Council Debates Public Transit, Sets Hearing

Also: stormwater, wetland projects OK'd; election pay bumped

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Jan. 9, 2012): The council’s first meeting of the year included: a metaphor comparing AATA buses to white blood cells; a desire to “inoculate” Ann Arbor against loss of control over its local bus system; and a fair number of councilmembers needling each other.

Christopher Taylor, Jane Lumm Ann Arbor city council

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) and Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) continued to hash through their differences after the Jan. 9, 2012 meeting was adjourned. (Photos by the writer.)

In the end, the council opted to delay voting on a four-way accord between the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County. The agreement among the four parties would set up a framework for, and contingencies on, the transition of the AATA to a countywide transit authority, incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986. AATA currently operates under Act 55 of 1963.

The transition to a countywide funding base is intended to (1) ensure stability of funding for transit connections outside of the city of Ann Arbor, which has until now depended on purchase-of-service agreements; (2) provide a higher level of transit service inside the city of Ann Arbor; and (3) expand the area where transit service is provided.

The council’s vote was to delay the decision just for one meeting – until Jan. 23. The council also voted to set a public hearing for that date.

In other substantive action on the four-party agreement, the council amended it to stipulate that Ann Arbor’s transit tax would only be transferred to the new Act 196 authority if approval of a millage were to gain a majority of votes within the city of Ann Arbor.

In other business, the council gave initial approval to a revision of the Arlington Square planned unit development (PUD), located on the southeast corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Huron Parkway. The changes will allow for additional types of uses at the site – restaurants and an urgent care facility. Questions were raised about the number of existing parking spaces on the site.

The council also approved the set of fees associated with its property assessed clean energy (PACE) program, which was established last year.

In additional business, the council approved petitions to the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner for several stormwater projects, and approved a wetland mitigation plan for the Wheeler Service Center on Stone School Road. The council also authorized a pay increase for election workers who staff the polls on election day.

At the start of the meeting, councilmembers received an update on the skatepark planned for the northeast corner of Veterans Memorial Park. With most of the funding now in place, construction looks like it will start late in 2012 or the spring of 2013.

Four-Party Countywide Transportation Agreement

At the Jan. 9 meeting, the council considered a four-way accord between the city of Ann Arbor, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (AATA), the city of Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County. The agreement among the four parties would set up a framework for, and contingencies on, the transition of the AATA to a countywide transit authority, incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196 of 1986. AATA currently operates under Act 55 of 1963.

The council had held a working session on the subject on Dec. 12, and at that time councilmembers were told to expect the agreement to be on the agenda at their last meeting of the year, or else in January.

One expected move did not materialize at the council’s Jan. 9 meeting but was mentioned during deliberations as a possibility: To change the proposed balance of representation on the board of a new countywide transit authority. The idea would be to add another seat representing Ann Arbor on the board.

The proposed balance of 7 Ann Arbor seats on a 15-member board has been publicly discussed as early as April 2011. When presented to the Washtenaw County board of commissioners on April 7, 2011, the 7/15 Ann Arbor representation was met with objection from some commissioners as too-heavily weighted with Ann Arbor appointees.

If approved, the four-way agreement would assign specific conditions and responsibilities to each of the parties as part of the transition to a countywide transit authority. The role of approving, signing and filing the articles of incorporation for the new transit authority would fall to Washtenaw County. [.pdf of draft articles of incorporation]

The transition to a countywide funding base is intended to (1) ensure stability of funding for transit connections outside of the city of Ann Arbor, which has until now depended on purchase-of-service agreements; (2) provide a higher level of transit service inside the city of Ann Arbor; and (3) expand the area where transit service is provided. The service plan is laid out in two volumes of the transit master plan. [.pdf of "Volume 1: A Transit Vision for Washtenaw County"] [.pdf of "Volume 2: Transit Master Plan Implementation Strategy"]

A two-volume document on funding options forms the third part of the transit master plan. [.pdf of Part 1 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options] [.pdf of Part 2 of Vol. 3 Transit Master Plan Funding Options]. A financial advisory group, led by McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and retired Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel, has met since late 2011 to analyze those funding options.

The role of the two cities – Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – would be to pledge their current transit millages to the new authority, contingent on identifying a countywide funding source. The two cities currently levy millages that are designated for public transit and are passed through to 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 a property's taxable value.]

As part of the four-party agreement, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor would agree that AATA’s existing assets would be assumed by the new Act 196 transit authority. The cities would also agree to assign their existing millages to the new Act 196 authority. But the asset transfer and the millage assignment would be contingent on identifying a countywide funding source for the new Act 196 authority.

A draft four-party agreement was circulated around the time of the Dec. 12 Ann Arbor city council working session on that topic. One difference between the Dec. 12 version and the Jan. 9 version is the explicit contemplation in the more recent document of a countywide funding source that would not necessarily take the form of a millage. But the result was a document that appears to contain an internal tension. In one paragraph of the Jan. 9 version, the alternative to a millage is described as funds “which do not require voter approval.” But in a different paragraph, the funding source (not necessarily a millage) is described as having “countywide voter approval.”

The modification to the agreement since Dec. 12 is driven in part by discussions at the state level that 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. The modification is also driven in part by the possibility that philanthropic or private-public partnerships could fund countywide transit – an idea that the financial advisory group has discussed. That group’s final meeting is scheduled for Jan. 27.

The Ann Arbor city council is now expected to vote on the four-party agreement at its Jan. 23 meeting after a public hearing on the issue.

[For general background on a variety of transportation issues, see recent Chronicle coverage: "Washtenaw Transit Talk in Flux" and "AATA Preps Stage for Future Transit Choice"]

Four-Party Transit: Public Comment

Several people who wanted to comment on the four-party transit agreement had signed up in advance of the meeting for one of the 10 slots available for public commentary.

Tim Hull introduced himself as a Ward 2 resident. He contended that for the four-party agreement to have any effect, it would need the support of eight councilmembers, citing the city charter requirement on abolishment of offices:

Meetings of the Council Section 4.4
(g) The affirmative vote of at least six members of the Council, or of such greater number as may be required by this charter, or other provisions of law, shall be required for the adoption or passage of any resolution or ordinance, or the taking of any official Council action. No office may be created or abolished, nor any street, alley, or public ground vacated, nor private property taken for public use, unless by a concurring vote of at least eight members of the Council.

By way of background, the four-party agreement expresses that when certain conditions are met, Ann Arbor will “take such necessary actions by its governing body [i.e., the city council] to terminate its operational agreement with AATA effective at closing;” and that Ann Arbor will designate the new authority as AATA’s successor. It’s Hull’s contention that this process amounts to an “abolishment” of the existing office of AATA board member.

Hull also expressed concern that Ann Arbor would appoint just 7 of 15 board seats, when Ann Arbor residents might provide 2/3 of the funding – that’s unfair to Ann Arbor residents, Hull said.

As AATA CEO Michael Ford explained later in the meeting, the determination of the balance on the board began by looking at population – about 1/3 of the population of Washtenaw County lives in Ann Arbor. Compared to a population-based apportionment, the assignment of 7 seats to Ann Arbor reflects two additional seats – that is, based on population alone, Ann Arbor would get 5 out of 15 seats. Those two additional seats were justified by the additional millage (the city’s existing transit millage) that Ann Arbor would be contributing to the countywide authority. It’s the view of some residents, including Hull, that those 7 seats are not adequate to ensure Ann Arbor’s equitable representation on the Act 196 board, in light of the contribution of Ann Arbor’s existing millage.

Hull continued his remarks by expressed fear that the new authority could use Ann Arbor’s existing millage for services outside the city. He called some aspects of the proposed service plan “unfunded pipe dreams” that could only be funded by diverting Ann Arbor’s millage proceeds. Implementation by the AATA of the A2Express and park-and-ride lots brought cuts to other routes, Hull contended. He wondered about possible diversion of Ann Arbor millage money to support routes to the proposed Fuller Road Station. To expand service, more funding would be needed, Hull said, and new taxes would be required. He felt it is hard to see county residents outside the city of Ann Arbor voting for that. The idea of adopting a deficit this year to jump start the expansion of service, said Hull, is a dangerous gamble.

By way of background to remarks made by Henry Herskovitz during public commentary, the AATA currently faces a lawsuit over its rejection of a proposed advertisement that included the text, “Boycott ‘Israel’ Boycott Apartheid.” [For a detailed account, see Chronicle coverage: "Bus Ad Rejection Affirmed"]

Herskovitz told councilmembers that he’d addressed the AATA board at its Dec. 15, 2011 meeting to identify what he contends are conflicts of interests on the part of board members Jesse Bernstein, David Nacht and AATA legal counsel Jerry Lax in connection with that lawsuit. At the council’s Jan. 9 meeting, Herskovitz added the judge who’s hearing the case as someone who he contends has a conflict of interest – Mark Goldsmith. Herskovitz said that Goldsmith had served in a leadership capacity in the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League and owns Israeli bonds.

[By way of an update on the lawsuit, the result of a Jan. 4, 2012 telephone conference was to set a new deadline for the AATA to respond to the complaint and motions for preliminary injunction and a temporary restraining order. That date is Jan. 31, 2012. Replies to those responses are due on Feb. 14. Another telephone conference call among the parties and the judge is scheduled for Feb. 28.]

Vivienne Armentrout introduced herself as a Ward 5 resident. Armentrout told councilmembers that the question before them is not whether to begin a process toward creating a countywide transit system. Rather, she continued, the question is about how much control Ann Arbor will have over a system that is already in transition, using Ann Arbor’s tax base.

Armentrout pointed out that the ATAA is operating this year [on an approved budget for fiscal year 2012, from October 2011 through September 2012] with a $1 million deficit in a $30 million budget. That will leave the AATA with only three months of operating reserves, she said. The AATA is already operating as a regional authority – by incurring a deficit, she said. The AATA was effectively asking the council to continue to support a continued deficit until a funding source is identified – a process the four-party agreement allows three full years to complete. Armentrout contended that by the time the deal closes, the first five years of the service plan would essentially be complete.

She invited the council to look at the articles of incorporation and to examine that document as closely as they did the four-party agreement. The articles describe the Act 196 authority’s powers, she said. She asked for clarification about how the transition to a new authority would work. The articles state that the new Act 196 authority would have the power to borrow from various sources, including private capital.

The board of the new authority would be seated within about 60 days of approval by the county. Does this mean that the new authority can take on obligation, even if the Ann Arbor transportation millage has not yet been transfered? Armentrout asked. Can the authority continue the “soft transition” to a countywide service plan while obligating the system to debt payments?

The plan calls for tax increases and fare increases in future years, Armentrout said. For example, she said, the plan calls for two high-capacity connector systems, which are capital intensive and will be costly to operate. The north-south high-capacity connector would use advanced technology and require major reconstruction of some of the city’s busiest streets, including State Street near the University of Michigan campus, she said. The first five years of the AATA’s transportation master plan (TMP) includes $4 million to initiate the high-capacity connector. Once in place, it’s expected to cost $4.5 million to operate it. By accepting the four-party agreement, the council would essentially be approving that project, because it’s a part of the TMP budget.

Armentrout told councilmembers that residents depend on them to make sure that Ann Arbor’s transit system is there for them. During Armentrout’s remarks several members of the audience stood to express their support.

George Gaston introduced himself as a Ward 1 resident. He described the four-party agreement as “too nebulous” to do anything with it. But he wanted to circle back to the proposed Fuller Road Station, which is proposed to be built on part of Fuller Park.

“We’re still here, we’re still paying attention,” he said. No votes have been taken, and Gaston said he and others are waiting for something to happen. It still looks like a parking deck for the University of Michigan, he said. That location is only ideal for the university, he contended. Gaston continued by contending that the idea of moving the Amtrak station to the Fuller Road location had come after UM had identified that location for a parking structure.

Gaston said that he’d looked at the parking capacity of the lots next to the current Amtrak station and said that the capacity exists for 170 cars – cars were parked everywhere they could be parked. If regional rail is added, demand will increase, he said. He wondered if it was planned to provide that parking to rail customers at Fuller Road Station and if it would be free of charge to customers as it is now.

Gaston noted that the Ann Arbor Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce is endorsing the Fuller Road Station. He said it was fun to develop things when you’re using other people’s money. He wondered if it’s really possible to sign a 75-year agreement legally – that seems like an awfully long time to commit future councils, and it will destroy the park, he contended. It just seems like a bad deal for the city, he said, because the university is paying for just part of the building they’re going to use, not for the land. He suggested renegotiating the deal. He observed that the DTE property would be a nice addition to the city’s park system. During his remarks several members of the audience stood to express their support.

Carolyn Grawi told the council she was speaking on her own behalf as a Ward 4 resident as well as on behalf of the Center for Independent Living and the disability community. She said she wanted to make sure that the countywide process goes forward in a way that allows all people to participate. Adding the item to the agenda on a Friday afternoon for a Monday meeting takes away from the ability of the community’s citizens to participate in the process. One reason that more transportation is needed is that currently transportation in the evening is difficult, she said.

Grawi said she was there to support the transit process. Ways to expand transit need to be found, she said – from lifeline to luxury services. We need to make sure that Ann Arbor’s funding is not diverted and that services are available here in Ann Arbor. She noted that she’d been assured in many different conversations that services would remain in Ann Arbor. She said she would like to see that in writing.

Grawi wanted Ann Arbor to say: We will participate, and our millage funds that we currently levy for Ann Arbor transit will be appropriated to Ann Arbor transit. As a disability community, the service is needed, she said. It’s needed to go to the grocery store and for health care, as well as for day-to-day activities such at attending school events. The services are needed as described in the TMP to increase economic development, she said.

Alan Haber

Alan Haber.

Alan Haber, who was listed on the printed agenda as “Robert Alan Haber,” quipped that the city clerk must have done some research to find that “Robert.” “I just go by Alan,” he smiled. Haber complained that the approach the city council is taking on the transportation issue is the same one it takes on many major questions.

Haber told the council he was for countywide transportation, but asked why there was no public hearing. The city had done the same thing with the construction of the underground parking garage [on South Fifth Avenue]. He contended that the city council didn’t really listen to the people on that occasion. During his remarks several members of the audience stood to express their support.

Robert Thomas introduced himself as a resident of Ward 1. He asked the council to support the four-party agreement. He compared cities to animals (mammals, not in the sense of an uncivilized creature). In the heart of Ann Arbor, he said, traffic circulates on major arteries like Washtenaw Avenue, and the parkland and trees are like the lungs of Ann Arbor. He said he’d push the analogy further to compare AATA buses to the white blood cells of the community. They “snap up the single-occupant car commutes,” he said, that damage air quality and occupy parking spaces.

The AATA buses also defend Ann Arbor from an inability to access employment and essential services, Thomas said. Transit also brings employers and employees, he said. The analogy breaks down, he allowed, because the white blood cells also brought a foreign element – him. He told the council he grew up in Wichita, Kansas, which is a car city by any definition. When he graduated, he said, he looked at employment in Ann Arbor, Boston and San Francisco. He said he was committed to living in a city where he would not need a car, and “Ann Arbor fits the bill – it’s fantastic.” It’s a higher quality of life and ensures that people young and old, differently abled and abled can enjoy the city.

In the last month, he said, he’d asked his coworkers to commit to getting downtown without using a car and without parking it in one of the parking structures. He expected maybe 10 people to sign up. But 35 of his coworkers committed to getting to downtown without parking downtown in the month of January. He said he hoped to double that number when the summer comes. Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County are the places he can reach on foot, by bicycle and on the bus. Countywide transit would allow the AATA to expand its service to more areas and to make its service more frequent. That would expand the tax base and provide more connections to other communities.

It’s like the town he loves has grown to be four times its size, Thomas said. He compared expanded transit to a scene in Harry Potter: When you tap a brick in the wall, Diagon Alley opens up. After reading the transit plan that AATA had put together, he said he was convinced that a countywide transit agency can be the solution to expanded transit services in Ann Arbor. It can preserve the quality of life for its citizens, and ensure that Ann Arbor is a destination for people and employees. Thompson’s remarks were received with a smattering of applause.

Conan Smith introduced himself as a Ward 5 resident. He also noted that he serves on the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. But he said he wanted to address councilmembers as a transit rider. In 2008, he said, he got rid of his car. In Michigan, it’s possible to do that in Lansing, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor. But to get to the Ypsilanti location of his office, it takes 45 minutes, he said. And it’s virtually impossible to get to metro Detroit in Ferndale where the other office of the Michigan Suburbs Alliance is located.

Smith invited councilmembers to think about the opportunity for those who live in Ann Arbor and lead a metropolitan lifestyle. He called Washtenaw County a special place, across its whole geography. He then waxed lyrical as he described the village of Manchester, breathing in its peace. He described the natural beauty of Rolling Hills Park and Independence Lake, which are part of the county parks system. Access to those places is difficult without transit that stretches across the whole county, he said.

The county board would be considering the issue in a couple of weeks, Smith noted. [Smith serves as chair of the board.] The county wants to be partners, he said. He hoped the council would give the agreement fair consideration and would let everyone take a walk down a path together. Smith’s remarks were received with a smattering of applause.

At the conclusion of the meeting, during the time allotted for public commentary, LuAnne Bullington told the council she’d moved to Ann Arbor 20 years ago. She’d attended many meetings over the course of those years and said she knows a lot about transit. Alluding to Ford’s frequent description of the AATA’s process as transparent, she asked the council: How transparent is nothing? She told the council they’d be throwing away any leverage they had by signing the four-party agreement.

Bullington said that what the council was not being told is that the Ypsilanti city council is holding back their vote to see what the Ann Arbor city council would do. She claimed that the intergovernmental agreements made among municipalities to form the districts corresponding to board seat representation on the new transit authority (made under Act 7) are starting to fall apart.

Bullington alluded to a meeting of the leaders of different transit authorities that the AATA had sought advice from, and she contended that they’d advised not to dissolve the AATA. She claimed that the desire to form an Act 196 authority stemmed from the fact that the AATA can’t ever run trains. [For Chronicle coverage of the meeting to which Bullington alluded, including discussion of the differences between transit authority governance structures and the role of "fixed guideways," see "AATA Gets Advice on Countywide Transit"]

Thomas Partridge told the council he was a fairly well-known resident and said he was a leader in a number of progressive causes. He criticized attitudes that catered to “selfish pockets of high-end neighborhoods” like he thought Jane Lumm’s neighborhood is. Partridge said a countywide transportation system is needed as soon as possible to protect the county’s most vulnerable residents.

Four-Party Agreement: Council Deliberations – Amendment on Ann Arbor Majority

In his remarks made during communications at the start of the Jan. 9 meeting, mayor John Hieftje said he would support having a public hearing in connection with anything the council might do. At that time he also expressed an interest in seeing the issue postponed for two weeks.

Discussion on the item began with the proposal of an amendment from Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), who sent it around to his colleagues by email.

The amendment reflected the same sentiment that Taylor had expressed at the Dec. 12, 2011 city council working session on the topic of the four-party transit accord. Already at that time he’d said he wanted the four-party agreement to stipulate that Ann Arbor’s transit tax would only be transferred to the new Act 196 authority if a new countywide millage were to gain a majority of votes within the city of Ann Arbor. That stipulation would guard against the possibility that a countywide millage failed among Ann Arbor voters, but was approved by a wide enough plurality in other jurisdictions that the millage passed.

The text of Taylor’s amendment reads as follows:

Ann Arbor Approval.
Notwithstanding anything in this Agreement to the contrary, if voters in the City of Ann Arbor fail to approve the NEW TA [transit authority] Act 196 funding source, regardless of whether it is approved or not by the other voting jurisdictions, then the City shall have the right to (i) withdraw from this Agreement without penalty;
(ii) veto any attempted termination by AATA of the AATA-City operation agreement; and
(iii) refuse to designate and/or assign its millage under Section 3(a).

Taylor described the amendment as imposing a requirement that Ann Arbor voters themselves approve any funding system. He said he was delighted by the drive towards a countywide transit system, saying it holds a great deal of promise. He described the amendment as making the transfer of the current Ann Arbor millage to a new authority contingent on a “plebiscite to that effect.”

Stephen Kunselman Conan Smith

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) took notes. Visible in the background seated in the audience is Washtenaw County commissioner Conan Smith, who addressed the council during public commentary.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) ventured that the city of Ypsilanti will want similar language inserted. In any case, he said he’d encourage Ypsilanti to do so. Kunselman said he’d support Taylor’s amendment. He said he’d spoken with an Ypsilanti councilmember who’d expressed some distress over where this is going. He noted that the city of Ypsilanti is having financial problems – there’s talk of an emergency financial manager. Kunselman noted that Ypsilanti’s budget operates under a “yoke called Water Street.” Kunselman indicated that he felt Ypsilanti would have to appeal to its voters just to keep the city afloat.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) indicated that from a practical standpoint, a millage would not pass countywide if it didn’t have a majority inside the city of Ann Arbor. But he asked Taylor to consider withdrawing the amendment in light of the likely postponement and public hearing. At that point, the council would have a chance to consider the issue more fully.

Responding to an invitation from Hieftje to respond to the amendment, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford indicated he didn’t have a problem with Taylor’s amendment. Responding to Hohnke’s suggestion to delay making amendments until the public hearing, Hieftje said he’d like to get the amendment in place – because Ford was amenable to it – before it was presented at the public hearing. Hohnke allowed that he saw the point of having the agreement in its entirety ready for comment.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) stated that she wanted to make sure she understood the amendment. She ventured that Taylor’s amendment meant that voters will be given an opportunity to approve any new transit authority funding source. Ford offered that the four-party agreement is just the framework for the decision.

Taylor clarified that the amendment says that the Ann Arbor subset of the county voters would have to approve the funding source, in order for Ann Arbor to assign its existing millage to the new transit authority. The intent, Taylor said, is to “inoculate us” against the unlikely scenario that a countywide vote is successful, but Ann Arbor votes against it. Lumm said she saw that as the least likely scenario. Taylor agreed with Lumm, but noted it’s not an “irrational” scenario. Lumm complained that the city doesn’t know what the funding source will be.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) then expressed some confusion about the placement of Taylor’s amendment within the document. He’d identified the new section as Article 9. [Part of the confusion appeared to stem from the fact that a separate document, the articles of incorporation, was included in the council's information packet. That's the document that the county board of commissioners will eventually be asked to approve.] It was clarified that the new section would be inserted after the originally-numbered paragraph 8, and the following paragraphs would be re-numbered 10, 11 and 12.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) noted that in the articles of incorporation it’s assumed that Ann Arbor’s millage would be transfered to the new authority. He wanted to know if Taylor’s amendment meant that Ann Arbor voters would be asked before the transfer of the millage. Taylor responded to Anglin saying that the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that whatever the new funding source is, a majority of Ann Arbor voters as a subset of the county must vote for it. If the funding source includes an additional millage, then voters would be educated on that prior to a vote. Anglin ventured that a vote would come in November 2012. Taylor replied that the amendment would apply whenever the popular vote is held.

Hohnke asked if Taylor was comfortable with the word “approve,” without a clarification that a majority of voters would need to vote for it. Assistant city attorney Mary Fales indicated it would be like any popular vote, where “approval” means supported by a majority.

Kunselman expressed concern that the funding may not come from a voter-approved millage. In that event, Taylor’s amendment would not give the desired protection. He asked for suggestions from Ford.

Michael Ford Sarah Pressprich

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority CEO Michael Ford and AATA community outreach coordinator Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz before the start of the Jan. 9 meeting.

Ford told Kunselman: “I don’t know that I have an answer.” Hiefte indicated that Kunselman was talking about a program that doesn’t exist. Ford said that if it’s a local millage, it would have to be voted on. Kunselman indicated his understanding was that a vehicle registration fee would require a vote.

Lumm characterized alternate funding sources as “speculative.” We have “no clue” what the funding mechanism would look like, she contended. There are lots of unknowns. She noted that the financial advisory group is scheduled to meet on Jan. 27 and it is supposed to issue a white paper. So that added information won’t come forward for some time, she said. Lumm told Taylor it’s difficult to see how his amendment would play out – because it’s unclear what the funding will be. Lots of citizens have suggestions for how the agreement can be “perfumed,” she said. Lumm said she was delighted that there will be a public hearing.

Anglin said that with respect to financing the countywide system, there’s even private financing that could be requested, as well as bonds. He stated that the council has no information on that. The finances of that are quite complicated, he said, whereas right now AATA funding is simple.

Smith summarized Taylor’s amendment as coming into play, if additional funds are requested of Ann Arbor taxpayers. Right now it’s drawn up to say that the existing millage would be used for Ann Arbor’s share of transit service, she said. The approval process of the amendment speaks to additional taxes requested of taxpayers. She concluded that the worst case scenario is that Ann Arbor gets more services for the same amount of tax money.

Ford responded to Smith’s summary by saying the four-party agreement is a framework with checks and balances.

Taylor followed up by saying that Ann Arbor, as the hub of the proposed countywide system, stands to gain a great deal from it. But if the city of Ann Arbor’s voters fail to approve the funding source, then the existing millage is not obligated. He said the amendment strikes him as a pretty simple proposition.

Lumm indicated she felt the council should postpone action on the amendment – there’s a lot of confusion, she contended. Lumm noted that Smith had indicated an understanding that the transfer of the existing AATA millage to the new transit authority would preserve transit services for Ann Arbor. But Lumm said she’d seen nothing in writing to that effect. Lumm stated that the council was feeding and stoking the confusion – it was no surprise because the council hasn’t seen the financing. Given the confusion that is evident among councilmembers, Lumm said, it might be in the best interest to postpone consideration of the amendment.

Hieftje said he didn’t feel any confusion – he supported the amendment, saying it protects Ann Arbor taxpayers. Kunselman said that he, too, would support the amendment. He added that he was not too keen on having on 7 of 15 board members appointed by Ann Arbor. Running buses past cornfields is very expensive, he said.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved Taylor’s amendment stipulating that Ann Arbor’s existing millage would not be obligated to the new transit authority in the event that a countywide popular vote on a funding source failed within the city of Ann Arbor.

Four-Party Agreement: Council Deliberations – Specific Language of Documents

Lumm identified four major steps in the process: (1) formation of the authority and ceding control to the new authority; (2) transferring Ann Arbor’s existing millage to the new authority; (3) transferring AATA’s assets and liabilities to the new authority; and (4) agreeing to ongoing funding of the new authority.

Lumm said she was confused by the language in paragraphs 2, 3, and 8 of the four-party agreement and wanted to be walked through the conditions required for each step.

Assistant city attorney Mary Fales summarized paragraph 2 as saying that the governing bodies of the city of Ann Arbor and the AATA [the city council and the AATA board, respectively] would agree on terminating the operating agreement in favor of the new transit authority. The AATA would take a written request to Washtenaw County, asking the county to create the new Act 196 authority. Lumm asked if that step could be completed without a popular vote. Yes, answered Fales.

Fales summarized paragraph 3 as stipulating that Ann Arbor’s existing millage would not be transfered to the new authority until the closing has occurred. Again Lumm asked if that step could occur without voter approval. Fales observed that the new transit authority would not receive AATA’s assets without the closing, and the closing doesn’t occur without countywide approval of new funding. Fales concluded that some kind of voter activity occurs before closing, and the transfer of assets doesn’t occur until after closing.

With respect to the agreement on ongoing funding of the new authority, Fales noted that Taylor’s amendment assured that if a popular countywide vote failed within the city of Ann Arbor, the city has the right not to agree to dissolve the AATA.

Tony Derezinski Jane Lumm

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2).

Lumm said that when she looked at paragraph 8(f), it describes the requirement of countywide voter approval. But other language indicates just that the council will be “apprised.” That’s what feeds her confusion, she said. Lumm stressed the need to cross-check the language in the document, telling Fales, “You’re the attorney, I’m not.” Lumm said she did not mean to be difficult, she was just confused.

Lumm continued, looking at paragraph 7 of the four-party agreement, which indicates that neither Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, or the city of Ypsilanti, would be required to pledge their full faith and credit to projects undertaken by the new transit authority.

But Lumm perceived an inconsistency with paragraph 7 and the language of the other document, the articles or incorporation, which describes the new transit authority’s ability to borrow and the city’s ability to pledge its full faith and credit in order to meet contractual obligations to the new authority. Fales responded to Lumm by saying the articles of incorporation served the purpose of establishing a new legal entity, while the four-party agreement is a safeguard. Fales explained that the two documents don’t agree in language because they serve two different purposes.

Four Party Agreement: Council Deliberations – Equity, Control in Governance

Lumm then moved to the topic of the makeup of the board of the new transit authority – 15 board members with 7 from Ann Arbor. She contended that under any scenario, Ann Arbor would pay more than half the bill, but would have less than half of the representation. What’s the rationale for that? she asked.

Ford responded to Lumm by explaining if any of the districts that correspond to the board seats opted out, there’d be no representation and there’d need to be a reconfiguration of the board. The balance of the board representation was based on population [Ann Arbor has 1/3 of the population of the county] but also factored in the fact that the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti have an existing transit millage. Ford described the political work to establish that balance as preceding his arrival on the job as CEO of the AATA.

Lumm said she’d seen an email from the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) that indicated an additional Ann Arbor representative might be added to the board. [The move to initiate that proposal was reportedly to come from Hieftje, but did not materialize at the meeting.] Lumm asked Ford if the change in the board composition had been discussed with him. Ford said the configuration with 15 members is one that had been talked about since the process started. Lumm told Ford she was more interested in the proportion of Ann Arbor’s representation. Ford indicated that he was not familiar with a discussion to change the board composition.

Kunselman wanted to know if Ann Arbor would see an increase in services. Where was The LINK in the service plan? Ford indicated that The LINK [a downtown circulator, which the AATA previously serviced with purple buses] is part of the service plan. Kunselman wanted to know if there was a plan for a Packard Road express route. Ford told Kunselman the AATA has been taking in a lot of input and that the input continues through district advisory committee meetings.

Kunselman Bullington

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and LuAnne Bullington before the start of the Jan. 9 meeting. Bullington addressed the council at the conclusion of the meeting during time allotted for public commentary.

Kunselman wanted to know if commuter rail would be a part of the new transit authority. Ford told Kunselman that remains to be seen, but commuter rail is in the 30-year plan.

Kunselman then asked: Why doesn’t Washtenaw County ask voters countywide to approve a millage, and set up a purchase-of-service contract between the county and AATA, instead of setting up a new countywide transit authority? Ford said he couldn’t speak to that. The AATA had gone out and solicited a lot of input from the community, Ford said.

Kunselman wanted to know why the AATA wanted to transition to a different type of authority – is there something different about these two kinds of authorities? Ford told Kunselman that Act 196 gives an authority the ability to provide service across the county. Kunselman contended the AATA was already doing that. Ford countered that for outside the city of Ann Arbor, transit is provided through purchase-of-service agreements.

Kunselman came back to his earlier question: Why couldn’t the county contract for service with the AATA and pay for it, based on a countywide millage? Michael Benham, a strategic planner for the AATA, explained that a simple transit millage levied countywide, in the absence of an Act 196 authority, wouldn’t provide an opportunity to individual municipalities to opt out. Under Act 196, they can opt out. Kunselman asked if the opt-out ability was the only reason to move to a countywide authority. Benham responded by saying that Act 196 is specifically designed to create a transit authority, and by having the county file the articles of incorporation, you bring everyone in at once – with the ability for them to opt out.

Kunselman allowed that the ability of municipalities to opt out is good. At the same time, he said, it takes away Ann Arbor’s dominance. Ann Arbor would be giving something up in this plan, he said, and that’s why there’s some hesitancy. He returned again to his previous question: Why not put a transit millage in front of county voters and have the county contract with AATA with purchase-of-service agreements? To Kunselman, that seemed easy and simple.

Kunselman asked if Ypsilanti Township would be opting out. Ford indicated that Ypsilanti Township would have the opportunity to opt out just like any other municipality. Kunselman ventured that if it only takes a majority of the township board to opt out, Ypsilanti Township would opt out. Ford told Kunselman he would not say that. Ford indicated there are four municipalities across the county that have said they won’t participate – Ypsilanti Township is not one of the four. Ford said he cannot say that people will opt out or not.

Responding to an earlier comment from Kunselman to the effect that it’s expensive to run buses past cornfields, Ford said that countywide transit doesn’t mean running a 40-foot bus past a cornfield. Service in that area might be a van pool.

Sandi Smith

Sandi Smith (Ward 1).

Kunselman then expressed pessimism about the possible success of a countywide authority, based on population trends and the likelihood of municipalities opting out. He also said he thinks a 15-member board is way too big.

Kunselman said he appreciated a chance to postpone the vote, but to be honest, he doesn’t believe a countywide millage is going to pass. Given the economic and financial realities, he said, it’s difficult to think it’s going to pass. So why are we proceeding down that route? he wondered. Why are we thinking so grand? Ford told Kunselman that other opportunities besides millage funding were being studied, and said it’s important to get people to the table.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) elicited from Ford his personal experience in the regionalization of a transportation system in Portland, Oregon. Ford described how there was a vision to expand and to incorporate rail and more service. He’d watched the construction of some of the routes while he was in college, he said, and 20 years later he was in charge of all rail and bus service for the system. It was a vision for the future that had made that happen, he said. Ford allowed that there were mixed feelings when that had started, but it was all about being able to address people’s needs. He said 70-80% use the transit system.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) followed up by stressing the importance of starting with a vision and a dream.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) wanted to know what Ann Arbor might be giving up in terms of federal and state money. He worried about situations where it takes a hour to get somewhere by bus, but only 10 minutes by car. He asked Ford if there was one route that AATA was particularly proud of in terms of its ridership and performance. Ford offered Route 4, between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, as an example.

Anglin then asked Ford to comment on the population of Portland as compared to the area a countywide system is intended to serve. [Multnomah County, where Portland, Oregon is located, has a population of around 735,000; Washtenaw County has a population of around 345,000.] Ford responded to Anglin by saying that Portland has a lot of rural areas – and those people all need transportation. Hieftje ventured that Anglin was looking for communities the size of Washtenaw County that have countywide transportation.

Carsten Hohnke Mike Anglin Ann Arbor City Council

In the foreground is Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) as his wardmate Mike Anglin speaks.

Derezinski offered an anecdote from a planning commission field trip along the Wasntenaw Avenue corridor. He’d asked a passenger: Why do you ride the bus? The answer: “So that I’m left alone.”

Lumm noted that in the presentation that Ford had given to the council, one of the bullet points indicates an opportunity for public comment on the initial five-year service plan. She told Ford that there’s a strong sentiment that the public wants to comment before the incorporation of the new authority. She stated that she felt like a ready-fire-aim approach was being taken – it’s cart-before-the-horse, she said. She contended that Ford had said all the municipalities in the county were participating, but had said in a meeting with her on Friday that some had opted out. [Ford stated at the council meeting that some municipalities had indicated they'd not be participating, but that he could not say that any others would be opting out.] Lumm maintained that “It’s a moving target.”

Lumm wanted more specifics about the timeline for the five-year service plan. Ford told Lumm that the AATA has tried to be very transparent and methodical in its process. The details of the five-year service plan is not yet completed. Ford told Lumm that the AATA was asking council to support a framework to work within – a framework with checks and balances. Lumm told Ford she knew he meant well, but the council was being asked to consider a major reconfiguration of public transportation. It’s a major league decision to change it, she said.

Lumm wanted to postpone consideration until all the specific details are provided. Ford told Lumm the reason the AATA was there was to be transparent, and not to come with everything already done. He offered that if there’s anything he or his staff could do – meet one-on-one, for example – he was open to that. He said it wouldn’t make sense to say: Everything is done; here’s what we’re going to do.

Four-Party Agreement: Council Deliberations – Getting Thrown Under the Bus

Hieftje told Ford that Lumm is new to the council and may not be aware of some of the outreach the AATA had done in its effort to gather input on the transit master plan. Hieftje said that the feedback he’d heard from the community has been extremely enthusiastic.

Lumm shot back, saying that the mayor’s comments had been “a little bit patronizing.” She stated she’d been doing her homework. She had sent questions and was waiting for responses, she said.

Hieftje circled back around a few minutes later in the meeting and told Lumm he wasn’t trying to be patronizing, but rather was “trying to give [her] an excuse for maybe not having attended the meetings that [other councilmembers] had been to, and allow [her] some extra time to do that.”

Taylor then joined the verbal scuffle by saying he’d heard what constitutes an accusation in Lumm’s description of the AATA’s approach as ready-fire-aim. He stated that it’s worth making clear that the AATA has worked very hard over a long period of time to put together a diligent, transparent, open, methodical process. The process has not created a final product for the council to vote on that night.

It’s an important agreement, Taylor said, but the council is not voting on transferring the millage, is not voting on creating a countywide system, is not voting on authorization of the authority. The council is considering approval of an agreement that creates the framework to have the conversation to create the answers, he said.

Ready, Aim, Fire

A screen shot of a Jan. 22, 2010 Ann Arbor Chronicle article from the AATA board meeting when the AATA was in the early stages of planning for countywide transit. Board chair Jesse Bernstein was adamant that the approach would be ready-aim-fire. At the city council's Jan 9 meeting, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) described the four-party agreement as ready-fire-aim. After the city council meeting, The Chronicle confirmed with Lumm that she'd been unaware of that specific phrasal choice on Bernstein's part – she'd not been attempting to pique the AATA in an oblique way. (Image links to article.)

As far as an opportunity to review the service plan, the agreement states plainly in paragraph 2 that the AATA will publish details of the service and funding plan in newspapers of general circulation before requesting the articles to be filed by the county, Taylor said. There are a lot of steps to undertake, Taylor said, for the council and the voters of Ann Arbor to check out whether the plan that the AATA has produced meets our satisfaction.

Taylor called it a disservice to the people who’d done the work to date to suggest that they’re doing it in haste. It’s useful to postpone the agreement to get public comment on the framework, he said, stressing that it’s indeed merely a framework. After that, Taylor said, if the framework is approved, then he looked forward to hearing details of a service plan and the funding plan. Those details are the result of the process; they don’t precede the process, Taylor said. The fact that the council doesn’t have the final document isn’t a deficit, but a benefit, Taylor concluded.

Hieftje then noted that he’d not been enforcing the rule on the number of speaking times councilmembers have on any question, and he suggested a suspension of the rules to allow for more discussion.

Outcome: The vote on suspending the council rules on speaking turns (with Marcia Higgins and Sabra Briere absent) passed on a 6-3 vote, with Christopher Taylor, Margie Teall and Tony Derezinski voting against it.

Four-Party Agreement: Council Deliberations – “I want local control”

Responding to Taylor’s characterization of the four-party agreement as merely a framework, Kunselman said he didn’t see it as easy as calling it a framework. Rather, it’s a contractual agreement to follow the steps, and that’s disconcerting, he said. Kunselman said he thinks there’s a way to provide countywide transit, that he’s for countywide transit, and it’s already being provided. Why doesn’t the county ask for a millage, he asked, without creating a new transit authority and transferring assets.

Kunselman then laid out his belief about how transit should work: “I want AATA to stay in Ann Arbor. I don’t want a countywide authority. I want local control. I’m a member and a taxpayer of the citizens of Ann Arbor. I represent a number of citizens of Ann Arbor. A countywide authority takes away a lot of that local control … We talk about regionalism and things of that nature, but that doesn’t necessarily always work on everything.”

There are a lot of unknowns and it’s a moving target, Kunselman said. Alluding to the public commentary from Vivienne Armentrout, who noted that the AATA was incurring a deficit for this year’s budget, Kunselman asked Ford if the AATA was in fact incurring a $1 million deficit and asked if the AATA was projecting another $1 million deficit next year. He also followed up on a question that Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) had asked at the Dec. 12 working session: What monies are being used to pursue the planning for this countywide authority? Kunselman noted that Ford had described some of the funding for the planning as coming from grants. But Kunselman wanted to know if some of it was also Ann Arbor millage money.

Speaking first to the deficit to be incurred this year, Ford described it as an investment – the AATA board had given him the okay to make that happen for the budget year. Asked by Kunselman about a future deficit in subsequent years, Ford told him, “I don’t think we’re in a vulnerable position.” Ford said the AATA had positioned itself well with its reserves. He allowed there could be some “glitch” but said the AATA is in a good position.

Speaking to Kunselman’s question about how the planning had been paid for, Ford allowed that some staff time had been paid for with Ann Arbor millage money, but he said the majority of the outreach and engagement for pursuit of countywide authority had been funded with grant money.

Hieftje mentioned the financial advisory committee that was working on an analysis of funding options, and invited Ford to tick through the names of some of the people on the committee. The committee is co-chaired by McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and retired Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel.

Carsten Hohnke

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5).

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) ventured that a number of countywide entities exist in Washtenaw County: the Washtenaw Intermediate School District (WISD), the Washtenaw Community College (WCC), and the Washtenaw County Road Commission. He observed that it would be interesting to see whether a countywide approach is right for transit. Following up on Taylor’s comment about what the agreement is and is not approving, Hohnke said it’s helpful to think about how to communicate the nature of the agreement to constituents.

Hohnke characterized thinking about the four-party agreement this way: If there’s a service plan that meets our approval and if there’s a financing plan that meets our approval, then are we amendable to this kind of structure? Hohnke said he did not think the city is obligating itself to transfer assets without opting in and without approving a financing plan. He said there was no rush that night to approve the agreement. He felt the order in which things are happening makes sense – a governance structure is needed in order to execute on a financing plan.

Hohnke asked Ford if that is an appropriate way to talk to constituents about the four-party agreement. Ford responded by saying if there’s something that’s missing in the document the AATA is eager to fix it – the document is clear in his mind, he said, but he wanted to help make it clear to others.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) told Ford that when she had sat down with him and gone over the four-party agreement, she’d seen a very easy-to-understand timeline. She didn’t see it in the materials the council had received for that night’s meeting. She wanted copies of that timeline graphic. [.pdf of timeline graphic, which was included in the Dec. 12 city council work session packet]

Lumm reiterated many of her concerns, saying she felt the timeline is “backwards.” She said she doesn’t understand how the council could go forward without having critical documents. Lumm said the issue is not about whether regional transit is good. It’s about seeing information about the specific benefits. She described the process as a “rush” and as putting the cart before the horse.

Margie Teall (Ward 4) said she felt that if a final plan had been crafted and put together, the council would be tearing it apart. At that point Teall indicated she wanted to move for a postponement of the vote on the four-party agreement.

Before that, however, Hieftje gave Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) an opportunity to re-open the agenda to add a resolution that would establish a public hearing on the issue.

Four-Party Agreement: Council Deliberations – Pause to Schedule Public Hearing

There are discreet steps necessary to add an item to the agenda at the meeting. First a vote is taken on re-opening the agenda. Then a vote is taken on adding the item to the agenda.

Lumm said she was supportive of the public hearing, but lamented the re-opening of the agenda, saying it was not a great practice and that she would like to see the council act in a more disciplined fashion. She did not think it was good to add items simultaneous to the meeting. In this case, she said, having a public hearing was a good thing, so she figured she’d “go along with the program.”

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to re-open the agenda.

Taylor then read forth the resolution that set a public hearing about the four-party agreement for the council’s next regular meeting – Jan. 23, 2012.

Anglin said that in light of the scheduled Jan. 27 meeting of the financial advisory committee, he’d prefer a later date. Lumm agreed with Anglin and said that given the AATA’s timeline, the funding recommendations are proposed for the end of February. She wanted to amend Taylor’s resolution to change the date to later.

Hieftje noted that before discussing the item’s content, it first need to be added to the agenda.

Kunselman asked why the item was not added to the agenda the previous week, when several councilmembers had indicated interest in having a public hearing before the vote. Hieftje told Kunselman he had been free to add it to the agenda himself. Kunselman said he was not as involved in the process as some others, but an email from Hieftje indicated that it could have already been added to the agenda. Kunselman told Hieftje that if it’s required for councilmembers to be more aggressive in pursuing issues, Kunselman guessed they would be.

Lumm picked up again on the issue of adding items to the agenda, saying councilmembers need to look in the mirror. She said the council could do better.

Taylor, who sits at the table between Lumm and Kunselman, responded to them by saying that if someone wants to vote against adding the item to the agenda because of its procedural deficiencies, then people are free to do so. He said he did not have any problem looking himself in the mirror and proposing a public hearing.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to add to the agenda the resolution establishing a public hearing.

The council then resumed its discussion of the four-party agreement.

Four-Party Agreement: Council Deliberations – Rolling Toward Postponement

The motion to postpone specified a delay to the council’s next meeting – on Jan. 23. Lumm wanted to delay voting until funding recommendations and the initial five-year service plan are completed. That translated into an amendment of the motion to postpone to April 2.

Asked by Smith about that timeframe, Ford said that delaying until then would be a problem. He did not think delaying would be helpful right now. He told councilmembers he encouraged them to help the AATA move the process forward. What they did or didn’t do, he cautioned, will have an effect on what others do.

Smith said she could not support a delay until April 2. Hieftje agreed with Smith, saying that it was being discussed by the city of Ypsilanti and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. The council needs to “keep on it,” he said. The working session had generated a lot of questions, but putting it on the council agenda got a more serious conversation going, Hieftje said.

Teall said Ann Arbor needs to take the lead on this and demonstrate to other communities it’s willing to work on the process. Kunselman wanted to know if a millage vote was planned for November 2012. Ford told Kunselman that’d be the decision of the Act 196 board. Asked Kunselman, “So what’s the rush?” Ford answered that there’s momentum in terms of Ann Arbor leading the process. Continuing to delay the framework with these safeguards is a problem – that’s his opinion, Ford said. Ford said he was willing to do whatever he could do to provide information.

Anglin said he was in favor of public transportation, but not in favor of taking on obligations that the communities can’t handle. Due diligence and being deliberate is important, and if it takes until April, then so be it, Anglin said.

Ford stressed that the AATA was trying to be methodical and it’s not trying to force anything. He stressed that the AATA would continue to include the public as its get more information.

Hohnke said that as he’d noted earlier, there are two separate things to consider: (1) Are we interested in countywide transportation; and (2) If so, what are the financial and governance mechanisms? He felt conformable voting at the council’s next meeting.

Outcome: The council voted 6-3 against changing the postponing motion to stipulate April 2 as the date certain to which the issue would be postponed. Voting for April 2 were Lumm, Kunselman and Anglin.

With no further deliberations, the council then voted on the postponement to Jan. 23, the council’s next meeting.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to postpone action on the four-party agreement until Jan. 23.

In light of the postponement of the four-party agreement to Jan. 23, Lumm abandoned her previously indicated attempt to change the scheduling of the public hearing to later.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to set a public hearing on the four-party agreement for Jan. 23.

Arlington Square

At its Jan. 9 meeting, the council was asked to consider giving initial approval to changes to the supplemental regulations of a planned unit development (PUD) for Arlington Square. The changes to the PUD supplemental regulations would allow for urgent care and restaurant uses at the site, with no additional parking. No exterior changes are proposed.

The two-story, 51,285-square-foot retail and office complex is located at 3250 Washtenaw Ave. – the southeast corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Huron Parkway. An 8,000-square-foot space in the complex, where Hollywood Video was formerly located, is vacant, and the owner would like to have the option of leasing the space to a restaurant or urgent care facility.

The current PUD zoning, which was approved in 1989, allows for certain C3 (fringe commercial) uses, but due to an increased need for parking that would be created, the original regulations did not allow for (1) restaurants with seating, (2) barber/beauty shops on the first floor, or (3) office uses on the second floor, with the exception of medical/dental offices.

The site includes 200 parking spaces. To accommodate potential increased parking demand, the building’s owner – Nadim Ajlouny of Orchard Lake, Mich. – is offering to provide bus passes to all employees on the site and to provide an additional 14 enclosed bicycle parking spaces. Questions arose during council deliberations about the number of spaces that are actually on the site. Those questions are supposed to be addressed by the time the council considers the changes for final approval.

The city planning commission, at its meeting of Dec. 6, 2011, recommended approval of the request.

During council deliberations, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) told community services area administrator Sumedh Bahl that he counted only 79 parking spaces on the site plan drawing. Where are the extra spaces? Bahl told Kunselman he’d have to get that answer. Kunselman noted if the plan is to use parking on the service drive, that doesn’t seem legal or desirable.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who represents the city council on the city planning commission, told Kunselman that the owners of the property had asked for a revision to the PUD because the buildings are about half empty. Given the restrictions on use, the owners could not fill them with tenants, he said. The risk was that the buildings might deteriorate – he raised the specter of Georgetown Mall, which has been vacant for several years. Arlington Square is close to where he lives, Derezinski said, and he did not think parking is a problem. The planning commission had been assured by the planning staff that parking would be adequate for uses there now, and also for the additional uses.

Kunselman noted that Derezinski’s remarks did not answer his question about only 79 spaces appearing on the drawing. Kunselman indicated he wanted some clarity before final approval of the changes at the council’s second reading of the PUD ordinance change.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) mentioned that the building owner was offering free bus passes to workers to reduce the need for parking.

Outcome: The council gave initial approval to the PUD changes for Arlington Square on a unanimous vote.

Road Grant Application

On the Jan. 9 agenda was a resolution authorizing support for an application to the state of Michigan’s transportation economic development fund (TEDF) to pay for the resurfacing of a section of Ann Arbor-Saline Road near I-94. The grant application is being led by the Washtenaw County road commission.


Highlighted in light blue is the section of road to be resurfaced. (Image links to Google Map)

At the council’s meeting, Homayoon Pirooz, head of project management for the city, was invited to the podium.

Pirooz described how the 2,000-foot section of road is not feasible for the separate governmental units – city of Ann Arbor, the Michigan Dept. of Transportation, and Pittsfield Township – to do the work. It needs to be a collaborative effort, he said. Planning has taken almost a year, he said.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved support for the application to the state of Michigan’s transportation economic development fund (TEDF).  

Stormwater Projects

The council was asked to consider four resolutions petitioning the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner to undertake stormwater-related projects with a total cost of around $4.4 million.

The projects each have a portion that qualifies for low-interest (2.5%) state revolving fund loans that eventually might be partially forgiven. That portion would be paid out of the city’s stormwater fund. The total of the individual annual loan repayments for the projects would be $133,425 a year for 20 years.

A $2.5 million project in the Allen Creek Drainage District would design and construct stormwater management control measures on Madison Avenue between South Seventh and South Main. The existing corridor would be reconstructed using a traditional road surface, with management of stormwater flow being done through the use of infiltration basins within the right-of-way. The city stormwater portion of the project would be $500,000, with the loan to be paid back over 20 years in annual installments of $31,800.

A $630,000 project on Willard Street, between East University Avenue and South Forest Avenue, would construct a porous road surface, with management of offsite storm flow coming from a pollutant separation unit. Of that project, a little over $300,000 is strictly stormwater-related. The rest would be funded through the city’s street repair millage. It will be financed through revolving loans to be paid in annual installments of $19,110.

A $1,050,000 project in Leslie Park would mitigate against streambank erosion. Financing through revolving fund loans would amount to annual payments of $62,415. [See previous Chronicle coverage of that project: "Creek Project Ramps Up at Leslie Park Golf"]

A $316,000 project throughout the city of Ann Arbor would plant street trees during 2013. The revolving fund loan financing would result in annual payment of $20,100 over 20 years.

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) offered assurance that the water resources commissioner’s office was responsive to information requests about its projects, and kept in good touch with residents – based on her experience with a current project underway on Malletts Creek.

Asked by mayor John Hieftje, interim public services area administrator Craig Hupy said he could not give the exact number of trees for the tree-planting project – it hasn’t been bid out yet. The idea was to access the revolving fund loans with the potential for forgiveness, which would give the city the ability to plant trees at $0.50 on the dollar, Hupy said.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the petition to the county water resources commissioner for the four stormwater projects.

Increase for Election Workers

A resolution on the Jan. 9 agenda authorized an increase in the pay for election inspectors – those who work at the polls on election day to verify the registration of voters and to handle all the other duties associated with ensuring compliance with election laws at each precinct.

The approved increases are as follows: election inspector from $8 to $9/hour; floater from $8.50 to $9.50/hour; chairperson from $11.25 to $12/hour; and absent voter count board supervisor from $14 to $14.50/hour. According to a staff memo accompanying the resolution, prepared by the city clerk’s office, the increase in pay is expected to cost $2,000 in a local election and $8,000 in a presidential election. For the upcoming 2012 presidential election, the increase would total $5,000 – a cost that will be reimbursed by the state.

The justification for the increase in pay for Ann Arbor’s election inspectors was based on comparative pay with other nearby jurisdictions. For example, the raise for election inspectors from $8 to $9 now matches what the city of Ypsilanti pays.

After the raise, however, the proposed compensation for election inspectors would still fall short of the amount set forth in Ann Arbor’s living wage policy, which the city itself is not obliged to follow. By ordinance, the wages paid by city contractors to their workers must meet minimum thresholds that are adjusted each year, based on federal poverty guidelines. In May of 2011, the new living wage minimums were set at $11.83/hour for those employers offering health insurance, and $13.19/hour for those employers not offering health insurance.

The living wage factored into the council’s decision to postpone the election inspectors’ pay raise from its Dec. 19, 2011 meeting. At that meeting, Sabra Briere (Ward 1) questioned why the raise did not match the city’s living wage and that prompted the postponement until the council’s Jan. 9 meeting. The cost of the higher increase was upwards of $60,000, and the council did not deliberate on that potential additional increase on Jan. 9.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the increase to election worker pay.

Wheeler Center Wetland Mitigation

Before the council for its consideration was approval of a $331,589 contract with TSP Environmental to do maintenance and restoration of a wetland mitigation area at the Ann Arbor Wheeler Service Center located on Stone School Road.

When the Wheeler Service Center was constructed in 2005, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) required the creation of 2.59 acres of new wetland – made up of 2.23 acres of forested and 0.16 acres of scrub/shrub wetland. Because the areas have proven to be wetter than anticipated, the required number of trees and shrubs did not survive the original planting.

Correction of the problem includes the installation of new drainage channels and culverts, the armoring of a stormwater swale and removal of sediment. TSP’s bid was the lowest of three received. The other two were from Verdeterre Contracting Inc. ($392,425) and CTI and Associates Inc. ($723,934).

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the wetland mitigation contract and plan.


The council was asked to consider approval of the fees associated with the property assessed clean energy (PACE) program. The fees are set as follows: (1) the review fee for Phase I will be $300; (2) the title search fee will be the actual cost as billed by the title search company, estimated to be $230; (3) the fee for recording the assessment with the county clerk’s office will be $23 – $14 for the first page and $3 for each subsequent page of a four-page document; and (4) the administrative fee will be $13.45 for paper ($0.10), envelope ($0.25), postage ($0.42) assessment set-up ($11.72) and payment receipting ($0.96).

Through its PACE program, the city of Ann Arbor will help commercial property owners finance energy improvements through voluntary special assessments. By establishing a loan loss pool, the city can reduce interest rates for participating property owners by covering a portion of delinquent or defaulted payments. [Some previous Chronicle coverage of PACE: "Special District Might Fund Energy Program"]

At its March 7, 2011 meeting, the council had voted to set up a $432,800 loan loss reserve fund to support the city’s planned PACE program. The money for the fund comes from an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) awarded to the city by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) called the fees very reasonable, but wondered if they could be rolled into the program. The answer from Wendy Barrot of the Clean Energy Coalition was that no, the fees could not be rolled into the program. However, the audit – $2,000 to $5,000 – could be rolled into the program.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to approve the PACE fees.

Notice of Intent: $120 million Bonds Sewage Treatment

Before the council for its consideration was a notice of intent to issue sewage disposal system revenue bonds for $120 million to finance construction and renovation of the city’s wastewater treatment facilities.

The bond payments would be made from revenues of the city’s sewage disposal system. The renovations have been a part of the city’s capital improvement plan. The notice of intent starts a 45-day timeframe during which a petition could be brought to force the issue to be brought to a popular vote. The council’s vote on authorizing the issuance of the bonds will come after that 45-day time period.

During the brief council deliberations, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) said she had no issue with it, but the magnitude is noteworthy. She said she was glad there’ll be a working session on the issue on Jan. 17.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to authorize the notice of intent to issue $120 million in revenue bonds for the wastewater treatment facility.

Fixed Charges for Water/Sewer

Pulled out of the consent agenda by Sandi Smith (Ward 1) for separate consideration was an item to set the fixed charges for water main and sanitary sewer improvements. For 2012, those charges will be $15,552 for water main improvements and $24,665 for sanitary sewer improvements. Those figures are applied to each residential unit served. That compares with $14,539 for water main and $22,530 for sanitary sewer last year.

Smith wanted clarification on how the charges are calculated. Craig Hupy, interim public services area administrator, provided the explanation.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) followed up with Hupy to establish that the University of Michigan is supposed to have a connection for each building, as opposed to connecting once and supplying service to other buildings via that one connection. Kunselman also clarified with Hupy that the kind of charge at issue is not the same as re-tapping into an existing main – as might be the case with a house that was demolished with the parcel sitting vacant for some time. Kunselman’s question was motivated by a desire to get assurance that these charges were not discouraging redevelopment in residential neighborhoods.

Outcome: The council unanimously approved the fixed charges for water and sanitary sewer improvements.

Communications and Comment

Every city council agenda contains multiple slots 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: Skatepark

Scott Rosencrans gave the council an update on the progress that the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark had made in achieving funding for the planned skatepark, which will be located in the northeast corner of Veterans Memorial Park. The group has met all the deadlines for the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation $400,000 match and the city of Ann Arbor’s contribution of land in Veterans Memorial Park. Part of the funding was announced just recently: $300,000 from the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund (MNRTF).

Jeff Dehring

Jeff Dehring, Washtenaw County parks and recreation planner.

Rosencrans offer thanks to the groups who’d provided that funding, as well as to the many individuals who’d contributed. Among the other organizations that played a role was the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation, which acted as the fiduciary for the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark. The group still has a $200,000 gap to achieve the $1 million they want to raise to pay for the park and the endowment to provide for the skatepark’s maintenance.

The next step, Rosencrans said, would be to go through an RFP (request for proposals) process. An RFP committee has been established, which includes members of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, and will include a member of the city’s park advisory commission and a member of the Washtenaw County Parks and Recreation Commission staff – Jeff Dehring. The RFP process would be facilitated by city of Ann Arbor parks and recreation manager Colin Smith.

Asked by mayor John Hieftje when the city might expect to see people skateboarding at the park, Rosencrans said that he thought ground could be broken in September of this year. The city’s community services area administrator, Sumedh Bahl, was more cautious, saying that they needed to follow the MNRTF rules, which might mean no groundbreaking until the spring of 2013.

Comm/Comm: Warming Center

During public commentary, a possible warming center was mentioned by two speakers. Lily Au gave her usual criticism of the coordinated funding approach the city uses, calling out the United Way. She asked the council to listen to people who are out there in the cold.

As a part of his remarks, Alan Haber also mentioned the people who are without shelter, noting that it’s getting colder. He suggested listening to people and suggested the city-owned property at 721 N. Main as a possibility. There’s a volunteer group of people who are willing to do it, he said, and there’s a desire to make something beautiful. He was looking for a response of “Far out!” and assistance from the city.

During his communications time, Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said he could be counted in for supporting an effort to establish a warming shelter at 721 N. Main.

Comm/Comm: Audit

City administrator Steve Powers noted that the audit for FY 2011 [which ended June 30, 2011] had come back with an unqualified opinion and an unassigned balance well within the recommended minimum. The city had added to its fund balance, when it had expected to use some of it, he said. [Chronicle coverage: "2011: Ann Arbor $1.6M Better Than Planned"]

Jane Lumm (Ward 2) congratulated the city administrator and the city’s chief financial officer on the clean audit opinion, which identified no material weaknesses and finished with a small surplus. She asked what the outlook was for the general fund for next year. CFO Tom Crawford told her that he was in the middle of working on that. But he indicated that some things are looking better than originally projected.

Comm/Comm: Online Crime Reporting

City administrator Steve Powers announced the launch of a new online citizen reporting system by the Ann Arbor police department. It’s meant for low priority, non-urgent crimes. Those crimes can now be reported without citizens needing to make a report in person at city hall.

Comm/Comm: Consolidation

Mayor John Hieftje, during his communications time, called attention to the effort being made in Kent County (where Grand Rapids is located) exploring consolidation of city and county government. [The One Kent Coalition has actually backed off its proposal to merge Grand Rapids with Kent County and is now focused on a "bottom up" approach focusing on achieving specific efficiencies through collaboration.]

Comm/Comm: MLK

Thomas Partridge called on everyone to recognize the context of the meeting – the 44th year since the unfortunate assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Everything on the agenda should be considered within the progressive context of King’s advocacy, he said.

Present: Jane Lumm, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Absent: Sabra Briere, Marcia Higgins.

Next council meeting: Monday, Jan. 23, 2012 at 7 p.m. in the second floor council chambers at 301 E. Huron. [confirm date]

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  1. January 14, 2012 at 8:44 am | permalink

    Having sat through much (but not all) of the deliberation on the 4-party agreement, I must say once again that you (Dave Askins) do a remarkable job of capturing not only the complete substance, but the nuances of discussion, in addition to insights like those regarding the document’s internal contradictions.

    I’d like to clarify and explain my comment about the first 5 years of the TMP being complete by what appears to be the end of 3 years in the agreement. The difference is in fiscal years vs. calendar years. The FY 2012 budget (began October 2011) initiated a number of regional programs. The 4-party agreement provides for a deadline of December 31, 2014 to fulfill requirements for closing (transfer of assets) but the actual closing is not required before December 31, 2015. Since the FY 2015 budget would be completed in 2014, there will have been 4 fiscal years by then, and 5 by the end of 2015.

    Of course, the key question is when the Act 196 authority would actually become operational, with or without Ann Arbor’s millage, and what functions it could conduct without the closing in the agreement. That is unclear.

  2. January 15, 2012 at 11:21 am | permalink

    Can you elaborate a bit on the water and sewer charges? I assume I won’t be getting bills in the mail for $15,552 and $24,665.

  3. By Ruth Kraut
    January 18, 2012 at 12:42 pm | permalink

    I’m still not really clear about the difference between Act 55 and Act 196. What can’t you do under Act 55 that AATA wants to do?

    The timeline linked to above is really helpful, but what I don’t understand is this: let’s say that 8 jurisdictions initially agree and the authority is formed, but then after the authority is formed six of the jurisdictions opt out–are the two jurisdictions still in responsible for the whole authority?

    Last, I don’t understand what the hurry is about this. Our current AATA is not perfect but it’s not half-bad either. What happens if it gets postponed? Is this a “one-time-only” opportunity?

  4. January 18, 2012 at 12:58 pm | permalink

    Re: “Can you elaborate a bit on the water and sewer charges? I assume I won’t be getting bills in the mail for $15,552 and $24,665.”

    These are charges for improvements – when utility infrastructure is extended for the first time, or when a parcel connects to existing infrastructure through annexation from a township. A general principle is that a parcel has an improvement charge assessed only once, ever. So you’re already a regular Ann Arbor city water/sewer customer, these charges don’t apply to you.

  5. January 18, 2012 at 1:53 pm | permalink

    Re: “i’m still not really clear about the difference between Act 55 and Act 196.”

    Differences between Act 196 and Act 55 laid out here: [link]

    Re: “Let’s say … six [of eight] jurisdictions opt out …”

    Several similar questions are given responses in a set of documents released Jan. 17 by AATA. [link] Here’s the [.pdf of responses to councilmember questions] For a “massive opt-out” scenario (the sense of Ruth Kraut’s question, I think) here’s the AATA’s response:

    Q2. What is the minimum level of participation of other jurisdictions required to move forward? What if it is just AA, Ypsilanti, and one or two townships opting in? What happens if Ypsilanti does not sign on? Who makes the final go/no go decision?

    • To participate further in a countywide authority, municipalities must not “opt-out.” If there are communities that opt out, we would continue to move forward with a 5-Year transit improvement plan that was specific to the communities that have not optedout.
    • In the event that there are transit districts without municipal members (e.g. all of the “West” opts out), Board governance would be restructured. In the unlikely event that Ypsilanti does not sign on to the Public Transit Agreement, they could continue to purchase service from the new authority much like they do today. This has not been a stable source of funding and has over several years created the possibility of reducing the already very low service level. They would not receive any transit improvements unless they were to purchase additional service from the new authority. In addition, Ypsilanti’s board seat is dependent on the transfer of Ypsilanti’s millage and this agreement, not having sufficient population to merit a board seat.
    • Go/No Go: Ann Arbor will be able to make the determination to opt out if it chooses, making the conditions of the Public Transportation Agreement impossible to meet. If you are referring to who decides on a voter referendum, this would be a decision of the incorporated board, with the voters making the final decision by voting to invest in transit improvements outlined in a 5-year improvement plan once a ballot measure is put forth.

  6. January 20, 2012 at 2:01 pm | permalink

    Based on the 196 vs 55 document, it seems that if the county were to join the Act 55 entity (the AATA), the Act 55 entity then becomes a county entity?

    If that’s true, then Kunselman’s proposed situation is impossible: you can’t have both Ann Arbor control AND a countywide millage. If the County joins the AATA under act 55, it becomes a county entity, and Ann Arbor has less control that under the proposed articles of incorporation.

    As Lumm said, “I’m not a lawyer”? So, did I get that right?

    In terms of the “What’s the rush” question, ICPJ first got involved in efforts to expand transit options 3 or 4 years ago, back when Jeff Irwin was actively meeting with townships and trying to get buy-in. I would have liked to see this done 2 years ago, but the AATA leadership (wisely) chose to go through an extensive process of consultation and planning to hear from various stakeholders, hold a transparent process, and get feedback. They are by no means rushing.

  7. January 20, 2012 at 2:12 pm | permalink

    Re (6), Chuck is correct that this discussion has been going on for some time, but the current schedule of adoption of Articles of Incorporation is indeed a rush, given that the effort is giving itself until 2014 to finish up. The “rush” would make more sense if they were committed to a millage vote this year. Even so, they would have until May to put something on the August ballot, so pushing the Council to approve this agreement before the Financial Task Force delivers its report is quite a rush.

    I’m not a lawyer either, but that interpretation of the county joining the Act 55 entity doesn’t sound right. In any case, the plan has been to create the Act 196 authority for some time.

  8. January 21, 2012 at 5:13 pm | permalink

    I guess part of the question is, “what does it mean to ‘join’ the Act 55 entity?”

    Upon further reflection, though, I think the point is moot. These deliberations show that the City would be uncomfortable with an Act 55 entity controlled by the county or otherwise organized based on purely population-based representation.

    On the other side, I don’t see the other municipalities being up for participating in an entity that Ann Arbor thoroughly controls (either because it’s a continuation of the current AATA board or because Ann Arbor representatives control a majority and can push through any policies without regard to the concerns of the rest of the county).

    I think the proposed governance model in which Ann Arbor is one vote away from a majority is probably the best way to balance the concerns of both constituencies.