Stories indexed with the term ‘Act 88’

McFarlane Appointed to Road Commission

At its March 19, 2014 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners made appointments to six county committees, commissions and boards. [.pdf of application packet]

The appointments included naming former Superior Township supervisor Bill McFarlane to the Washtenaw County road commission board, to fill the seat left vacant by the recent death of long-time road commissioner Fred Veigel. The remainder of that six-year term runs through Dec. 31, 2014. Unlike most other county appointed boards, road commissioners receive annual compensation of $10,500.

McFarlane was among 10 applicants for the position. Others who applied included former county commissioner Rob Turner; Mike Henry, chair of the Ann Arbor Democratic Party; and University Bank CEO Stephen Ranzini.

Nominations are made by the board chair. The current … [Full Story]

Process Debated for Platt Road, Act 88 Funds

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Feb. 19, 2014): A broad community planning process for the future of Platt Road property owned by Washtenaw County is moving forward, after the county board approved a set of recommendations made by a citizens advisory group.

Jason Morgan, Washtenaw Community College, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

Jason Morgan, director of government relations for Washtenaw Community College, was appointed to the county’s community action board during the Feb. 19 meeting of the county board of commissioners. (Photos by the writer.)

The vote was unanimous, but came after Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) raised concerns about the affordable housing component of the project. The planning process will use a $100,000 grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA), with a stipulation that planning for the 13.5-acre property – south of Washtenaw Avenue – include consideration of affordable housing.

When debate was cut short through a procedural move, Peterson criticized commissioners for not spending more time on the topic – though it had been discussed at length during the board’s Feb. 5, 2014 meeting. Andy LaBarre (D-District 7), who is helping to lead the project and who serves as chair of the board’s working sessions, indicated support for discussing it further at an upcoming session.

Peterson also voiced concerns about a new Act 88 advisory committee, which resulted in a postponement of the first appointment to that group until March 19. The committee had been created at the board’s Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, as part of a broader policy to help the board allocate revenues levied under Act 88 of 1913. No appointments have been made, however. The county levies the tax to fund economic development and agricultural activities, including Ann Arbor SPARK.

As he has in previous board discussions, Peterson expressed concern that the board was abdicating its responsibility to allocate funding. Other commissioners assured him that the committee will deliver recommendations, but the board retains authority for making the allocations.

In other action, the board gave authority to the Washtenaw County clerk/register of deeds office to reduce the fee for expediting marriage licenses under certain circumstances – from $50 to 1 cent. The vote came over dissent from Kent Martinez-Kratz (D-District 1), who argued that fees should be applied equally to all applicants – whatever the amount. He also didn’t think the criteria for applying the waiver were clear. County clerk Larry Kestenbaum cited some examples of when this fee reduction might be used. As one example, he noted that the vital records office anticipates moving later this year to the space where the deeds office currently is, so the office will likely be closed for more than three days.

Kestenbaum also reported that last year, his office had anticipated that a lot of people would want to get married right away because of a possible change in the state’s same-sex marriage law. He said he announced at that time that he intended to waive the fee, but “my authority to do that has been questioned.” He subsequently looked at the state statute, which requires a fee to be set by the county board and charged – whether it’s $5, or $50, or 1 cent. “It’s your authority to do this,” he told commissioners.

During the Feb. 19 meeting, commissioners also gave final approval to create a new dental clinic in Ypsilanti for low-income residents, and heard public commentary regarding the importance of the GED (general education diploma).

Updates and communications included news that the Sharon Township board of trustees had passed a resolution urging the board to keep the road commission as an independent entity. At the county board’s Oct. 2, 2013 meeting, commissioners had created a seven-member subcommittee to “explore partnerships and organizational interactions with the Washtenaw County Road Commission.” State legislation enacted in 2012 opened the possibility of absorbing the road commission into county operations, which would give county commissioners direct control over funding and operations now administered by the road commission.

However, it’s unlikely that will happen. During a 2.5-hour meeting on March 1, the subcommittee voted to recommend that the duties and responsibilities of the road commission should not be transferred to the county board of commissioners. Alicia Ping (R-District 3), who chairs the subcommittee, told The Chronicle that she’ll be bringing the recommendation to the board at its meeting on March 5. [Full Story]

Budget Debate: Public Safety Concerns

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Nov. 6, 2013): At another nearly six-hour meeting, county commissioners handled a full agenda with several major action items, including the 2014-2017 budget.

Yousef Rabhi, Andy LaBarre, Ronnie Peterson, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Washtenaw County commissioners Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8), Andy LaBarre (D-District 7) and Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6). (Photos by the writer.)

Following about three hours of debate and some minor amendments, commissioners gave initial approval to the proposed four-year general fund budget, for the years 2014-2017. The 7-2 vote came over the dissent of Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), who cited concerns over a budget cycle extending for four years rather than two.

Much of the budget discussion focused on the sheriff’s operations. No layoffs are proposed, but 8.47 FTE positions would be kept unfilled. Most of those are in the sheriff’s office, which has a targeted budget reduction of $1.34 million. Sheriff Jerry Clayton, an elected official, attended the Nov. 6 meeting and addressed the board, telling commissioners that his office can’t continue to absorb budget cuts without affecting services. “For me not to tell you what I believe the impact on public safety is, if you make those cuts, would be negligent in my responsibility as the county sheriff.”

Board chair Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) countered that every department head could make arguments against budget cuts. Noting that more revenues are needed, Rabhi said he hoped commissioners would support putting a countywide public safety millage on the ballot.

During public commentary after the budget debate, county prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie told commissioners that they had a difficult job, but that they were making it harder than it needed to be. He suggested looking for guidance in the state constitution, and relying on the experience of county administrator Verna McDaniel. Mackie also questioned whether commissioners were truly committed to public safety as a priority. He praised Clayton, noting that the sheriff is a respected figure with a national reputation. “He might know more about safety and criminal justice than you do,” Mackie said.

The budget must be given final approval by the end of the year, and only two more board meetings scheduled: On Nov. 20 and Dec. 4. The board will also hold a second public hearing on the budget on Nov. 20.

Several other agenda items related directly or indirectly to the county’s budget. On a 7-1 vote, the board gave final approval to an increase in the levy of the economic development and agricultural tax, known as Act 88 of 1913. The increase to the Act 88 millage is from 0.06 mills to 0.07 mills. Dan Smith (R-District 2) dissented and Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) had left the meeting by the time the vote occurred, just after midnight. Smith questioned the constitutionality of the county levying this tax, as well as the legality of how the revenues are spent.

During public commentary, the board also heard from two people who objected to the tax levy, including Bill McMaster of Taxpayers United. McMaster, who helped lead the statewide campaign that resulted in passage of the Headlee Amendment in 1978, noted during public commentary that there’s a provision in the law allowing for legal action if taxes are raised without voter approval. It’s an action “which we will pursue,” he said.

The board also unanimously approved a tax-sharing agreement to allow a portion of county taxes to be captured by Pittsfield Township’s State Street corridor improvement authority (CIA). Pittsfield Township supervisor Mandy Grewal addressed commissioners during public commentary, thanking them for their support of the CIA. One opponent to the CIA – former township official Christina Lirones – spoke during two opportunities for public commentary, urging the board to opt out of the CIA.

Other items handled during the Nov. 6 meeting included (1) final approval to extend the coordinated funding approach for human services, as well as to authorize some changes in that funding model; (2) appointment of an advisory committee to propose options for county property on Platt Road; (3) final approval of a brownfield plan for Chelsea Milling Co. (Jiffy Mix); and (4) appointment of Ellen Rabinowitz as temporary health officer to replace Dick Fleece, who’s retiring at the end of 2013.

Communications during the meeting included public commentary from supporters of the Delonis Center homeless shelter in Ann Arbor, and concerns about state standards for permissible levels of 1,4-dioxane. [Full Story]

County Weighs Funding for Nonprofits, Dues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (Oct. 13, 2011): Supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley turned out to a special budget-focused working session on Thursday, urging county commissioners to maintain current funding levels for the nonprofit.

Supporters of the Humane Society of Huron Valley

Kate Murphy, left, and Anne Alatalo attended the county board's Oct. 13 working session to voice support for funding the Humane Society of Huron Valley. (Photos by the writer.)

HSHV, which is under contract with the county to provide state-mandated animal control services, is among several outside agencies that the county funds. The proposed two-year budget for 2012 and 2013 includes a total of $1.2 million in annual cuts to outside agencies – the county budget would drop HSHV’s annual funding from $500,000 to $250,000. HSHV’s current contract with the county ends on Dec. 31. Some commissioners expressed dismay, but indicated that in light of other pressing needs – like food and shelter for struggling families – the cuts to HSHV are appropriate.

The other outside agency item that received attention on Thursday was the county’s $125,000 membership with the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, as well as $10,000 for water quality work provided by SEMCOG. Paul Tait, SEMCOG’s executive director, attended the meeting with two other staff members to answer questions and urge commissioners to retain their participation in the regional planning group. None of the six other counties who are part of SEMOG are withdrawing their membership, Tait said.

Several other budget cuts are proposed in this category, including a decrease in funding to the Delonis Center homeless shelter (from $160,000 to $25,000) and the Safe House domestic violence shelter (from $96,000 to $48,000). Money for the county’s coordinated funding of human services – targeting six priority areas, including housing and food – will drop by $128,538 (from $1,015,000 to $886,462).

But most of Thursday’s discussion by the board focused on the two areas that received attention during public commentary: SEMCOG and HSHV. In addition, Chuck Warpehoski, director of the Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice, spoke on behalf of 94 co-signers of a letter urging the county to continue funding human services.

The board will also hold a public hearing on the budget at its Oct. 19 meeting, and it’s likely that supporters from other groups will address the board at that time.

Setting the stage for the board’s discussion on Thursday, commissioners got a staff update on the need for basic assistance in the county. It was not encouraging news. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council Revisits the Mid-2000s

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Aug. 15, 2011): One connection among multiple items on the council’s agenda was the era when they originated, back in the mid-2000s.

balloon debt ceiling

Ann Arbor city council chambers on Aug. 15, 2011. Despite appearances, the city of Ann Arbor does not currently have a balloon payment due that will put the city up against its debt ceiling. (Photo by the writer).

The city council originally gave its approval to the selection of Village Green as the purchaser of the city-owned First and Washington lot back in 2006. To make up for the fact that the First and Washington deal has not yet been finalized, on Monday the council approved a $3 million inter-fund loan from its pooled investment fund. The money is needed to pay construction bills for the city’s new municipal center.

A year earlier, in 2005, the city received a recommendation from a blue-ribbon task force to change the composition of the board of trustees for its retirement system – to a mix on the board that is less heavily weighted towards members who are beneficiaries of the system. And on Monday, the council approved the Nov. 8 ballot language that will ask voters to change the city charter, which specifies the composition of the board.

A year before that, in 2004, the city council gave direction to city staff to develop an ordinance that would regulate idling vehicles. On Monday, the city council formally received – but took no action on – a resolution from its environmental commission recommending a draft anti-idling ordinance.

Likely dating back even earlier was an agenda item that addresses a point of ongoing friction between the city and the University of Michigan: reimbursement for the costs associated with traffic control during home football games. On Monday, the council approved a resolution that sets Aug. 25 as a deadline for completing a contract that reimburses the city for those costs. Otherwise, the city administrator is directed not to provide the signs and signals operations during home games.

In other business, the council gave final approval to the reapportionment of the five city wards, which will take effect after the Nov. 8 election. The council also set the application fee for medical marijuana business licenses at $600. The city’s medical marijuana licensing legislation, approved in June, takes effect later this month. Mayor John Hieftje also announced nominations for four of the five slots on the newly-established medical marijuana licensing board.

The mayor also announced nominations to the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board. Joan Lowenstein and John Mouat were nominated for reappointment, while Gary Boren, recently elected as chair of the board for the coming year, was not.

At the meeting, the DDA was also highlighted during public commentary by the owner of Jerusalem Garden, a restaurant adjacent to the construction site of the Fifth Avenue underground parking structure, which the DDA is managing. The restaurant has seen revenues drop during construction. He reiterated some of the points he’s made previously when addressing the council and the DDA board, and this time called on the council to think about how to apply lessons learned from the current situation in the future.

Economic development was also part of the council meeting in the form of a resolution the council passed that urges the Washtenaw County board of commissioners to levy a tax to fund economic development. The tax is based on Act 88 of 1913 and does not require voter approval.

The proposed Fuller Road Station maintained a presence during council proceedings in the form of public commentary, as well as a reminder from the council to the mayor that he’d previously indicated a council work session would be scheduled on the project. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor to County: Levy Econ Dev Tax

At its Aug. 15, 2011 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council passed a resolution urging the Washtenaw County board of commissioners to use Act 88 of 1913 to levy a tax to support economic development in the county. For the last two years, the county board has levied the tax – at a rate of 0.043 mill. (One mill is $1 for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.) The council resolution was brought forward by Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Margie Teall (Ward 4) and Sandi Smith (Ward 1).

Because Act 88 predates the state’s Headlee legislation, the board does not need to put the issue before voters in order to levy the tax. The county board could, by the Act 88 statute, levy such a tax up to 0.5 mills, or more than 10 times the amount it has chosen to levy the last two years.

Last year in November, the county board approved the Act 88 tax with just a six-vote majority on the 11-member board. Kristin Judge, Mark Ouimet and Wes Prater dissented. Jessica Ping abstained, and Rolland Sizemore Jr. was absent from that Nov. 3, 2010 meeting.

For 2011, the allocation of the roughly $611,266 raised by the countywide Act 88 tax broke down as follows: $200,000 to Ann Arbor SPARK; $50,000 to SPARK East; $100,000 to the Eastern Leaders Group; $144,696 to the county’s department of economic development and energy; $15,000 to fund a Michigan State University Extension agricultural innovation counselor for Washtenaw County; $27,075 to fund horticulture programming for the Washtenaw MSUE horticulture educator; $59,229 for 4-H activities, including allocation to the Washtenaw Farm Council for operating the Washtenaw County 4-H Youth Show & 4-H agricultural programming for the 4-H extension educator; and $15,000 to support the work of the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP).

SPARK is also supported by Ann Arbor taxpayers through a contract with the city of Ann Arbor for business development services. At its June 20, 2011 meeting the city council authorized the city’s annual $75,000 contract with SPARK. That translates to the rough equivalent of 0.017 Ann Arbor city mills. (Each mill levied within the city of Ann Arbor translates to roughly $4.5 million.) Together with the countywide Act 88 millage, direct Ann Arbor taxpayer support of economic development translates to the equivalent of at least .06 mills (0.043 + 0.017) or roughly $270,000.

Ann Arbor SPARK is also the contractor hired by the city’s local development finance authority (LDFA) to operate a business accelerator for the city’s SmartZone, one of 11 such districts established in the early 2000s by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC). The SmartZone is funded by a tax increment finance (TIF) mechanism, which in the current fiscal year captured around $1.4 million in taxes from a TIF district – the union of the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority districts, though revenue is generated only in Ann Arbor’s district. The specific taxes on which the increment since 2002 is captured are the school operating and state education taxes, which would otherwise be sent to the state and then redistributed back to local school districts.

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] [Full Story]