Stories indexed with the term ‘Ann Arbor public parking system’

Column: Parking Oversight, Please

On-street metered parking in and near downtown Ann Arbor costs $1.50 an hour. Rates have not been increased since September 2012. By the terms of the contract under which the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA) operates the parking system on behalf of the city, the DDA – not the city council – has the authority to raise rates.

(City of Ann Arbor public parking system data from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, charts by The Chronicle)

Comparing the periods October 2012 through June 2012 to October 2013 through June 2014 – when rates have been constant – revenue has increased 1.20% to $14,647,274, while the number of hourly patrons has decreased by 1.65% to 1,661,256. (City of Ann Arbor public parking system data from the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority, charts by The Chronicle.)

What if on-street metered rates were raised a dime, and rates across other parts of the parking system were also raised by an equivalent percentage?

Although the DDA operates the parking system, that kind of 6.7% rate increase would directly benefit the city’s general fund. By how much?

First, any increase to the city’s general fund revenue is a function of the contract with the city of Ann Arbor, under which the DDA operates the roughly 8,000-space public parking system. The contract stipulates that the city receives 17% of gross parking system revenues.

Total parking system revenues are budgeted by the DDA for the 2015 fiscal year at about $19.3 million. So in ballpark numbers, the 17% equates to a roughly $3.2 million transfer to the city. Of that $3.2 million, about $2.3 million will go to the general fund, while the remaining amount will go to the fund the city uses to maintain downtown streets. That division of the transfer payment by the city has its historical roots in an arrangement between the city and the DDA that predated the existing contract.

So a 6.7% increase in rates across the parking system – assuming no decrease in the use of the system – works out to something like $150,000 more for the city of Ann Arbor’s general fund.

The city council’s role in setting parking rates is one of oversight, not decision-making. But even that oversight role is structurally somewhat weak – because decisions made by the DDA (to raise parking rates) can make the city council’s annual budget decisions somewhat easier.

The next scheduled opportunity for the Ann Arbor city council to exercise oversight of the DDA will be during a fall joint work session – which is stipulated to occur under terms of the city-DDA parking contract. That session is currently planned for Sept. 8.

The contractually stipulated work session would be a good opportunity for councilmembers to ask for metrics on Ann Arbor’s public parking system. Requested information should include stats that indicate how well Ann Arbor’s public parking system supports three different key user groups: (1) downtown employees; (2) retail/transactional customers and visitors; and (3) downtown residents.

Some data is collected routinely by the DDA from Republic Parking – its contractor for day-to-day operations – and shared publicly. That data is limited to revenue figures and numbers of hourly patrons. The routine data does not include hours parked by different categories of users – monthly permit holders and hourly patrons – which makes it difficult to evaluate the system’s support of different user groups.

Still, it’s possible to discern some patterns and to draw some conclusions about Ann Arbor’s parking system, based on the data the DDA does provide. Charts with commentary are presented below. [Full Story]

Column: A New Agenda for the DDA

Sometime between May 7, 2014 and June 4, 2014, it looks to me like the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board and executive director violated Michigan’s Open Meetings Act (OMA).

Streetlight locations are mapped in the joint Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor GIS system. Data available by clicking on icons includes ownership as well as the lighting technology used. Green indicates city ownership. Red indicates DTE ownership.

Streetlight locations are mapped in the joint Washtenaw County and city of Ann Arbor GIS system. Data available by clicking on icons includes ownership as well as the lighting technology used. Green indicates city ownership. Red indicates DTE ownership.

How? At its May 7 meeting, the board voted to postpone until June 4 a resolution authorizing a $101,733 payment to DTE to convert 212 non-LED streetlights in downtown Ann Arbor to LED technology. But the resolution did not appear on the board’s June 4 agenda.

Instead of voting on the previous month’s resolution – to approve it, reject it, postpone it again or table it – the board listened to an update from executive director Susan Pollay. Pollay told board members that they should assume that the issue is tabled – but possibly not permanently. That decision to table the resolution appears to have been made between board meetings.

The DDA board’s inaction on the funding means that the downtown LED conversion won’t happen in this year’s cycle – because the deadline to apply for a project this year is June 30. So for this year’s program, the city’s energy office will ask the city council – at its June 16 meeting – to authorize money to fund a different project that converts some lights outside the downtown. DTE does not necessarily offer the conversion program every year.

A decision on expending funds is an effectuation of public policy – thus a “decision” under Michigan’s OMA. Even though the decision by the DDA on the streetlight conversion allocation had the practical impact of not expending funds, that should still be analyzed as an effectuation of public policy. And that public policy decision appears to have taken place between board meetings, which is a violation of the core requirement of Michigan’s OMA: “All decisions of a public body shall be made at a meeting open to the public.”

As a practical matter, the only consequence of a court’s finding that the DDA violated the OMA would be to invalidate the DDA’s decision not to expend funds. Why bother to drag the DDA board into court over that? Invalidation of the decision not to expend funds would not force the DDA to go ahead and spend the funds. It would leave things exactly as they are now.

A more economical and time-effective way to address this specific issue would be for DDA board members to publicly recognize and acknowledge their commitment to abide by the OMA – by simply taking a vote on the LED conversion resolution from May 7 at their next meeting, on July 2. It’s surely just as important as the board’s scheduled social gathering at Bill’s Beer Garden on that same day.

That’s also the day when the DDA board’s annual meeting takes place. The annual meeting is when new board officers are elected and committees are appointed. So the annual meeting this year could be an occasion for the DDA to flip a switch, and light itself up with civic tech better than any LED. It would be a chance to re-establish itself as a public body that is committed to rigorous governance – based on strict adherence to its bylaws and the state statute that enables the existence of the DDA.

Presented below are some recommendations for specific actions the DDA board should consider, starting at its annual meeting. The recommended actions would provide an agenda for board work that needs to be done in the coming year.

Here’s a summary of those recommendations: establish strong committees; strictly follow the board bylaws or else change them; consult the archives; and create a development plan that meets state statutory criteria. [Full Story]