County Board OKs Amended Transit Deal

Taking another step in a months-long process to secure the foundation for a broader public transit authority, Washtenaw County commissioners on a 6-4 vote gave final approval to a four-party agreement and articles of incorporation for a new entity tentatively called the Washtenaw Ride Transportation Authority. The vote was taken at the board’s Aug. 1, 2012 meeting, following a public hearing on the proposal. Eleven people spoke at the hearing, most of them in support of expanded public transit. Voting against the agreement and articles of incorporation were Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, Dan Smith and Rob Turner. Rolland Sizemore Jr. was absent.

Before the final vote, the board made an amendment to the articles of incorporation – an action that means the amended document must now return for re-approval by the other parties in the agreement: the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, which both would contribute existing millages to the new authority, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which is spearheading this effort and would shift its assets to the new entity. The governing bodies of those three parties had previously approved the transit documents, after going through their own amendment process. AATA staff indicated that the documents will likely be on the Ann Arbor city council’s Aug. 20 agenda, and on the Aug. 21 agenda for the Ypsilanti city council. The next meeting for the AATA board is Aug. 16. [.pdf of pre-amended four-party agreement and articles of incorporation]

The county board had given initial approval at its July 11 meeting, after a lengthy debate and a split 7-4 vote with dissent by Ping, Prater, Turner and Dan Smith. At that meeting, several amendments proposed by commissioner Dan Smith were discussed, but none of the amendments secured enough votes to pass. Those amendments had been similar to those that Smith had put forward at a three hour working session on June 14.

At the Aug. 1 meeting, Turner proposed a new amendment to the articles of incorporation. The original draft stipulated that a two-thirds majority of the new authority’s board would be required to amend the articles of incorporation. Turner’s amendment would have stipulated that a unanimous vote by the new authority’s board would be needed to make such changes. Leah Gunn offered a compromise – a four-fifths majority, or 12 of the authority’s 15 board members. That amendment to Turner’s amendment passed on a 6-4 vote, with dissent by Turner, Conan Smith, Felicia Brabec and Wes Prater. The vote on the amended amendment – requiring the four-fifths majority – passed unanimously.

Turner felt his original amendment offered safeguards for smaller communities. It’s possible for communities to decide to join the new transit authority, only to have the articles of incorporation – the “rules of the game” – changed after they’ve joined, he said. If his amendment had been approved, Turner said he would have supported the 4-party agreement and articles of incorporation. He said it no longer seemed like a countywide authority – it seemed like an Ann Arbor system that others could join. That saddened him, he said.

The county would not be contributing assets or a millage to the new authority. Nor would the county board be asked to put a countywide millage request on the ballot. Rather, the county’s role would be for the county clerk to file articles of incorporation with the state – an action to create a transit authority under Michigan Act 196. When formed, the Act 196 board would have authority to put a funding proposal on the ballot for voters to consider. A financial advisory group that’s been working on this effort has suggested that revenues equivalent to a 0.5 mill tax would be needed to cover the cost of expanded services for the first five years. [.pdf of financial advisory group report]

For the most recent general Chronicle coverage of transit issues, see: “AATA Board OKs Key Countywide Documents.”

This brief was filed from the boardroom of the county administration building at 220 N. Main in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow: [link]