Stories indexed with the term ‘The Washtenaw Ride’

Property Values Up, Budget Decisions Loom

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 17, 2013): Major budget issues were the focus of the April 17 county board meeting, including news that tax revenues in 2013 will be higher than anticipated.

Raman Patel, Leila Bauer, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Raman Patel, Washtenaw County’s equalization director, greets Leila Bauer, chief deputy treasurer who is retiring after 41 years with the county. (Photos by the writer.)

After several years of reporting declining tax revenues, Raman Patel – the county’s equalization director – gave commissioners a report showing stronger signs of economic recovery, reflected in a 1.68% increase in taxable value. That translates into an estimated $2.327 million more in property tax revenues for county government than had been budgeted for 2013. [.pdf of Patel's presentation]

Also related to the budget, commissioners gave initial approval to a four-year budget planning cycle, a change from the current two-year cycle that’s been in place since 1994. Voting against the item was Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6). He and other commissioners expressed a range of concerns, including the fact that commissioners are elected every two years and therefore might not be able to contribute adequately to setting budget priorities. Although Peterson remained unconvinced, several commissioners observed that the annual budget affirmation process acted as a fail-safe, allowing the board to make adjustments based on changing priorities.

Another item that could have a dramatic impact on the county’s budget was only briefly mentioned: A proposal to issue up to $350 million in bonds to fully fund the county’s pension and retiree healthcare plans. It would be by far the largest bond issuance in the county’s history. County administrator Verna McDaniel plans to make a formal presentation about the proposal at the board’s May 2 working session. She distributed materials on April 17 to help commissioners prep for that meeting. [.pdf of bond proposal handout]

Commissioners also took a final vote officially to dissolve a countywide public transit authority known as the Washtenaw Ride. There was no discussion, but Conan Smith (D-District 9) – a vocal advocate for public transit – cast the sole vote against the resolution.

Other action handled by the board included a federal weatherization grant, a public hearing for the Urban County strategic plan, and resolutions honoring county employees and residents. Among them was Leila Bauer, the county’s chief deputy treasurer who is retiring after 41 years with the county. She received a standing ovation from the board. [Full Story]

County Board Ends “Washtenaw Ride”

The Washtenaw County board of commissioners voted officially to dissolve a countywide public transit authority known as the Washtenaw Ride. The 7-1 vote took place at the board’s April 17, 2013 meeting, without discussion, and followed initial approval given on April 3. Voting against the resolution was Conan Smith (D-District 9), but he did not comment on his decision during the meeting. Rolland Sizemore Jr. (D-District 5) was absent.

The Act 196 authority, created in mid-2012 and spearheaded by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, was for all practical purposes ended late last year when the Ann Arbor city council voted to opt out of the transit authority at its Nov. 8, 2012 meeting. Of the 28 municipalities in Washtenaw … [Full Story]

County Board Briefed on Audit, Financials

Washtenaw County board of commissioners meeting (April 3, 2013): With a third of the board absent, commissioners were briefed on the county’s 2012 audit – with a look toward changes that will impact future financial statements. The audit was clean.

Mark Kettner, Carla Sledge, Kelly Belknap, Pete Collinson, Rehmann, Washtenaw County board of commissioners, The Ann Arbor Chronicle

From left: Mark Kettner of the accounting firm Rehmann; Carla Sledge, Wayne County’s chief financial officer; Kelly Belknap, Washtenaw County’s finance director; and Pete Collinson, accounting manager for Washtenaw County. (Photos by the writer.)

The county’s finance staff, along with the auditor, Mark Kettner of Rehmann, highlighted several points, including a relatively dramatic increase in the general fund balance over the last few years – from $9.7 million in 2009 to $16.8 million at the end of 2012. Kettner also explained upcoming accounting changes that will require unfunded liabilities from the county’s pension and retirement healthcare plans – now totaling nearly $250 million – to be recorded in a different way, with more disclosure.

The new accounting changes – required by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) – won’t begin until 2015, but commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2) wondered whether the county could implement the changes sooner. It might be possible, Kettner replied, but “I don’t know why you’d want to do it.” He suggested that the board hold a working session to go over the upcoming changes in more detail.

Kettner also pointed out that the changes will affect government entities in different ways. For example, it’s likely that there will be more impact on the city of Ann Arbor, because of how its many “enterprise” funds might be affected and the implications that would have on outstanding bonds. At minimum, the changes will mean more work for finance staff.

Also at the April 3 meeting, commissioners voted to add 39 new jobs in the community support and treatment service (CSTS) department, which provides mental health and substance abuse services to county residents. The work is primarily funded by the Washtenaw Community Health Organization, a partnership between the county and the University of Michigan Health System. Most of the new jobs are union positions. Dan Smith expressed concern about adding to the county’s payroll, but supported the resolution along with other commissioners in a unanimous vote.

The board also took an initial vote to dissolve The Washtenaw Ride. That Act 196 authority is a remnant of a failed attempt to create a countywide transit system last year. Efforts to expand the current reach of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority are still underway, but don’t require the structure that was put in place under Act 196.

The topic of public transportation was raised later in the meeting as well, as Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6) asked about the county’s role in the southeast regional transit authority (RTA). The RTA was formed by the state legislature last year to coordinate regional transit in the city of Detroit and counties of Wayne, Macomb, Oakland and Washtenaw. There was not uniform support for Washtenaw County to be part of this effort, and it’s not yet clear what the impact will be on the AATA.

In other discussion, Yousef Rabhi (D-District 8) highlighted a proposal in front of the Ann Arbor city council regarding possible ordinance changes governing the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. Depending on what the council decides, there might be implications for the county, he said, so he wanted to put it on the board’s radar. For background on this issue, see Chronicle coverage: “DDA Tax Capture Change Gets Initial OK” and “DDA Ramps Up PR after First Council Vote.”

Also briefly mentioned was a discussion that occurred at a late March county pension commission meeting, raising questions about the new labor contracts that the board approved on March 20, 2013. At issue is whether the county complied with a state law requiring supplemental actuarial analysis before pension benefit changes are adopted. The county administration subsequently conferred with outside legal counsel, and confirmed their view that no new actuarial analysis was necessary.

And although it wasn’t discussed at the April 3 board meeting, the recent labor contracts resulted in another issue related to compliance with state law: Elimination of the county’s healthcare benefits for domestic partners. [Full Story]

County Takes Step to Dissolve “Washtenaw Ride”

Taking a step officially to end an effort that stalled last year, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners has given initial approval to dissolve a countywide public transit authority known as the Washtenaw Ride. The unanimous vote took place at the board’s April 3, 2013 meeting, without discussion. A final vote is expected on April 17.

The Act 196 authority, created in mid-2012 and spearheaded by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, never gained traction and was for all practical purposes ended late last year when the Ann Arbor city council voted to opt out of the transit authority at its Nov. 8, 2012 meeting. Of the 28 municipalities in Washtenaw County, the city of Ypsilanti is the only one that … [Full Story]

Ann Arbor Opts Out of Countywide Vehicle

On a 10-0 vote, the Ann Arbor city council has opted out of the new transit authority – called The Washtenaw Ride – that was incorporated on Oct. 3, 2012, a little over a month ago. Incorporation of the new transit authority under Act 196 of 1986 had been preceded by the development of a 30-year transit master plan and a five-year service plan by the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, over a more than two-year period.

At the Nov. 8, 2012 council meeting, when the Ann Arbor opt-out vote took place, Jane Lumm (Ward 2) described the effort that had gone into planning for The Washtenaw Ride as a colossal waste of time and money. Carsten … [Full Story]

End of Road for County Transit Effort?

The expansion of transit services throughout Washtenaw County appears to be taking turn away from some specific approaches that have been intensively discussed for the last couple of years.

Act 196 Transit Authority

Possible action by the Ann Arbor city council this week could lead to dissolution of a newly incorporated Act 196 transit authority – called The Washtenaw Ride – just as it is emerging.

At its Nov. 8 meeting, the Ann Arbor city council is now scheduled to vote on the question of opting out of a newly incorporated countywide transit authority – an initiative that the city of Ann Arbor had been expected to help lead. With Ann Arbor’s withdrawal, this particular approach to expanding transportation services would be effectively ended.

Update: The Ann Arbor city council did decide to opt out of the transit authority, on a 10-0 vote taken at the Nov. 8 meeting.

And the topic of transit has already been raised at the post-election Nov. 7 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners. Dan Smith, a Republican who represents District 2 covering northern parts of the county, had been prepared to introduce two transit-related resolutions at the meeting, but wound up placing only one of them on the agenda. The one he brought forward was a proposal to rescind support for a metro Detroit regional transit authority (RTA) – which the board had given in September of 2011. Although board chair Conan Smith has been a champion of legislation to enable an RTA, Dan Smith’s resolution passed on a 6-4 vote.

More significantly, Smith had also considered bringing forward a resolution to dissolve The Washtenaw Ride, a new countywide transit authority created under Act 196 of 1986 when the county filed articles of incorporation last month with the state. [.pdf of resolution to dissolve The Washtenaw Ride]

The Oct. 3 filing was undertaken as part of a four-party transit agreement between the county, the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority, which is leading this initiative. Since then, all but five of the 28 municipalities in the county have voted to opt out of the new authority. However, those that are still participating include several of the county’s largest population centers: Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Ypsilanti Township, and Saline.

Dan Smith’s resolution indicated that because so few municipalities are participating, the Act 196 authority should be dissolved. He held off introducing it, however, in part because of pending action by the Ann Arbor city council the next day. As The Chronicle reported in mid-October, Ann Arbor city councilmember Stephen Kunselman had said he planned to pursue the possibility of Ann Arbor opting out – because he felt he’d have the required six-vote majority after the new city councilmembers are sworn in on Nov. 19.

But now the city council will take up the issue of withdrawing from the new transit authority at its Nov. 8 meeting. And that withdrawal will be accomplished with the support of at least some of those on the council who previously advocated to expand the AATA’s governance and service area through incorporation of the new authority. A resolution on withdrawal of Ann Arbor from the Act 196 authority was added to the Nov. 8, 2012 agenda the day before the meeting – sponsored by not just Kunselman, but also mayor John Hieftje, and councilmembers Sabra Briere, Christopher Taylor and Marcia Higgins. That indicates the city council’s resolution on withdrawal is almost certain to pass.

Under the terms of the four-party agreement, once the city of Ann Arbor withdraws from the Act 196 authority, the city can terminate the entire agreement. The council’s resolution indicates encouragement to the AATA to continue to work towards regional transportation, but not with the mechanism of this Act 196 authority.  [Full Story]

AATA Ridership Up, Fiscal Reserves Down

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board meeting (Oct. 18, 2012): The recent AATA board meeting had a good-news, bad-news flavor.

Optimism was based on ridership data for the fiscal year that ended on Sept. 30 – which includes a record-setting 6,325,785 rides on the regular bus service, up 6.6% over the previous year, and 3.4% more than the previous record year of 2009.

AATA board member David Nacht expressed concern about the idea of adding back in project elements to the new Blake Transit Center, grounding his concern in part in the fact that he was wearing his "treasurer's hat."

AATA board member David Nacht expressed concern about the idea of adding back in project elements to the new Blake Transit Center, grounding his concern in part in the fact that he was wearing his “treasurer’s hat.” (Photos by the writer.)

Damping enthusiasm were the year-end budget numbers, which showed the AATA posting a deficit around $260,000 greater than the one it had budgeted for, leaving an excess of expenditures over revenues of $1,255,312. [.pdf of unaudited FY 2012 financials] That comes in the context of an approved budget for the just-begun current fiscal year, which includes an anticipated deficit of about $300,000. The board’s Oct. 18 deliberations revealed the fact that only by recalculating the amount in the AATA’s cash reserves did the organization currently have the required three-month operating reserve on hand.

In that financial context, board members were not inclined to add back in some elements that had recently been cut out of the new Blake Transit Center project, which would have brought the project budget to nearly $8.5 million. The construction contracts approved by the board at its meeting totaled a bit over $8 million, which was still dramatically larger than the smaller $3.5 million project the AATA had started with over three years ago. Instead of taking the less ambitious strategy, the AATA opted to locate the new, larger center on the opposite side of the same parcel where it currently stands. Construction on the two-story Fifth Avenue-facing center is now expected to start in late November or early December.

The board’s deliberations on the new transit center focused on whether to add back into the project some items that had been removed to bring the cost down from $8.5 to $8 million. Of the three items on the table – automatic ticketing kiosks, real-time bus arrival information displays, and LEED certification of the building – only the LEED certification was added back in, at a cost of $80,000.

At the Oct. 18 meeting, the board also got an update on the situation surrounding the incorporation of the new Act 196 board for The Washtenaw Ride. Michael Ford, AATA’s CEO, indicated that the AATA would be reimbursing Washtenaw County for the cost of renotifying jurisdictions in the county regarding their option not to participate in the new authority. He confirmed that AATA board members would not serve simultaneously on the current board and the board of the new authority, as previously expected. Ford indicated that AATA legal counsel believes that what the AATA has done to date already complies with the law, but the AATA is exercising extreme caution.

Several members of the future Act 196 board attended the meeting and had a voice at the table, but not a vote.

The board’s meeting concluded with a closed session lasting nearly two hours on pending litigation. [Full Story]

County Likely To Send Out Transit Notice

It appears that Washtenaw County will now be the entity sending out an official letter to local municipalities in early November, informing them that the official 30-day “opt out” period for leaving the new Washtenaw Ride transit authority will start at that time. Curtis Hedger – the attorney for Washtenaw County – informed county commissioners of that news at their Oct. 17, 2012 meeting, in response to a query from commissioner Wes Prater.

Many commissioners expressed surprise at the county’s involvement in this way. Previously, the expectation was that the county would not be involved in the process after filing articles of incorporation – which occurred on Oct. 3 at the request of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. The Washtenaw Ride is … [Full Story]

AATA to County: Make New Transit Authority

At a special meeting held on Oct. 2, 2012, the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority unanimously passed a resolution requesting that the Washtenaw County clerk file articles of incorporation for a new countywide transit authority to be called The Washtenaw Ride. The articles will be filed under Act 196 of 1986.

The creation of the new authority will be made official when the Washtenaw County clerk files the paperwork with the state, likely on Oct. 3. [Added shortly after initial publication: Although the Oct. 3 date was the expectation expressed at the AATA board's Sept. 27 meeting, the wording of a Washtenaw County board of commissioners resolution on the topic indicates that a step of alerting jurisdictions of the ... [Full Story]

AATA: Do Even Opt-Outs Get Representation?

At its Sept. 27 meeting, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority board discussed at length how to assure residents of districts throughout the county that up until the time of a voter referendum on funding for a new transit authority, they would have representation on the board of the new authority – even if their local jurisdiction opts out of it. But thereafter, such representation would amount to what AATA board member David Nacht called “representation without taxation.”

Once incorporated, the new transit authority will include by default all the jurisdictions in Washtenaw County. The articles of incorporation for the new authority – to be called The Washtenaw Ride – would be filed by Washtenaw County under Act 196 of 1986 after … [Full Story]

AATA 5-Year Program: May 2013 Tax Vote?

Ann Arbor Transportation Authority special board meeting (Sept. 5, 2012): At a meeting called for the purpose of ratifying and releasing the final draft of a 5-year service plan, the four members of the AATA board who attended voted unanimously to approve its release. [.pdf of final 5-year transit program] Publication of the 5-year plan is a required part of the AATA’s possible transition into a new transit authority with a broader governance and service area – to be called The Washtenaw Ride.

AATA board table Sept. 5, 2012

Several members of the unincorporated Act 196 board attended the AATA’s Sept. 5 special board meeting. Clockwise from the near left corner of the table: Bob Mester (U196 West District – trustee, Lyndon Township); David Read (U196 North Middle District – trustee, Scio Township); Peter Murdock (U196 Ypsilanti District – councilmember, city of Ypsilanti); Roger Kerson, Charles Griffith, and Jesse Bernstein (AATA board members); Michael Ford (AATA CEO), David Nacht (AATA board);  Karen Lovejoy Roe (U196 Southeast District – clerk, Ypsilanti Township); and Bill Lavery (U196 South Middle District – resident, York Township).

According to a press release announcing the 5-year service plan’s final draft, a millage to support The Washtenaw Ride could be placed on the ballot by May 2013.

The estimated cost of the service in the plan is now 0.584 mills, an increase of 0.084 mills compared to the estimated cost in a draft plan that was released in April. Compared to the draft plan, the final version also includes several additional services, which were added based on input from district advisory committees (DACs).

The 5-year service plan includes: (1) countywide demand-responsive services and feeder services; (2) express bus services and local transit hub services; (3) local community connectors and local community circulators; (4) park-and-ride intercept lots; and (5) urban bus network enhancements. For Ann Arbor, the program includes increased bus frequencies on key corridors, increased operating hours, and more services on weekends. According to the Sept. 5 press release, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti will get a 56% increase in service hours compared to current levels.

The possible transition from the AATA to The Washtenaw Ride will take place under the framework of a four-party agreement between the city of Ypsilanti, the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County and the AATA.

The other vote taken by the AATA board at its Sept. 5 meeting stemmed from a formal protest in connection with the AATA’s award of a contract for handling advertising on its buses – to CBS Outdoor Advertising of Lexington, New York. The contract previously had been held by Transit Advertising Group Ann Arbor (TAG).

TAG president Randy Oram addressed the board during public commentary at the Sept. 5 meeting. Also during the meeting, AATA CEO Michael Ford pointed the board to his written response to the protest and asked board members to uphold his decision to award the contract to CBS. The board voted in a formal resolution to support the advertising contract award to CBS. [Full Story]

AATA OKs Amended Transit Agreement

The four-party agreement outlining a framework for a possible countywide transportation authority, and its articles of incorporation, has now been approved in its final form by all four parties to the agreement. The final approval came from the board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority at its Aug. 16, 2012 meeting. The other three parties to the agreement are the city of Ann Arbor, the city of Ypsilanti, and Washtenaw County.

The most recent iteration of approvals came as a result of an amendment to the articles of incorporation made by the Washtenaw County board of commissioners at its Aug. 1, 2012 meeting. The county board’s amendment changed the minimum threshold of votes required on the proposed new 15-member transit authority board, if the board decides … [Full Story]