Street, Sidewalk Millages To Go on Nov. Ballot

At its Aug. 4, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council approved language for the Nov. 8 ballot that would renew the street and bridge reconstruction millage, at a rate of 2.0 mills, which was last approved by voters in November 2006 for five years beginning in 2007 and ending in 2011. A tax rate of 1 mill is equivalent to $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

As a separate proposal on the ballot, voters will be asked if they support an additional 0.125 mill to pay for sidewalk repair. Up to now, sidewalk repair has been the responsibility of property owners.

The ballot language for the street repair millage will read: “Shall the Charter be amended to authorize a tax up to 2 mills for street and bridge reconstruction for 2012 through 2016 to replace the previously authorized tax up to 2 mills for street reconstruction for 2007 through 2011, which will raise in the first year of levy the estimated revenue of $9,091,000?”

The ballot language for the sidewalk portion of the street repair millage will read: “Shall the Charter be amended to authorize a tax increase of up to 0.125 mills for 2012 through 2016 in addition to the street and bridge resurfacing and reconstruction millage of 2 mills for 2012 through 2016, which 0.125 mills will raise in the first year of levy the estimated additional revenue of $563,000, to provide a total of up to 2.125 mills for sidewalk trip hazard repair in addition to street and bridge reconstruction and resurfacing? This Charter amendment shall not take effect unless the proposed Charter amendment to authorize the levy of a tax in 2012 through 2016 of up to 2 mills for the purpose of providing funds for the reconstruction and resurfacing of streets and bridges (Proposal 1) is approved.”

If both millage proposals were to be approved by voters, the money would be collected under a single, combined millage – but accounting for reconstruction activity would be done separately for streets and sidewalks.

The separation of the question into two proposals can be explained in part by a summary of responses to the city’s online survey on the topic of slightly increasing the street repair millage to include sidewalk repairs. Sidewalk repairs have up to now been the responsibility of property owners. The survey reflects overwhelming sentiment from the 576  survey respondents (filtered for self-reported city residents) that it should be the city’s responsibility to repair the sidewalks.

The survey reflects some resistance to the idea that an increase in taxes is warranted. From the free-responses: “Stop wasting taxpayer money on parking structures, new city buildings, and public art. You are spending money like drunken sailors while we’re in the worst recession since the Great Depression.” Balanced against that are responses like this: “I strongly endorse the idea of the city taking responsibility for maintaining the sidewalks and am certainly willing to pay for it in the form of a millage in the amount cited in this survey.” [.pdf of survey response summary]

An amendment to the resolution approved by the council on Aug. 4 directs the city attorney to prepare a change to the city’s sidewalk ordinance relative to the obligation of property owners to maintain sidewalks adjacent to their property.

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]