Ann Arbor to Consider 4-Way Transit Accord

At a working session of the Ann Arbor city council on Dec. 12, 2011, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford described the legal and governance mechanisms by which the AATA would like to transition to offering countywide transportation services. [For general background on a variety of transportation issues, see recent Chronicle coverage: "Washtenaw Transit Talk in Flux"]

A key part of the transition to countywide service is a four-party agreement to be struck between the AATA, Washtenaw County, the city of Ypsilanti and the city of Ann Arbor. Highlights of the four-party agreement include the role of Washtenaw County – it would approve, sign and file the articles of incorporation for the new transit authority, under Act 196 of 1986. AATA currently operates under Act 55 of 1963.

Under the draft four-party agreement, cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti would pledge their existing transit taxes to the new Act 196 authority, instead of the AATA. For Ann Arbor, that’s currently just over 2 mills. For Ypsilanti, which uses the proceeds of the tax (approved in November 2010) to fund its purchase-of-service agreement with the AATA, the levy is just under 1 mill. [One mill is $1 for each $1,000 of taxable value of a property.] The city millage proceeds would only go to the new transit authority, after a dedicated countywide funding source for that authority is identified.

Also under the terms of the draft four-party agreement, AATA’s assets (land, buses, facilities, etc.) would be turned over to the new Act 196 authority, but only after a countywide funding source is identified. The draft four-party accord specifies a voter-approved funding source, to be passed no later than Dec. 31, 2014, as a contingency for the transfer of assets to the new Act 196 authority. At the working session, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) asked that the four-party agreement stipulate that Ann Arbor’s transit tax only be transferred to the new Act 196 authority, if a millage were to gain a plurality of votes within the city of Ann Arbor.

Under scenarios currently being discussed, if voters countywide are asked to support a millage, Ann Arbor’s current transit tax would also remain in place. The time frame specified in the draft four-party agreement means that there are three opportunities in a general election to ask voters to support countywide transit by agreeing to a tax: in 2012, 2013 and 2014. At the working session, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) questioned how the transit service benefits to city of Ann Arbor taxpayers would be guaranteed. They wanted to ensure that the burden on Ann Arbor taxpayers would be equitably shared with Washtenaw County taxpayers outside of the city.

Recent discussions at the state level have explored the idea of creating enabling legislation for a regional transit authority that could be funded in part by vehicle registration fees. Depending on how that legislation is crafted, local units might be able to impose vehicle registration fees to fund transit without a voter referendum. If that is the scenario that unfolds – i.e., no voter referendum is held, but a countywide funding source is identified – it’s not clear whether the conditions of the draft four-party agreement would be met. [link to annotated .pdf file of four-way draft agreement]

The city council is expected to consider its vote on the four-party agreement at its second meeting in December (Dec. 19) or in January 2012.