from Washtenaw County’s website:

The contract with Ford renews annually on Oct. 1 unless terminated by Ford or the AATA. Ford will earn the same salary as he did previously – $160,000 – but will receive a lump sum payment equal to 4% of his salary dating from July 20, 2009, when he was first hired. Board members uniformly praised Ford’s work for the AATA since he was hired in the summer of 2009.

Approval of the construction manager contract for the downtown Blake Transit Center sets up the reconstruction project possibly to begin in earnest later this year. AATA has so far declined to release any schematics or drawings of the proposed new transit center to the public, citing as-yet-unfinalized details, including issues related to a city-owned 6-foot-wide strip on the southern edge of the parcel’s western half.

The new transit center will be built on the same AATA-owned parcel where BTC is currently located, between Fourth and Fifth avenues, north of William Street and a city-owned surface parking lot. The current building sits at the northwest corner of the parcel, long Fourth Avenue – buses enter from Fifth Avenue and exit onto Fourth Avenue. The planned design calls for a new building to be constructed kitty-corner on the parcel from the existing building, which would be demolished. The new transit center would sit at the southeast corner of the parcel – buses would enter from Fourth Avenue and exit onto Fifth Avenue.

At its meeting, the board also heard its usual range of reports and commentary. Among those reports, Ford told the board that two local governments – Ann Arbor Township and Superior Township – have voted to sign an Act 7 agreement. That’s a step that will allow their joint participation and representation in a countywide transit authority. [Full Story]

Liberty & Main

Drunken Pig Productions finished filming around Main Street, staff now working hard to clean up artificial snow flakes.