Stories indexed with the term ‘public policy’

County TIF Policy Gets Initial Approval

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners has given initial approval a policy to guide the county’s participation in tax increment financing (TIF) authorities. The action took place at the board’s Aug. 6, 2014 meeting.

At its Oct. 16, 2013 meeting, the board had passed a resolution directing county administrator Verna McDaniel to develop a policy for evaluating future TIF proposals. The resolution stated that the policy would be developed with input from staff of the office of community and economic development, the equalization department, and the brownfield redevelopment authority. The Oct. 16 resolution was passed over dissent by the board’s two Republican commissioners, Dan Smith (R-District 2) and Alicia Ping (R-District 3).

Subsequently, an advisory committee was formed to help develop the … [Full Story]

Library Lot Proceeds OK’d for Affordable Housing

A policy for distributing the proceeds from the sale of development rights on the Library Lane lot in downtown Ann Arbor has won approval from the Ann Arbor city council. The proposed policy, approved on a 7-3 vote, sets aside 50% of the net proceeds of the sale to the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

At least 50 people attended the council meeting in support of the resolution, and four people spoke in support of the resolution during public commentary reserved time at the start of the meeting.

The council has already directed the city administrator to hire a real estate broker to explore selling the rights to develop the site – above the Library Lane underground parking structure, which was … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor OKs New Pension, Health Care Policy

New policies for making contributions to the pension and retiree health care plan have been adopted by the Ann Arbor city council. The new polices are intended to ensure that the plans are eventually fully funded.

The policy would set the funding at the higher of two different figures: (1) the Actuarial Required Contribution (ARC) rate; or (2) the existing level of contributions adjusted for the change in general fund revenues. That would have an impact of establishing a minimum increase in funding of 2% per year.

Action came at the council’s May 19, 2014 meeting.

The operative language in the policy is:
If the General Fund revenues are projected to increase less than 2%, the city’s contribution shall increase 2%; thereby establishing a … [Full Story]

Public Art Projects Move Forward

Ann Arbor public art commission meeting (April 23, 2014): A major public art project for East Stadium bridges will be moving to the city council for approval, following a recommendation made at this month’s Ann Arbor public art commission meeting.

Kristin "KT" Tomey, Ann Arbor public art commission, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

KT Tomey is working on a project to develop maps for walking or running tours of public art in Ann Arbor. (Photos by the writer.)

“Arbor Winds” by Massachusetts artist Catherine Widgery features elevated, stand-alone louvered glass columns that are etched with images of trees – three on each end of the bridges, on the north side of Stadium Boulevard. The same type of louvered glass panels will also be used under the bridge along South State, affixed to the wall of the underpass – five sets on each side of South State Street. The overall project has a budget of $400,000 and has been in the works since 2011. If approved by council, it will likely be installed in 2015.

Commissioners also expressed enthusiasm for a new effort proposed by KT Tomey, who hopes to develop a mobile app for walking or running routes that highlight public art in Ann Arbor and on the University of Michigan campus. As a runner herself, she noted that people look for running routes when they visit new towns. So the app could be used to promote public art both to visitors and residents alike. Her first step is putting together .pdf maps that will be downloadable from AAPAC’s website.

Another new proposal prompted concerns about process. On the day of the meeting, John Kotarski – AAPAC’s vice chair – circulated an email to commissioners proposing that the city accept three pieces of donated art from Jim Pallas, an established Michigan artist and friend of Kotarski’s. The pieces are proposed to be located in the lobby of the Justice Center, in the atrium of city hall, and outside of city hall. Although commissioners seemed supportive of the idea, some expressed concern that the proposal wasn’t following AAPAC’s guidelines for accepting gifts of art, which include setting up a review committee.

Kotarski pointed out that Pallas is 75 years old. He noted that if artists donate artwork before they die, they can deduct the cost of materials from their taxes. But after they die, their estate is taxed on the market value of that artwork. “So these artists, at this point in their lives, have a financial incentive to find a good place for their artwork,” he said. “If we can make that process simple and easy for Jim – and pleasant – then I’m sure he’s willing to go to his friends” and encourage them to donate too.

He reported that the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority has offered a $500 honorarium to Pallas for each donated piece. Kotarski said the three pieces have a total estimated value of $100,000. He also mentioned that Pallas’ daughter, a law professor, knows city attorney Stephen Postema and that they’ve “made arrangement to resolve any legal issues necessary to facilitate this donation.”

Kotarski told commissioners that he’s tried to assure Pallas that this will work out, but “that’s why I’m a little nervous giving him these assurances, only to have this fall through at the last minute. That’s not going to be pleasant.”

Marsha Chamberlin said she recognized the benefits of encouraging Michigan artists to donate their work. “But we are a public body, and we have procedures. I just think it’s important that we observe those rules because we don’t want to make an exception for one thing, then hold someone’s feet to the fire for something else.”

Commissioners agreed that AAPAC chair Bob Miller would work with Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, to set up a gift selection committee to review this proposal and make a recommendation to AAPAC.

In other action, the commission approved its annual art plan for fiscal 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014. The plan includes projects that are already underway, as well as proposed capital projects to be enhanced with public art. The ongoing projects are: (1) artwork for East Stadium bridges; (2) public art at Arbor Oaks Park; (3) Canoe Imagine Art; and (4) the Coleman Jewett memorial. The proposed enhanced capital projects are street and sidewalk stamping, painting or stenciling in four locations to be determined, for a total cost of $30,000. The city council would need to approve these projects before they would move forward.

Commissioners also approved applying for a $10,000 National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America Fast Track grant. The money, if awarded, would require matching funds in an equivalent amount from other sources for a public art project at Arbor Oaks Park in southeast Ann Arbor, located near Bryant Elementary School and the Bryant Community Center.

Fundraising continues for the Coleman Jewett memorial at the Ann Arbor farmers market, but Canoe Imagine Art has stalled. The community art project is intended as a temporary art display in downtown Ann Arbor using old canoes from the city that would be repurposed as public art. The city had hoped that the Ann Arbor Convention & Visitors Bureau would take administrative responsibility for the project, but the CVB has declined. Chamberlin, who’s taking the lead on this effort, said that if workarounds can’t be found for some of the administrative issues, “we have to kiss this project good-bye.” [Full Story]

AAATA Adopts Title VI Policy

A policy on service equity analysis has been adopted by the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority, as part of the authority’s Title VI compliance. Title VI is the civil rights legislation that in the context of public transportation requires proof that a service change has no adverse effect on disadvantaged populations. [.pdf of Title VI policy included in April 17, 2014 AAATA board packet]

The adoption of the policy on service equity analysis came at the board’s April 17, 2014 meeting – in the context of a 5-year service improvement plan the AAATA hopes to implement if voters approve a millage request on May 6, 2014. The AAATA is required to have such a policy as one element in a Title VI program … [Full Story]

UM: Public Policy

The Detroit Free Press profiles a University of Michigan public policy course, taught by David Harding, that uses HBO’s “The Wire” to look issues like housing, local government, employment, public safety, mental health and substance abuse. Says Harding: “The main thing that makes this course different from other courses is our emphasis on understanding the connections between areas of policy that are not usually studied together.” [Source]

Parking As Residential Incentive: Where?

About 40 monthly parking permits in Ann Arbor’s public parking system – to be sold to a proposed project at 624 Church St. – have been the topic of discussion by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority in the last few months.

Location of 624 Church Street and public parking structures

The location of the 624 Church St. project is indicated with a red pushpin. Locations of structures in Ann Arbor’s public parking system are indicated with blue Ps.

Most recently, at the Dec. 19 meeting of the DDA’s operations committee, the discussion focused on location: For which of the six public parking structures would monthly permits be sold? The developer of the 624 Church St. project would prefer that the project be allowed to buy permits in the Forest parking structure.

The Forest facility, a joint venture of the DDA and the University of Michigan, is the structure closest to the proposed residential development. According to the developer’s Nov. 28 submittal to the city, the 13-story project would include more than 80,000 square feet of new floor area with the following configuration of apartments: 11 one-bedroom; 21 two-bedroom; 33 three-bedroom; and 11 four-bedroom units. That’s a total of 76 apartments, with 196 bedrooms.

The developer, Opus Development Corp., has already won approval from the DDA’s board to satisfy the project’s parking requirement without providing onsite spaces – by instead using the contribution in lieu (CIL) program. The CIL provides an option to purchase monthly permits, but the cost is at a rate 20% higher than standard pricing.

Discussion by the DDA operations committee on Dec. 19 centered around the issue of fairness: Would allowing the purchase of permits in the Forest structure give the developer of the 624 Church St. project an unfair competitive advantage in the South University area rental market? Raising the fairness issue was DDA board member Roger Hewitt, who owns Revive + Replenish, which is a tenant in the ground floor of the Zaragon Place on East University. Zaragon is a nine-story apartment building with almost 250 bedrooms, catering to the student rental market.

Other board members did not perceive the issue to be problematic, from the perspective of fairness to already-existing projects. And Susan Pollay, executive director of the DDA, pointed out that the decision to allow a project to purchase monthly parking permits is a tool that’s available to the DDA to help make a private development possible that otherwise would not be. In the case of 624 Church St., building parking spaces on that site isn’t feasible. Hewitt was concerned that the strategy – if the DDA allowed permits to be purchased at a structure very near to projects – might result in an incentive for developers in the future not to build any onsite parking.

The committee’s discussion was inconclusive, but committee members indicated they wanted to develop a formal policy on which parking structures would be chosen for monthly permits sold under the CIL program. The 624 Church St. project is due to come before the city planning commission on Jan. 15, so the developer would prefer to have the issue settled by then. But given the DDA’s desire first to establish a policy that would guide this and future decisions, it’s unlikely it will be finalized as early as mid-January.

Based on the committee’s discussion, capacity in the parking system does not appear currently to be a limiting factor on selling CIL permits. The committee also reviewed the latest monthly parking data, which shows continued increased usage of the new underground garage, Library Lane.

Revenues per space in the Library Lane structure are now beginning to approach those of on-street parking spaces, but are still the lowest of any facility in the system. That’s due in part to a discounted rate offered to induce holders of permits in other structures to move to Library Lane.

Also of interest at the operations committee meeting was a draft policy for holding events on top of the Library Lane structure, including the closure of the mid-block cut-through, Library Lane itself. [Full Story]

Work Continues on Animal Control Policy

Members of a task force of Washtenaw County commissioners are developing a policy to guide the county’s investment in animal control services. At their most recent meeting, on June 29, they talked through different service levels that the county might provide, beyond what are mandated by the state.

Dan Smith, Conan Smith, Pete Simms

From left: Washtenaw County commissioners Dan Smith and Conan Smith, and Pete Simms, management analyst with the county clerk's office.

Their work is laying a foundation for soliciting proposals later this year – possibly by September – for an entity to handle the county’s animal control services. The county currently contracts with the Humane Society of Huron Valley for that work.

A separate work group, led by sheriff Jerry Clayton, is developing a cost structure for those services. A preliminary cost analysis has already been drafted, but a more detailed report is being prepared that will give estimates for different service levels that might be offered.

The policy task force and cost work group were created by the county board at its Feb. 15, 2012 meeting, when commissioners also approved a $415,000 contract with the HSHV to provide animal control services for the county through Dec. 31, 2012. The task force and work group will likely come together at a July 25 meeting, another step toward setting a new scope of services tied to costs.

The July 25 discussion is expected to include representatives from other communities that have their own animal control ordinances, including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Commissioners also plan to invite county prosecuting attorney Brian Mackie to the table as well – his office has purview over prosecuting animal cruelty cases and other legal issues related to animal control, which have an impact on expenses.

At the June 29 meeting, there was some discussion about issuing a preliminary request for proposals (RFP), to get responses about costs for a minimum level of service. However, it’s not clear whether that idea has traction. Rob Turner, the county board’s liaison to the cost work group, said he was shocked that such an approach might be considered, given the amount of work that’s being done to develop a policy and cost structure as the basis for issuing an RFP. Conan Smith, the board chair who is spearheading this effort, indicated it was not his intent to sideline the existing process.

Throughout the June 29 meeting, commissioner Barbara Bergman was vocal in her support of keeping costs to a minimum and in sticking to the county’s mandated services. She said her compassion is for human beings who don’t have food or shelter, and she doesn’t want to be considered uncompassionate just because she wants the county’s funding to be spent on humans.

A representative from the Humane Society of Huron Valley – Jenny Paillon, HSHV director of operations – told commissioners that ideas for generating new revenue are also being developed, and could be presented at the July 25 meeting. That meeting is scheduled from 8-10 a.m. at the lower level of the county administration building, 200 N. Main in Ann Arbor.

All of these meetings are open to the public and are being facilitated by members of the Dispute Resolution Center. Information related to this process – including meeting minutes and materials provided to commissioners – are also posted on the county’s website. [Full Story]

Next Steps on County’s Animal Control Policy

Washtenaw County board of commissioners – animal control task force meeting (May 23, 2012): Five of the 11 county commissioners gathered on Wednesday to start talking about a policy for animal control services in Washtenaw County.

Rob Turner

At the May 23 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners' task force on animal control services, commissioner Rob Turner discusses the different service levels the county could provide. Turner is also the board's liaison to a work group led by sheriff Jerry Clayton that's developing a cost analysis of animal control services. (Photos by the writer.)

It was the second meeting scheduled. The first one – on May 9 – was canceled after only two commissioners showed up. The intent is to set policy that will guide a request for proposals that the county plans to issue later this year, for its next contract to provide animal control services. Those services are currently handled by the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV), in a contract that expires at the end of 2012.

The wide-ranging discussion revealed tensions between the push to control costs – a point that’s been driving these changes – and a desire by some to provide a higher level of service than what’s mandated by the state. There seemed to be at least some initial consensus that while the state mandate focuses on stray dogs and animal cruelty, the county should support a broader range of animal control services, depending on the cost.

Also discussed was the need to bring more communities into the conversation – at least those that have their own animal control ordinances, including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township. Representatives from those municipalities are participating in a separate work group, led by sheriff Jerry Clayton, that’s developing a cost structure for animal control services. The hope is that other communities will also give financial support to HSHV, or possibly another service provider.

Four additional task force meetings are scheduled: on June 13, July 25, Aug. 22 and Sept. 12. All meetings are open to the public and will provide an opportunity for public commentary. They’ll take place from 8-10 a.m. at the county’s Learning Resource Center, 4135 Washtenaw Ave., and are being facilitated by representatives of the Dispute Resolution Center. [Full Story]

County Board Forms Energy Subcommittee

At its Dec. 7, 2011 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners voted to create an energy policy subcommittee, and appointed commissioners Rob Turner, Alicia Ping, Wes Prater and Yousef Rabhi as members. The subcommittee’s purpose is to help develop a county energy policy. Such a policy is required in order to receive federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants.

At its Aug. 3, 2011 meeting, the board had held a public hearing and subsequently approved an interlocal agreement with the Southeast Michigan Energy Office Community Alliance (SEMRO). The Ferndale-based nonprofit (SEMRO) provides technical services to the county in identifying and implementing federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant projects. [.pdf of interlocal agreement]

The energy office is a division of the Michigan … [Full Story]

Loan Request Pulled for Packard Square

Washtenaw County board of commissioners chair’s briefing (May 24, 2011): Developers for the Packard Square project in Ann Arbor have decided not to apply for a state loan that had spurred debate among county commissioners. The board was told of the decision at a May 24 agenda briefing.

At their meeting last week on May 18, Washtenaw County commissioners had postponed action on a request to approve a $1 million loan application to the state Dept. of Environmental Quality for brownfield cleanup at the former Georgetown Mall site. Developers were asking to use the county’s full faith and credit as a guarantee for the loan – a request that caused concern over entering into a relationship with a private developer that might pose a financial risk for the county.

The board was expected to take up the request again at their June 1 meeting, along with consideration of a broader public-private investment policy they’re developing, which was also postponed from the May 18 meeting. But now that there’s no loan in play, commissioners seemed inclined to defer action on the policy as well, giving the county’s attorney more time to analyze the issue.

Other items previewed from the June 1 agenda include: (1) five drain projects in the city of Ann Arbor that require bonds backed by the county’s full faith and credit, totaling $6.54 million; (2) acceptance of $455,000 in federal stimulus funds for the county’s weatherization program, which has already received over $4 million in grants over the past three years, and (3) approval of a new public health medical director. The current director, Diana Torres-Burgos, recently announced her resignation – she’ll be leaving her job at the end of June. [Full Story]