Ann Arbor city budget: Kunselman proposes plan to downsize DDA, take control of downtown parking
Ann Arbor City Council Member Stephen Kunselman says he's "extremely disappointed" it has taken more than a year of haggling between the city and the Downtown Development Authority to come to terms on a new parking agreement.
Even with a tentative deal in the works, he's still not happy. That's because the agreement awaiting City Council approval includes a broad transfer of duties from the city to the DDA — giving the DDA sole discretion to set downtown parking rates and meter enforcement hours — while still leaving the city pondering deep cuts to public safety services.
"I have no confidence in the DDA board," Kunselman said after Monday's City Council meeting. "Their obstinate demands for authority over setting rates and hours illustrates to me they've just become addicted and dependent upon parking revenues for their own purposes, and they're not necessarily interested in the public health, safety and welfare of our community."
Ryan Stanton | AnnArbor.com
"I don't know how it will fare on the council table, but I think it's important that we illustrate to the public that parking is under the jurisdiction of the City Council and that's where it rightfully belongs," he said of his proposal, which he believes will give the city the ability to tap into parking system revenues to stave off cuts to public safety.
Council members put off making any decisions on the city's 2011-12 budget Monday night, quickly adjourning their meeting without discussion.
Mayor John Hieftje offered brief remarks, saying final details of a new parking agreement with the DDA still are being worked out and it would be imprudent for the council to act on the budget just yet. The council will continue deliberations at 7 p.m. next Tuesday.
Under a tentative deal approved by the DDA board last Friday, the DDA could potentially give the city 17 percent of revenue from the parking system through June 2033. That amounts to nearly $2.7 million next year, and it comes with the stipulation that the city must act as a financial backstop for the DDA if the authority's fund balance gets too low.
Hieftje and Council Member Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, are working on a resolution to clarify when and how the DDA fund balance would be backstopped.
The DDA has managed the city's off-street public parking, including downtown parking garages, since 1992, and on-street metered parking since 2002. In all, the parking system has about 7,100 spaces, which are expected to bring in more than $16 million next year.
"The budget amendment to defund parking from the DDA basically would bring back parking operations under the purview of the city — under the management of our public services entity — where it had historically been before," Kunselman said.
Until now, the DDA has operated with four employees, but that's up to five with the addition of a planning and research specialist position in next year's budget. Kunselman, who believes there are duplications of services between the city and DDA, proposes eliminating the new position and immediately reducing the DDA to two employees, and then using the $210,644 in savings to re-hire two "beat cops" to patrol downtown Ann Arbor on foot.
The city administrator's budget proposes the elimination of 25 positions in the police department and 12 positions in the fire department over the next two years. Hieftje is working on a plan to avoid a small handful of those job cuts, but Kunselman thinks that's not enough — he wants to find a way for the city to maintain current police and fire staffing levels.
"We cannot cut anymore," Kunselman said. "We have to find ways to maintain our public services at the levels that we are at right now. I do not feel comfortable closing the fire station down the street from me. I do not feel comfortable laying off additional firemen or policemen."
DDA Chairwoman Joan Lowenstein attended Monday's council meeting and said afterward she doesn't think Kunselman has his calculations correct.
"The only way the city would make money is if they did absolutely no maintenance on the parking system, and that's the problem with that theory," Lowenstein said.
Hieftje, who serves on the DDA's governing board and appoints its members, said it wouldn't be possible for the City Council to unilaterally take control of the parking system because the city has an existing parking agreement with the DDA that runs through 2015. He acknowledged the idea has come up in DDA discussions several times.
"They've talked about what if they just handed over the parking contract, and each time that didn't get very far," he said. "I think the DDA believes they are managing the parking system very well. And if you look at the numbers, the revenues that would come to the city are no more if it was ours or if it was theirs, because we're extracting about the maximum amount."
Lowenstein noted it was only after the DDA started managing the city's parking system in 1992 that the DDA started putting money into maintenance of the system. Before then, she said, the city was just using parking as a "cash cow" and parking garages fell into disrepair.
Kunselman noted he's not interested in dissolving the DDA. He said the DDA still can do a lot of good in the downtown with the nearly $4 million a year in TIF revenue it collects, but he doesn't think revenue from the parking system should be passing through the DDA's hands.
"Now is the time for change," he said. "We have drastic issues to deal with on our city budget. And as was pointed out by our prior city administrator, every department in the city has been downsized except for the DDA. And in this budget, we're even proposing to expand the DDA. That's not OK with me, and I don't believe it's OK with the residents of Ann Arbor."
Hieftje used Monday night's meeting as a platform to point out that, while the city may have a large amount of money in cash reserves, it's the opinion of the city attorney's office that — except for the general fund reserve of $10.7 million — the city can't tap any of the other funds to augment the city's general fund budget (download the memo from the city attorney's office).
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's e-mail newsletters.