Council Balks at Light Pole Allocation

The Ann Arbor city council has balked at a request to amend its current fiscal year budget to make a $280,000 allocation toward a downtown light pole replacement project that would replace 81 poles. The resolution failed on a 7-4 vote, because eight votes were needed for approval.

Downtown Ann Arbor Main Street light pole

Downtown Ann Arbor Main Street light pole on northeast corner of Main & William. Photograph is from the city of Ann Arbor, taken April 2012.

The $280,000 needed to be allocated from the general fund to the field operation’s unit FY 2014 street lighting budget. And as a budget amendment, the resolution needed eight votes under the city charter.

The light poles were to have been purchased from Spring City Electrical Manufacturing at a cost of $173,307, with additional costs for installation and labor bringing the total to $280,000.

Voting against the allocation at the council’s Oct. 21 meeting were Sumi Kailasapathy (Ward 1), Sally Petersen (Ward 2), Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

The vote reflected ongoing political wrangling between the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and the city council.

By way of additional background, in April 2013 when the council gave initial approval of the change to the city ordinance regulating the DDA’s TIF (tax increment financing) capture, one argument against that move was that it would leave the DDA without sufficient revenue to pay for the roughly $580,000 cost of replacing the decorative light poles, which are described by some as an iconic feature of Main Street.

Replacement was characterized as an urgent public safety issue, because the bases of some of the poles are rusting. Various statements were made about the number of light poles that had failed, but responding to an emailed query from The Chronicle earlier this year, city of Ann Arbor staff indicated that in early 2012 two of the light poles fell – due to a structural failure at the base of the poles caused by rust. After inspection of all the poles, two additional light poles were deemed to be in immediate risk of falling and were also replaced. As a part of the council’s FY 2014 budget deliberations, the council altered the DDA’s budget and directed the DDA to allocate $300,000 toward the replacement of the Main Street light poles.

The council’s specific action on May 20, 2013 was to alter the DDA’s budget by recognizing additional TIF revenues of more than $568,000, and shifting $300,000 of that revenue from the DDA’s TIF fund to the DDA’s housing fund. The council’s budget resolution also recommended that the DDA spend $300,000 of its TIF fund on the Main Street light pole replacement.

Earlier this year, in response to an emailed query from The Chronicle, city administrator Steve Powers indicated that the city council was expected to be asked to act on the matter either at its July 15 or Aug. 8 meeting. But the issue was not placed before the council until Oct. 21.

This brief was filed from the city council’s chambers on the second floor of city hall, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]