Parks Tax Renewal Likely on Fall Ballot

At a March 12, 2012 work session, the Ann Arbor city council received a presentation on the city’s park maintenance and capital improvements millage, a six-year tax that expires this year. The recommendation presented to the council is to ask voters this November to renew the 1.1 mill tax for another six years. The rationale for renewing, instead of increasing or decreasing it, was based on the assessment that the funding is sufficient, but also that it is well used to maintain infrastructure in the parks.

Although last year one councilmember had expressed interest in possibly funding all parks expenses from the millage, the council as a whole did not subsequently express much interest in that scenario, which would have required roughly doubling the millage rate.

The park maintenance and capital improvements millage, approved by voters in 2006 for six years, replaced two separate millages, which were previously levied at around 0.5 mill apiece for a total of 0.914 mills. The single millage that replaced the two separate taxes – one for maintenance and one for capital improvements – was approved by voters at a rate of 1.1 mill. That compares with the just over 6 mills that are levied by the city to support the general fund.

The use of the park maintenance and capital improvements millage is guided by a city council resolution passed in October 2006. The resolution specifies a range of 60% to 80% for maintenance, with the remainder going to capital improvements.

However, the policy expressed in the resolution has been revised over the years.  The policy as reflected in the 2006 resolution had also stipulated that the city’s natural area preservation (NAP) program would receive a 3% increase in funds from the millage each year – the policy had been based on an assumption that millage revenues would increase. During approval of the FY 2011 budget at its May 17, 2010 meeting, the council eliminated NAP’s automatic 3% increase, and reset NAP funding to levels proportionate with other programs.

And at the council’s May 16, 2011 meeting, councilmembers voted to modify the 2006 policy to allow for use of non-millage funds to count as general fund support for the parks system, even if those funds do not come from the general fund. That modification addressed a provision in the 2006 policy that essentially requires support for parks drawn from the general fund not to be diminished any more than the rest of the general fund.

A mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 of taxable value for a property. For a hypothetical house worth $200,000, with a state equalized value and a taxable value of $100,000, each mill of tax on that property would generate $100 in revenue. In ballpark numbers, 1 mill of property tax in Ann Arbor generates around $4.5 million of revenue annually.

Support for Ann Arbor’s parks system is split between two basic areas of the city’s organization: (1) community services, and (2) public services. The community services area is headed by Sumedh Bahl. The public services area is led by interim public services area administrator Craig Hupy.

This brief was filed from the second floor council chambers at city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow.