Change to Natural Areas Ordinance OK’d

An amendment to the ordinance for the county’s natural areas preservation program received final approval from the Washtenaw County commissioners at their Sept. 19, 2012 meeting.

The change removes the previous restriction that only 7% of millage funds could be used for management or stewardship. The Washtenaw County parks and recreation commission had been briefed on the proposal at its May 8, 2012 meeting. At that time, the proposal would have raised the limit from 7% to 25%. The ordinance amendment eventually approved by commissioners eliminated all percentage restrictions on set-asides for management and stewardship.

According to a staff memo, the goal would be to use $600,000 per year for management and stewardship. Of that, roughly $240,000 would be used for ongoing stewardship activities, and $360,000 would remain to be invested in a dedicated reserve for long-term land stewardship.

By 2020, when the current millage expires, that annual investment is expected to have built a dedicated reserve of $6 million. Though no percentages are identified in the proposed amendment, $600,000 would work out to about 25% of annual millage revenues.

At the Sept. 5 meeting, Conan Smith had floated the idea of eliminating a separate ordinance requirement for allocating 75% of the millage to the acquisition and maintenance of natural areas and 25% for agricultural land. He proposed a formal amendment to that effect during the Sept. 19 meeting, which passed on a 9-2 vote. Voting against the amendment were Wes Prater and Yousef Rabhi. The vote on the overall resolution was unanimous.

Voters first approved NAPP funding in 2000 and renewed it in 2010, each time for 10 ten years. The current millage – at 0.2409 mills – will expire in 2020. It generates about $3 million annually.

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