AATA: Do Even Opt-Outs Get Representation?

At its Sept. 27 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board discussed at length how to assure residents of districts throughout the county that up until the time of a voter referendum on funding for a new transit authority, they would have representation on the board of the new authority – even if their local jurisdiction opts out of it. But thereafter, such representation would amount to what AATA board member David Nacht called “representation without taxation.”

Once incorporated, the new transit authority will include by default all the jurisdictions in Washtenaw County. The articles of incorporation for the new authority – to be called The Washtenaw Ride – would be filed by Washtenaw County under Act 196 of 1986 after getting a formal request from the AATA board. Filing the articles of incorporation for the new authority opens a 30-day window for jurisdictions to opt out of inclusion. That can be accomplished through a vote of a jurisdiction’s governing body.

Ultimately, the resolution on Act 196 board representation was withdrawn at the Sept. 27 meeting, when AATA board members could not get a clear understanding of the impact the resolution would have, and whether it amounted to “belt and suspenders” on outcomes that would follow naturally from the legal requirements of Act 196 of 1986. That’s the statute under which the new transit authority would be incorporated.

The drafted resolution was meant in part to address possible concerns about what might happen if a large number of local governments in Washtenaw County opt out of the new transit authority. Some non-Ann Arbor members of the as-yet unincorporated Act 196 board attended the Sept. 27 meeting and participated in deliberations (though they could not vote). Some expressed concern that the AATA’s planned Oct. 2 request for incorporation could be a “rush to incorporate.”

The membership of the new authority’s board can be altered only with a 4/5 vote on the 15-member board – based on the articles of incorporation. So the resolution discussed by the AATA board at its Sept. 27 meeting would have, in some sense, expressed the position of current AATA board members as follows: When they become Act 196 board members, they would not go along with a restructuring of the Act 196 board, even if several jurisdictions opt out during the 30-day period – until the point of asking voters to approve a millage.

The AATA board has called a special meeting for Oct. 2 to make a request that the Washtenaw County clerk file the articles of incorporation the following day. It’s possible that the withdrawn AATA board resolution will be re-worded and brought back for the Oct. 2 meeting.

The new authority will have a 15-member board, representing eight different districts in Washtenaw County. The Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti districts include just their respective cities – each city a single jurisdiction. Those two cities are not expected to opt out. Another single-jurisdiction district – Pittsfield Township – is not expected to opt out. But other districts include multiple jurisdictions. For example, the Northeast District includes four townships: Northfield, Superior, Salem and Ann Arbor.

The conversation at the AATA board meeting did not achieve clarity on the issue of what legal constraints would apply if every jurisdiction in a district were to opt out. And that was a consideration that led to the resolution’s withdrawal, with possible consideration at the Oct. 2 meeting.

The contractual agreement governing the transition from the current AATA to The Washtenaw Ride is a four-party agreement that was ratified by the AATA, Washtenaw County, the city of Ann Arbor, and the city of Ypsilanti. The transition would essentially not take place at all, unless a voter-approved funding source for the expanded services is identified by the end of 2014.

The AATA has indicated that a possible scenario is to ask voters in Washtenaw County to fund the new transit authority with a property tax of 0.584 mills – in an election that could come as early as May 2013. Once incorporated, the Washtenaw Ride would still not have any assets or be able to offer any service. That transition would depend on voter approval of the funding source.

Based on discussion at a Sept. 25 meeting of Ann Arbor’s district advisory committee (DAC) – which helps advise the as-yet-unincorporated authority – a transition to a new authority could take several months. Even if a millage vote were to be held in May 2013 and approved by voters, it would still likely take until Sept. 30, 2013 – the end of the AATA’s fiscal year – to complete the transition.

So the AATA board will need to continue to meet in its current guise through the end of a meeting schedule approved on Sept. 27, 2012. The general pattern is to meet on the third Thursday of the month, with a starting time of 6:30 p.m. The meetings are held in the fourth-floor boardroom of the downtown Ann Arbor District Library, located at 343 N. Fifth Avenue. So possibly the last-ever meeting of the AATA board is scheduled for Sept. 19, 2013. [.pdf of AATA FY 2013 meeting schedule]

This brief was filed from the downtown location of the Ann Arbor District Library, where the AATA board holds its meetings. A more detailed report will follow: [link]