Ann Arbor Tweaks Art Law But Keeps 1%

At its Dec. 5, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave final approval to a revision of its public art ordinance – but without a provision that would have temporarily reduced the amount allocated from all capital project budgets to public art from 1% to 0.5%. The city has a law – enacted in 2007 – that requires 1% of all capital project budgets to include 1% for public art, with a limit of $250,000 per project. At its Nov. 21 meeting, the council gave initial approval to the ordinance amendments, which at that time had included a reduction of funding from 1% to 0.5%.

The reduction would have applied for just the next three years, from fiscal 2012-2015. That three-year timeframe was a key part of a sunsetting amendment to the public art ordinance – but that sunsetting also did not survive final approval on Monday night. The sunsetting amendment would have required that future funds reserved for public art under the ordinance must be encumbered within three years. Money that was unspent or unencumbered after three years would have been required to be returned to its fund of origin. The language of the amendment would have made  it possible for the council to extend the deadline for successive periods, each extension for no more than six months. But the sunsetting amendment did not win approval.

The unsuccessful sunsetting clause had been proposed in response to criticism about the pace at which public art has been acquired. More than $500,000 has accumulated for public art over the last five years just from projects funded with the street repair tax – money that has yet to be spent on the acquisition of public art. Critics of the program also point to legal issues connected with the use of dedicated millage funds or fee-based utility funds for public art.

The two amendments that did receive final approval by the council on Monday included a definition of capital improvement projects that excludes sidewalk repair from the ordinance requirement. Voters on Nov. 8 approved a new 0.125 mill tax that is supposed to allow the city to take over responsibility for the repair of sidewalks. Previously, sidewalk repair was paid for by adjacent property owners.

The amendments also excluded the public art ordinance from applying to any capital projects funded out of the general fund. Such projects are rare. Jane Lumm (Ward 2) characterized the limited set of amendments, compared to the original proposal, as “watered down.”

As with all changes to city ordinances, a public hearing was held before the council took its second vote on the public art ordinance amendments. The majority of speakers spoke against the idea of reducing the 1% funding. [Additional Chronicle coverage: "Council Preview: Public Art Ordinance"]

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]