Stories indexed with the term ‘four-party transit agreement’

Washtenaw Board to Re-Vote on Transit Accord

Again on the agenda of the Washtenaw County board commissioners for Sept. 5 will be the articles of incorporation for a new countywide transit authority. The intended outcome is not for the board to rescind or amend in a significant way the articles it approved on Aug. 1, 2012 – on a 6-4 vote.

Once again on the agenda for the Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting on Sept. 5 will be the articles of incorporation for a new transit authority. It’s expected to be a stamp of approval for some administrative changes, not a chance to change the document or rescind the board’s previous decision to approve the document.

Instead, the point of re-introducing the agenda item is to provide an opportunity for the board to affirm the administrative changes to the articles of incorporation that took place after the board’s Aug. 1 vote.

The administrative changes were already included in the documents by the other three parties to the four-party agreement when they subsequently ratified the document. Those parties are the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which is leading this effort. The Ann Arbor city council voted (for a third time) to approve the articles of incorporation at its Aug. 9, 2012 meeting; the Ypsilanti city council voted at its Aug. 14 meeting (also for a third time); and the AATA board voted (for a second time) at its meeting on Aug. 16.

News of the agenda item came from an email sent by Washtenaw County board chair Conan Smith to other commissioners on the evening of Aug. 22. It’s not entirely clear whether the board will: (1) take a vote that affirms the administrative (non-substantive) nature of the changes that were made after the board approved the document on Aug. 1; or (2) take a vote that amends the document to match the version approved by the other three parties.

Previous re-votes have been driven by substantive amendments made by one of the parties to the agreement. For example, the Ypsilanti city council amended the four-party accord after the Ann Arbor city council first voted, on March 5, 2012. That amendment involved service charges applied to the respective cities’ existing millages. When the agreement went back to the Ann Arbor city council, that body amended the document further – which meant that it returned to the Ypsilanti city council for its approval again. The AATA board then ratified the agreement.

It was expected to be approved by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners without further substantive amendment. But on Aug. 1 the board made a change to the size of the majority needed, in order for the new transit authority’s board to change the articles of incorporation – from 2/3 to 4/5 of the 15 board members. That triggered the most recent round of approvals by the various bodies.

But those approvals incorporated some changes that were driven by a desire to harmonize the county board’s amendment with the rest of the document, as well as with Act 196 of 1986 – the act under which the new transit authority will be incorporated. For example, the 4/5 majority requirement for changes to the articles of incorporation is at apparent odds with one kind of change to the articles specifically mentioned in Act 196 – a change in jurisdictions that are part of the authority. Act 196 explicitly indicates that a 2/3 vote is required. So an administrative change undertaken after the board’s Aug. 1 meeting was to add the clause: “… unless another vote of Board is required under the terms of these Articles or provided for in Act 196.”

The view of legal counsel for the four parties was apparently that it’s not actually necessary for those changes to be explicitly re-voted and affirmed by the county board of commissioners. However, there is at least some sentiment on the county board that the changes might be construed as substantive and contrary to the intent of the county board, which could become an unnecessary point of contention down the road.

The AATA is current finalizing the details of a five-year service plan that will need to be published as one of several conditions that must be met before the AATA could transition into the newly incorporated authority, to be called The Washtenaw Ride. This week, the AATA board called a special meeting for Sept. 5 to unveil that service plan.

Earlier in the year, the AATA had hoped to be in a position to possibly place a transit millage proposal on the ballot this November. But at this point, that won’t be possible. Any transit millage proposal will come at a later election.

After the jump, this report describes the administrative changes in question and possible misinterpretations. [Full Story]

Council Meeting: Floods, Fires, Demolition

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Aug. 9, 2012) Part 2: Ballot initiatives for the Nov. 6, 2012 election – two about parks and one on public art – were the dominant theme of the council’s meeting. Those are covered in Part 1 of the meeting report.

Mayor John Hieftje and city administrator Steve Powers

From left: Mayor John Hieftje and city administrator Steve Powers before the start of the Aug. 9, 2012 council meeting.

But the council transacted several other pieces of business as well, some of which could be grouped into the general thematic pattern of land and property use. Most obviously connected to land use was the council’s initial approval of a rezoning request in connection with an expansion proposal from Knight’s Market, at the corner of Miller and Spring streets. The rezoning would allow a house to be converted into a bakery. It would also allow for eventual approval of a site plan to build a 1,200-square-foot addition to the existing grocery store and to expand, reconfigure, and improve the existing parking lot.

The council also passed a resolution to deal with an issue stemming, in part, from land use decisions made decades ago that resulted in residential development in the area of the Malletts Creek drainage district. Recently, residents in the area have been faced with severe localized flooding. The council’s resolution directed staff to start negotiations with the Washtenaw County water resources commissioner to identify “opportunities for stormwater conveyance and stormwater quality improvement in the area of the Malletts Creek drainage district.”

Related at least tangentially to land use at the level of a specific parcel was a resolution the council passed establishing the property at 317 Maynard in downtown Ann Arbor as an industrial development district. The move sets the stage for an expected application from the future tenant of the space, owned by First Martin Corp., for a tax abatement that would be worth around $85,000. The tenant is Barracuda Networks.

And the council took another step in implementing a strategy to eliminate blight. The city had previously set aside funds that could be used to demolish blighted buildings – if the city is unsuccessful in getting property owners to demolish them. The council’s action last Thursday authorized the city to sign contracts with four different companies to do such demolition work on an as-needed basis. It was announced at the meeting that the houses on North Main – at the site of the planned Near North affordable housing project – will likely be among the first to be demolished under the contracts authorized by the council.

To the extent that transportation systems have an impact on future land use, another item related to land use was a reapproval of the articles of incorporation for a possible new countywide transportation authority. The articles of incorporation are part of a four-party agreement to establish a framework for possibly expanding the governance and service area of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

The four-party agreement is between the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA. The Ann Arbor council changed the minimum threshold of votes required on the proposed new 15-member transit authority board, an action that brought the council in line with a version that the Washtenaw County board of commissioners had approved earlier this month. That threshold was increased from a 2/3 majority (10 votes) to a 4/5 majority (12 votes).

In other business, the council authorized the hiring of three additional firefighters for the next two years, using a federal grant. It also authorized the purchase of a new aerial fire truck.

Nominations to city boards and commissions made at the meeting included reappointment of Sandi Smith, Roger Hewitt and Keith Orr to the board of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. And Sally Petersen, who won the Ward 2 Democratic primary on Aug. 7, was nominated for the city’s commission on disability issues.

The council also heard public commentary on a range of topics, including smart meters and the idea of corporations as people.  [Full Story]

County Board Deals with Transit, Budget, Labor

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (Aug. 1, 2012): In a move that extends the approval process for a countywide public transportation system, commissioners amended the articles of incorporation for a new transit authority then ultimately approved that document and a related four-party agreement on a 6-4 vote.

Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, Leah Gunn

Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, left, talks with Washtenaw County commissioner Leah Gunn prior to the start of the Aug. 1, 2012 board of commissioners meeting. Gryniewicz is community outreach coordinator for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. (Photos by the writer.)

Because the articles were amended, they will need to be reconsidered by the other three parties in the agreement: the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which is spearheading this effort. Those governing bodies are expected to take up the issue at meetings later this month. It will be on the Ann Arbor city council agenda for its Aug. 9 meeting.

Before the county board’s Aug. 1 vote, about a dozen people spoke during a public hearing on the issue, the majority of them in support of the agreement and of expanded public transit in general.

Although amendments had been considered and voted down at the board’s July 11 meeting, on Aug. 1 Rob Turner proposed a new amendment to the articles of incorporation. The original draft stipulated that a two-thirds majority of the new authority’s board would be required to amend the articles of incorporation. Turner’s amendment would have stipulated that a unanimous vote by the new authority’s board would be needed to make such changes. Leah Gunn offered a compromise – a four-fifths majority, or 12 of the new authority’s 15 board members. That amendment to Turner’s amendment passed on a 6-4 vote, with dissent from Turner, Conan Smith, Felicia Brabec and Wes Prater. The vote on the amended amendment itself – requiring the four-fifths majority – passed unanimously.

Turner felt his original amendment offered safeguards for smaller communities. It’s possible for communities to decide to join the new transit authority, only to have the articles of incorporation – the “rules of the game” – changed after they’ve joined, he said. If his amendment had been approved, Turner said he would have supported the four-party agreement and articles of incorporation. He said it no longer seemed like a countywide authority – it seemed like an Ann Arbor system that others could join. That saddened him, he said.

Joining Turner in his final vote against the overall agreement and articles of incorporation were Alicia Ping, Wes Prater and Dan Smith. Rolland Sizemore Jr. was absent.

A range of other items were on the Aug. 1 agenda. Commissioners suspended the county’s use of Construction Unity Board (CUB) agreements, responding to a change in state law. They also gave final approval to a change in the county’s accommodations ordinance, exempting bed & breakfasts, cottages and individuals who occasionally lease out rooms from the 5% accommodations tax. And addressing a need for veterans, the board authorized the county clerk to offer photo IDs that can be used to redeem discounts offered at local businesses.

On an 8-2 vote, commissioners also approved a brownfield financing plan for a $39 million residential development at 618 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor. Before the board’s vote, both Felicia Brabec and Yousef Rabhi praised the development, but said they were voting against it because of concerns about affordability. They did not feel that most young professionals would be able to afford living there, and stressed the importance of having more affordable housing in the downtown area.

The board also heard a report from the county treasurer, and got a second-quarter financial update from staff. Commissioners then approved a $1,263,994 mid-year adjustment to its 2012 general fund budget, bringing the 2012 general fund budget to $101,162,770.

In one of the least controversial items of the meeting, commissioners passed a resolution commending the Washtenaw Community Concert Band – formerly the Ypsilanti Community Band – on its 35th season. Dan Smith, who plays the trumpet, is a member of that group. [Full Story]

County Board OKs Amended Transit Deal

Taking another step in a months-long process to secure the foundation for a broader public transit authority, Washtenaw County commissioners on a 6-4 vote gave final approval to a four-party agreement and articles of incorporation for a new entity tentatively called the Washtenaw Ride Transportation Authority. The vote was taken at the board’s Aug. 1, 2012 meeting, following a public hearing on the proposal. Eleven people spoke at the hearing, most of them in support of expanded public transit. Voting against the agreement and articles of incorporation were Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, Dan Smith and Rob Turner. Rolland Sizemore Jr. was absent.

Before the final vote, the board made an amendment to the articles of incorporation – an action that means the amended … [Full Story]

Long Debate, But County Transit Moves Ahead

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (July 11, 2012): Two agenda items dominated the discussion at the recent county board meeting: (1) an interim plan for the Washtenaw Head Start, reducing staff as the county prepares to hand over the program to a new entity, and (2) documents related to a proposed countywide transit authority.

Michael Ford, Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, Dan Smith

From left: Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority; Sarah Pressprich Gryniewicz, AATA’s community outreach coordinator; and Washtenaw County commissioner Dan Smith. Smith proposed several amendments to the four-party agreement and articles of incorporation, which form the foundation for a new county public transit authority. All of the amendments were defeated. (Photos by the writer.)

After a 2.5-hour debate, county commissioners on a 7-4 vote gave initial approval to a four-party agreement and articles of incorporation that lay the foundation for a broader public transit authority in this area – tentatively called the Washtenaw Ride Transportation Authority. Voting against the agreement and articles of incorporation were Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, Dan Smith and Rob Turner. The board also set an Aug. 1 public hearing to gather feedback on the agreement. A final vote is expected to take place at that Aug. 1 meeting.

The other parties in the agreement include the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, which both would contribute existing millages to the new authority. The fourth party to the agreement is the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which is spearheading this effort and would shift about $200 million in assets to the new entity. The governing bodies of those three parties have already approved the transit documents. [.pdf of four-party agreement and articles of incorporation]

The board debated several amendments put forward by Dan Smith, but none of the amendments secured enough votes to pass. One of the main arguments against making any changes came repeatedly from Leah Gunn, who noted that amendments made by the county board would require that the other three parties reconsider the documents. She called it a “foolish waste of time.”

Smith argued that this was the first time that formal, representative input has been heard from communities outside of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. The amendments were intended to make the new transit authority more attractive to smaller municipalities, who’ll have the option of opting out. Smith raised concerns that the current governance structure doesn’t provide the best possible representation for taxpayers.

Another issue drawing heated discussion related to Head Start, which provides pre-school services to 561 local children, ages 3-5, and their families. Last year, the board voted to relinquish its 46-year administration of the program on July 31, 2012. But the transition to a new administrator – a process overseen by the federal Head Start program – hasn’t moved as quickly as expected. So the county agreed to a one-year extension to continue administering the program, through July 31, 2013.

On July 11, the county board was asked to approve changes to the program from Aug. 1, 2012 through July 31, 2013 – as part of authorizing a federal grant application for the program. Ronnie Peterson cast the sole vote against the changes, and objected strenuously to any program cuts. He voiced his concerns at length, and asked – as he has in the past – that independent experts be brought in to discuss how the changes will impact the children. He also vowed to try to keep Head Start under the county’s administration, rather than relinquishing control. The issue will be addressed at an Aug. 2 working session, but it’s unlikely that the board will reverse its decision to cut ties with Head Start.

Other commissioners objected to Peterson’s contention that they didn’t care about poor children. Rob Turner urged board chair Conan Smith to form a coalition of local educators and government leaders to tackle the problem of educational disparities within the county.

Separately, the board passed a resolution supporting the selection of the Washtenaw Intermediate School District as the next local Head Start administrator. The selection will be made by federal Head Start officials.

In other action, commissioners heard public commentary and gave initial approval to exempt bed & breakfasts and cottages from Washtenaw County’s 5% accommodations tax. In a separate vote, the board set a public hearing for Aug. 1 to seek input on the proposed ordinance change. A final vote on the resolution is expected at the board’s Aug. 1 meeting.

That Aug. 1 meeting will also include a public hearing and vote on a brownfield financing plan for a residential development at 618 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor. The apartment complex is located at the site of the former Fox Tent and Awning, north of Mosley between Main and Ashley, and is being put forward by Dan Ketelaar’s Urban Group Development Co.

In another development-related matter, the board authorized a contract with Sylvan Township related to debt repayment on bonds issued 11 years ago for a water and wastewater treatment plant. It’s another attempt to establish an arrangement under which Sylvan Township will repay the county for covering bond payments – contingent on Sylvan Township voters approving a 20-year, 4.4 mill tax that’s on the Aug. 7 ballot. [Full Story]

County Gives Initial OK to 4-Party Transit Deal

After a lengthy debate at their July 11, 2012 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners on a 7-4 vote gave initial approval to a four-party agreement and articles of incorporation that lay the foundation for a broader public transit authority in this area – tentatively called the Washtenaw Ride Transportation Authority. Voting against the agreement and articles of incorporation were Alicia Ping, Wes Prater, Dan Smith and Rob Turner. The board also set an Aug. 1 public hearing to gather feedback on the agreement. A final vote is expected to take place at that Aug. 1 meeting.

The other parties in the agreement are the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, which both would contribute existing millages to the new authority, and the Ann Arbor … [Full Story]

County Board Focuses on Public Health Issues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (June 6, 2012): Several action items at the most recent county board meeting related to public health, but the one that drew the most discussion did not require a vote: A new program by the public health department to ban the sale of synthetic drugs.

Leah Gunn, Conan Smith

Washtenaw County commissioners Leah Gunn and Conan Smith, who both represent districts in Ann Arbor, exchange hand gestures before the start of the June 6, 2012 board of commissioners meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

Commissioners were briefed by Dick Fleece, the county’s top public health official, about the new effort to eliminate the sale of synthetic marijuana – known as “spice” and sold legally as K2, Yucatan Fire and other brand names – as well as other synthetic drugs. The “carrot-and-stick” approach will encourage businesses to remove the products voluntarily, Fleece said, and highlight that decision with a decal that stores can use to indicate compliance. But if businesses don’t comply, the county has the authority to issue a public health order against them and, if necessary, get a court injunction to force compliance.

While commissioners acknowledged that synthetic drugs are dangerous – effects can include hallucinations, aggression, paranoia, and seizures – there were some questions for Fleece about why the county is targeting these particular products, which are sold legally. Fleece indicated that there’s heightened concern among residents and coverage of the issue in nearly every media outlet nationally. Some commissioners expressed skepticism about the approach, indicating a preference for a broader educational campaign about the dangers of legal and illegal substances.

Other public health items on the June 6 agenda included hiring Alice Penrose as the county’s new medical director, and approving the application for a state grant to pay for water quality monitoring at five local beaches. The board also appointed 15 members to the new Washtenaw Food Policy Council, and approved the application for federal funding of a summer meal program for low-income children.

Commissioners also voted to schedule a special working session on June 14 to discuss a four-party public transit agreement that’s intended to set the stage for a possible countywide transit authority. A new transit authority – tentatively called The Washtenaw Ride – would expand the governance and service area of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Some commissioners intend to bring forward amendments to the agreement, which the board is expected to vote on at its regular July 11 meeting. If the county board does amend the four-party agreement, it would need to be reconsidered by the other three entities involved, which have already approved it: the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the AATA board.

During the time allotted for communications, commissioners discussed the decision by the state not to reimburse local communities for emergency expenses related to the March 15 tornado touchdown near Dexter. Also, Verna McDaniel highlighted the state’s approval of a $1 million grant to fund brownfield cleanup at the former Georgetown Mall in Ann Arbor, for a residential project called Packard Square. The board had approved the grant application a year ago, following a contentious discussion about the project.

Other actions during the June 6 meeting included: (1) authorizing a grant agreement for up to $60,000 in emergency housing assistance for residents facing eviction from Camp Take Notice; (2) taking a final vote to set the 2012 county general operating millage rate at 4.5493 mills; and (3) giving final approval for re-funding of previously-issued bonds, a move that’s expected to save $889,000 over the life of the bond repayments. [Full Story]

County Session Set on Transit Accord

At their June 6, 2012 meeting, Washtenaw County commissioners voted to schedule a special work session for Thursday, June 14 to discuss a four-party public transit agreement that’s intended to set the stage for a possible countywide transit authority. A new transit authority – tentatively called The Washtenaw Ride – would expand the governance and service area of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

The effort is spearheaded by the AATA. Its CEO, Michael Ford, had expressed interest in putting the item on the county board’s June 6 agenda. The other three entities in the agreement – the AATA board, and the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti – have authorized the accord. However, county commissioners wanted more time to consider … [Full Story]

Ypsi Council Re-Adopts Transit Accord

The Ypsilanti city council has reconsidered and ratified the four-party public transportation agreement intended to be the foundation for a future countywide transportation authority. Under the new authority, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority’s governance and area of service would be expanded.

The version of the four-party agreement adopted by the Ypsilanti council now matches that which was approved by the Ann Arbor city council the previous day on June 4, 2012. That version, now approved by both bodies, provides for different treatment of a 1% municipal service charge by each city.

Under the agreement, Ann Arbor will apply the 1% charge before forwarding its transit millage revenues to a possible new transportation authority to be formed under Act 196 of 1986. Ypsilanti will not assess … [Full Story]

AATA Releases Draft 5-Year Service Program

At a special meeting held on April 26, 2012, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority voted formally to release for public review a five-year service and funding draft plan – part of a possible transition to expanded governance and service throughout Washtenaw County. The draft plan incorporates the advice of a financial task force that signed off on recommendations at its Feb. 29 meeting. [.pdf of draft five-year plan]

The plan will undergo a period of public review lasting 30-days.

The five-year program includes: (1) countywide demand-responsive services and feeder services; (2) express bus services and local transit hubs services; (3) local community connectors and local community circulators; (4) park-and-ride intercept lots; and (5) urban bus network enhancements. For … [Full Story]

AATA Board Sets April 26 Special Meeting

A special meeting of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board set for Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 4:30 p.m was announced by AATA board chair Jesse Bernstein at the board’s monthly meeting last night. The special meeting will be held at AATA headquarters, 2700 South Industrial Highway.

The purpose of the meeting is to receive formally a detailed five-year service plan that has been developed by the AATA as part of its plan to expand its governance and transportation service to a countywide area. The service plan is part of a key step specified in a four-party agreement – between the AATA, the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, and Washtenaw County – that would establish a framework … [Full Story]

County Board Updated on Public Transit Plans

Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session (March 22, 2012): Commissioners got another briefing about transitioning to a countywide public transportation system, but several expressed concerns about some aspects of the proposal.

Michael Ford, Mary Stasiak

Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, talks with AATA community relations manager Mary Stasiak before the start of the March 22, 2012 Washtenaw County board of commissioners working session. Ford gave an update on plans for a countywide transit agreement. (Photos by the writer.)

Michael Ford, CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, gave the presentation and fielded questions during the county board’s most recent working session. He touched on some of the same ground that he’d covered at the board’s Dec. 7, 2011 meeting, but provided updates on several actions that have taken place since then. Most significantly, the Ann Arbor city council has approved a four-party agreement that the county will also be asked to join. The agreement does not create a new transit authority, but sets out the process and framework – including a timeline – by which a new authority would be formed.

Ford stressed that the county would not be required to fund the new authority or put a millage on the ballot.  Nor would it incur liabilities for the entity. “Your role is important, but it’s limited,” he said. The county’s primary role would be to file articles of incorporation with the state to form the authority under Act 196 of 1986.

Some commissioners expressed unease with aspects of the process, and pressed Ford for details on several issues. Dan Smith was concerned about how residents in smaller townships would be represented fairly, noting that the residents themselves won’t be voting on whether to participate – that decision will be made by the governing bodies of each municipality. Wes Prater said his main objection is that the process requires municipalities to opt out, rather than opt in – he characterized it as throwing out a wide net and making people crawl out, rather than choosing to join. He predicted that at least 12 townships won’t participate.

Both Smith and Prater represent primarily rural districts. Yousef Rabhi, a commissioner from Ann Arbor, urged the board to take a more regional perspective, arguing that an insular approach among municipalities has plagued this county for a long time, and they need to move past that.

The March 22 working session also included a briefing on state legislative issues by Kirk Profit, a lobbyist for the county with Lansing-based Governmental Consultant Services Inc. This report focuses on the countywide transit presentation. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Takes Late Bus to Transit Accord

Ann Arbor city council meeting (March 5, 2012): The council’s meeting did not conclude until almost 1 a.m., prompting resident Thomas Partridge to remark during public commentary at the conclusion of the meeting, “It’s almost time to plan for breakfast!”

Sandi Smith, Sabra Briere, Tony Derezinski, Jane Lumm

Left to right: Councilmembers Sandi Smith (Ward 1), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) and Jane Lumm (Ward 2). (Photos by the writer.)

The issue driving the lengthy meeting was an agreement between four different entities, including the city of Ann Arbor, that would set up a framework for a transition of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a new funding and governance structure. The intent of transitioning to a new authority would be to provide increased transportation service both within the city of Ann Arbor as well as throughout Washtenaw County.

The Ann Arbor city council approved the agreement on Monday night on a 7-4 vote, after postponing it three times previously. That sets the stage for the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the AATA to approve it as well. Even after approval by those three entities, several steps would remain before a new transit authority, incorporated under Michigan’s Act 196, could take over transportation services from the AATA.

The council considered several amendments to the agreement, but approved only two relatively minor, clarificational items. [.pdf of agreement as amended]

Toward the end of the meeting, the nomination of University of Michigan planner Sue Gott to the AATA board was given spirited discussion by two councilmembers, but was ultimately confirmed on a unanimous vote.

Falling victim to the lengthy deliberations on the transit agreement was a resolution that would direct the city attorney to delay enforcement of medical marijuana laws for local dispensaries, except for zoning violations. A vote on that resolution was postponed without deliberation, due to the late hour. That resolution comes in the context of a recommendation from the city council’s medical marijuana licensing board, currently pending with the council, to award the first 10 medical marijuana licenses under local legislation enacted last year.

Related to a different kind of licensing, the council approved a resolution that recommends non-renewal of liquor licenses for two establishments in Ann Arbor – Dream Nite Club and Rush Street. A hearing on the two licenses will be held on March 19, with the city council’s final recommendation to the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to be made that same day.

The council also passed several resolutions related to land and its use. The council approved the acquisition of another 58.85 acres under its greenbelt program, as well as the purchase of property on West Kingsley so that a long-vacant house there can finally be demolished. A rain garden is to be constructed on that parcel, because it’s situated in the Allen Creek floodway. In a related item, a new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) flood map was also given final approval by the council on Monday night.

The council gave initial approval to a revision of parking regulations in open space at the front of land parcels, but postponed any action on a proposed revision that would eliminate a requirement on landscape buffers in areas zoned R4C (multi-family residential).

Receiving approval from the council were a total of nearly $1.7 million in renovations to several of the city parks. The funding includes improvements to ballfields at Veterans Memorial Park, Southeast Area Park and West Park, as well as upgrades to roads and paths at Buhr Park and Cobblestone Farm.

The council also approved the issuance of $120 million in revenue bonds for the reconstruction of the city’s sewage treatment facilities, long planned and in the works. [Full Story]

County Acts on Budget, Health, Policy Issues

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (March 7, 2012): Although the county board isn’t yet in the heart of discussions for its next two-year budget cycle, the specter of that effort provided a backdrop to action at Wednesday’s meeting. The county faces projected deficits of $11.6 million in 2014 and $14.7 million in 2015.

Jenna Bacolor, Michaelle Rehmann, Al Connor

From left: Jenna Bacolor of the county's public health department, Michaelle Rehmann, Farm to Table director for the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP), and Al Connor of the Michigan Farmers Union. All are involved in helping create the Washtenaw Food Policy Council. (Photos by the writer.)

Two items touched directly on salary and compensation. The board gave final approval to an administrative restructuring that’s estimated to save $326,422 annually, and result in the net reduction of four full-time jobs, which are currently vacant. As he did for the initial vote on Feb. 15, commissioner Ronnie Peterson voted against the restructuring, objecting to a 4% increase that will be given to four top managers in a new cross-lateral team, as a result of their job reclassification. Though the county uniformly gives a 4% raise when any job is reclassified, Peterson argued that the county’s leadership should set an example and that the raises will make it more difficult to ask for concessions in future union negotiations in 2014-15.

Also related to upcoming budgets, commissioner Dan Smith presented a draft proposal that would cut compensation for commissioners in 2013-2014. Overall, the proposal would cut total compensation (salary and benefits) by 5.7% per commissioner – from the current $20,213 to a proposed $19,063. He plans to present a formal resolution at the April 4 meeting. The timing would allow the board to make a decision before the May 15 filing deadline for county board candidates.

Another budget-related item came from the public health department, which proposed fee increases to treat sexually transmitted diseases – one of the mandated services provided by the county. The changes, which were approved unanimously, are being made in response to federal funding cuts and an increase in charges for state services. Though he voted in favor of the increases, Peterson raised concerns about the impact on low-income residents. Dick Fleece, director of the public health department, assured the board that no one would be refused treatment because of the inability to pay.

Public health staff also presented an item with almost no budget impact: A proposal to create the Washtenaw Food Policy Council, with the goal of supporting and coordinating activities in the county’s food system. Partners who’ve been working on this initiative include the Y of Ann Arbor, Growing Hope, Food Gatherers, the Food System Economic Partnership (FSEP), Slow Food Huron Valley, Eat Local/Eat Natural, Michigan Farmers Union, and the Ypsilanti Food Coop. A final vote is expected on March 21.

The board also acted on items related to public safety. They voted to accept a $177,500 state grant from the state’s Economic Vitality Incentive program (EVIP), which provides incentives for local governments to collaborate and combine operations. The grant will help pay for work related to dispatch consolidation between the county sheriff’s office and the city of Ann Arbor.

And in a vote to clear up a procedural move, the board authorized a merger of its countywide 800 megahertz (MHz) emergency communications system with the Michigan Public Safety Communication System. The county’s 800 MHz system is paid for through a 10-year, 0.20-mill tax that Washtenaw County voters approved in May 2006. At the time, the plan called for eventually merging with the statewide system.

During the opportunity for commissioners to raise items of discussion, Wes Prater noted that at the Ann Arbor city council’s March 5 meeting, a four-party agreement to establish a framework for a possible countywide transit system was approved. Prater urged the board to begin discussing the issue, too. [In addition to Ann Arbor, the four parties include the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. Ann Arbor city council was the first entity to approve the accord, doing so after postponing action on it three times and deliberating for over 3.5 hours at Monday's meeting. See Chronicle coverage: "Ann Arbor Council OKs Transit Agreement"]

A working session for commissioners to address the four-party agreement has been set for Thursday, March 22.

Prater also wondered why the board hadn’t received any reports from the county treasurer recently. The treasurer, Catherine McClary, gave a 2010 annual treasurer’s report to commissioners early last year, at their Feb. 16, 2011 meeting, but has not yet submitted the 2011 annual report. Board chair Conan Smith asked county administrator Verna McDaniel to contact the treasurer’s office and request a report. [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Council OKs Transit Agreement

After more than three and a half hours of deliberation ending after midnight at its March 5, 2012 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council gave approval to a four-party transit agreement – with the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The agreement would provide a framework and chronological sequence for the transition of the AATA to a new governance and funding structure. The Ann Arbor approval leaves several steps that would still need to be completed, before such a transition would be possible.


Graphic by The Chronicle, based on AATA's RideTrak website, to which the image links:

The goal of the transition is to provide expanded service in Washtenaw County – both within the city of Ann Arbor, and outside the AATA’s current service area. [.pdf of four-party as initially considered on March 5]

The council considered several amendments to the four-party accord on Monday night, but did not approve all of them. Four of the amendments, all of which failed, were proposed by Jane Lumm (Ward 2) or Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). Their amendments would have: (1) added a seat for city of Ann Arbor on the board of the new transit authority (giving the city 8 out of 16 seats); (2) added a requirement that the minimum transportation services to the city of Ann Arbor be commensurate with the Ann Arbor millage; (3) required that the parties agree to reconsider the four-party agreement if pending state legislation were to be passed, which would establish a regional transit authority (RTA) for the counties of Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb and Oakland; and (4) required at least 50% of the jurisdictions in Washtenaw County to participate in the new transit authority as an additional contingency to closing the deal.

None of those four amendments got more than five votes from the 11-member body. [.pdf of document showing all proposed amendments]

The council also considered an amendment put forward by Sabra Briere (Ward 1) stipulating that by signing the agreement the city council was not thereby automatically pledging its full faith and credit to any project undertaken by the new transit authority. That amendment received unanimous support.

Another amendment proposed by Briere was also approved – on a 9-2 vote – which gives the city of Ann Arbor the right to withdraw from the agreement if a funding source is not approved by a majority of Ann Arbor voters. But the amendment does not require the withdrawal unless Ann Arbor voters have not approved a funding source by Dec. 31, 2014.

The vote on the four-party agreement as a whole was 7-4, with dissent from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3), Jane Lumm (Ward 2), Marcia Higgins (Ward 4), and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

The new transit governance structure would be provided under Act 196 of 1986 instead of the state statute under which the AATA is currently incorporated – Act 55 of 1963. Called for in the four-party agreement is a 15-member board, to which Ann Arbor would appoint seven members. The AATA currently has a seven-member board.

The other eight slots on the board would be filled as follows: city of Ypsilanti (1); Pittsfield Township (1); an east district that includes Ypsilanti Township (2); a middle south district (1); a middle north district (1); a north east district (1); and a west district (1). [.jpg of map showing districts]

Act 55 was originally conceived to provide public transportation for cities, whereas the subsequent Act 196 was enacted to allow a broader range of political subdivisions to create public transportation systems, including counties. [See "Act 55 versus Act 1986" for more detail.]

Several steps remain before the AATA’s operations could transition to a new governance structure, including: (1) the approval of the four-party agreement by the city council of Ypsilanti and the Washtenaw County board of commissioners; (2) the ratification of articles of incorporation by the city councils of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti; and (3) voter approval of a funding mechanism for the new transit authority. [Full Story]

Action on Countywide Transit Still Paused

Ann Arbor city council meeting (Feb. 6, 2012): As expected, the council postponed consideration of a four-party agreement that would establish a framework for transitioning the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority to a countywide system. The agreement would be between the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3)

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) sign agendas for students who attended the Feb. 6 meeting to complete a class assignment. (Photos by the writer.)

The AATA had requested the postponement until March 5. The council ultimately agreed to do that, but not before thoroughly debating the merits of March 5 versus March 19, or even some unspecified date in the future. In the end, the resolution to postpone included a stipulation that the mayor or city administrator could take the item off the March 5 agenda, if a funding recommendation and 5-year service plan are not provided to the council by the AATA in a timely way for the March 5 meeting. A meeting of a financial advisory group, co-chaired by McKinley Inc. CEO Albert Berriz and retired Washtenaw County administrator Bob Guenzel, is scheduled to take place on Feb. 29.

In other business, the council approved the tentative award of a $92,929,000 contract with Walsh Construction Company II to undertake a major renovation project at the city’s wastewater treatment plant. During public commentary, the council heard from Glenn Granger, whose company was one of two that had submitted lower bids than Walsh. City staff evaluating the bids did not agree with Granger’s contention that his company had comparable previous experience with a project of similar complexity.

The council gave final approval to a revision to the Arlington Square planned unit development, which grants the developer additional types of uses, without imposing additional parking requirements. The council also appointed a hearing officer for the coming year’s liquor license review process – councilmember Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who also served last year in that capacity.

Highlights of public participation included commentary from a group that has been advocating for a warming center for the homeless. [Full Story]