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Posted on Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 2:36 p.m.

Ann Arbor city employees bracing for cuts but staying positive in light of challenges facing city

By Ryan J. Stanton

Ann Arbor City Administrator Roger Fraser gathered city employees under the roof of the Michigan Theater today to deliver news he described as "terribly depressing."

"This is an extraordinary event for all of us, and we are in extraordinary times," Fraser told the large crowd.

The city had projected general fund revenues of $86 million this year and now expects $82 million. Next year, the city had expected general fund revenues of $83 million, but now expects an amount closer to $76 million.


Ann Arbor city employees file out of the Michigan Theater after today's presentation by City Administrator Roger Fraser

Ryan J. Stanton |

Fraser encouraged the city's workers to try their best to stay positive and trust that he and other city leaders, including the Ann Arbor City Council, will do their best to make the right choices as the city looks to trim its struggling budget by millions of dollars soon.

"We each have a job that we have to do today, tomorrow and the next day, and I ask you to do it with the best of your ability - to be confident in the good will and intent of those who have to make decisions, and deliver your service to the community in the best way possible," Fraser said. "It's up to us - we have the ability to decide how we're going to face this."

The crowd of hundreds that packed the Michigan Theater applauded after Fraser concluded a two-hour presentation. City offices were closed for three hours today to allow employees to attend the meeting, which was closed to the general public.

City employees leaving the meeting had generally positive reactions to what Fraser had to say during the meeting.

"I think it was a hard message to deliver, but I think everybody was attentive and it was a positive step that somebody came forward and said, 'Well, this is what it is and this is where we're going,'" said Lynn Renaud, a shift supervisor at the city's Wastewater Treatment Plant.

"That helps erase a lot of the confusion and some of the maybe apprehension that employees have," Renaud added. "It's probably a struggle that's going on around a lot of communities, how to provide services yet control costs and go forward."

Nicholas Nightwine, president of the city's largest labor union, AFSCME, said he was encouraged to hear the city is taking steps to cut the entire organization from the top down, instead of just asking the rank-and-file to make concessions.

"We've got a long road ahead and we've got to figure out what we have to do," he said. "I'm glad to hear the council's probably going to end up taking a 3 percent pay cut, so that helps me out a lot. And I'm glad to see they're not going to be filling the open management position in Planning and Development, and Jayne Miller's position they're going to fill on an interim basis."

Multiple City Council members attended the meeting, including Carsten Hohnke, D-5th Ward. Hohnke said the presentation was mostly information that has been relayed before at public meetings.

"I thought Roger did a nice job of communicating where we are and where we need to go to all of the city staff and provide an opportunity for a lot of interaction and feedback," he said. "It was a good start to a lot of dialogue. What was useful was the feedback from the employees."

John Aylward, the city's telecommunications specialist, said there were no surprises at today's meeting.

"It was pretty positive," he said. "I believe by doing the reorganization several years ago, it put us in a better position to deal with the current crisis, but we're just going to have to tough it out and see what happens. Down the road, we've just got to get together on this and take care of business. But I feel pretty good about our plan."

Aylward echoed thoughts shared by other city employees, saying he'd be willing to take a pay cut if it would help the majority. He said he doesn't fear losing his job right now, but not everyone is as certain about their future with the city.

"Myself, I might be retiring in July or June, so I'm pretty well embedded," Aylward said. "But a lot of the younger people, I work with a lot of them here and I do feel bad for them."

Greg Hollingsworth, the city's interim fire chief who is retiring next month, called Fraser's speech "grim."

"There's not a lot of positive in the next 24 months, but I think he's trying to put things in place to get us through this time," he said. "It's the same story we've been hearing for the past six or eight months. We have the budget issues and it's a reduction in costs or a reduction in staff - it's no surprise."

Before ending his speech, Fraser issued a challenge to employees to help the city find ways to cut costs.

"Nobody knows it better than you who do the tasks each day," he said. "And we really need your help in making sure that we've explored all the options in terms of alternatives for what we do and the expense associated with that. Talk to your supervisor. We encourage you to do that."

Fraser's presentation today touched on everything from the possibility of buyouts to switching to a four-day work week. There also were discussions of the pension fund and what the city is doing to collaborate with neighboring municipalities.

Fraser said cooperation between two or more units of government is not as easy as it sounds.

"We've been working with Washtenaw County because it's sort of the obvious proximity local government with whom we have a lot in common, and what you find is that you may not successfully just simply dictate that you're going to have two groups of people merge and have it come off well," he said.

"We have lots of practice in the public sector where we've tried that and it's gone south - it's not worked out - so what we've been doing with IT particularly with the county is having our IT staff and the county's IT staff work together and find ways through their common work efforts to merge operations. And they themselves, through working together, have found more ways to save money for both the county and the city."

Fraser said talks of more local collaboration on public safety services are occurring right now.

"We've been having conversations with our neighbors, particularly the the townships and Ypsi city, about the possibility of collaborating on fire services," he said.

Fraser noted the fire fire chiefs did an analysis in 2005 and 2006 of how the different departments could cooperate.

"And they actually got some momentum around that idea, but it was compounded by the difficulty that we have with our radio systems," he said. "Each one of the fire departments had its own radio system with its own frequency and the ability to communicate back and forth with a common team was exceedingly difficult.

"Now that we have work being done on a countywide radio system, the opportunities to effect that kind of collaboration we think are many and we will make progress," he said. "We have a meeting just this Friday in fact - some conversations that we're having about cooperation with the townships and Ypsi city in a specific area between our southern portions and Ypsi's southern portions and the townships in between. But it takes a lot of time, takes a lot of negotiations and takes a lot of effort. It's not something that you can just snap your fingers and have happen, because of the number of people that are involved."

Fraser also touched on talks about cooperation on police services, which have been ongoing for several years.

"On the police side, there was a lot of local interests that were hard to overcome in getting people to talk meaningfully about collaborative services in police and it hasn't been until really the tough knocks economically in the last year that folks have been willing to spend more time talking seriously about that collaboration," he said.

Responding to a question about why parks and forestry are taking such a hit, Fraser pointed out those two areas make up almost 10 percent of the general fund.

"As we think about priorities ... parks are considered to be a 'nice to have' by some and expendable items," he said. "So it's a community conversation that we're going to be having in the future about how much we balance all of that out. Citizens who live in the city of Ann Arbor value parks highly."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Thu, Jan 21, 2010 : 1:25 p.m.

While this is going on...Fraser and Co. are pushing plans to expand the AA airport...An airport with declining operations, hangars that are not rented and which soon will become another anchor on AA finances. How are they going to pay for bonds the city issued to finance the new hangars? How many AA residents actually use the airport? Pay attention folks and question your Council members! Ask them why is the cornfield along Lohr which is a revenue generating "greenbelt" allowed to become part of the airport expansion plans? Ask them why do we need to expand a hobby type airport with a steady decline in operations when we have a much better airport at Willow Run? Someone out there has to start using common sense...


Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 12:48 p.m.

" No one would of thought they were ditching work if they had the meeting at the library!" Just show them which library holds 500+ employess and they might have done it.


Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 11:26 a.m.

Hey Arno try reading what I posted. Here is a question. How can the city continue to spend money it does not have,And why does the mayor,city council and D.D.A. continue this stupidity. Gee I can't spend money I do not have how can the city do it. Hey bednet about your comment about bike riders who ride on the sidewalks well with all the new parking structures stop allowing people to park on the street and give bike riders a bike lane on the road, so bike riders do not have to ride on sidewalks to be safe. gee not a bad idea.


Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 11:12 a.m.

Earth to Arno. I never said a fixed parking place I was replying to someone else.

Arno B

Wed, Jan 13, 2010 : 9:39 a.m.

Interesting comments. Of course I realize that the City Hall employees can't get laid off since they are all working at 100% efficiency. We gotta Have Art!! Old gaffer: The DDA gets funded by syphoning off selected tax revenues - in effect, a grandiose parasite. (The AATA gets funded the same way so they can drive mostly empty busses around. It is so profitable for them that they want to re-build Blake. A few years ago they had enough to want to buy the old YMCA!) Income tax fans: Like a magician's hat trick. Create a new bureaucracy of more City Hall tax collectors ("job creation" no one needs) while "reducing" property taxes a small amount. How long do you think these property taxes will stay down? This is just another redistributionist scam. Note that no one says anything about exempting those of us who actually live within the city limits. Eric Myer: Please explain to us the basis or virtue of putting more and more people into a fixed space (Mayor Hotfoot also thinks this is a good idea but also never explains the rationale.) Mark Twain had it right 120 years ago: "WE HAVE THE BEST POLITICIANS MONEY CAN BUY!!"


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 10:45 p.m.

@oldgaffer. All of the city departments are top heavy. Too much is being done the low tech way. Many Police Departments have on-line reporting of routine reports, lost property, thefts and damages where their is no know suspect, etc. Ann Arbor has one of the most computer literate and accessable populations in the country. Why have fat cats shuffling paper at $100,000+benefits when it all goes on a a computer later? We need the people doing their core jobs, not aging bureaucrats sitting around waiting for something to do. More of these folks need to pull the cord on their golden parachutes before they get demoted back to real work! For the City Employees who go out and provide REAL service to the citizens: police officers on the street, firefighters, road crews plowing snow, etc, etc... Thank you. You do your job well and we appreciate it. You aren't the problem. Your bosses are.

Concerned Citizen

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 10 p.m.

How is it that the DDA can spend 50 million on the "Big Dig" when the City is in such dire straits? [ I'm not being rhetorical here, so, please, this time,...:-), spare me the "clever" retorts "guys"..., :-). ] I've been told that the DDA gets "its" money from parking, etc., etc.... but aren't conditions tough enough that the City should restructure this funding allocation until the economy turns 'round? How was the DDA established and can it be restructured?


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 8:49 p.m.

The city has too many $100,000+ employees, and all city employees have far too many fringe benefits in relation to the private sector. City administrators and city attorneys for years have given away the farm in union negotiations and have allowed very junior employees to retire on almost full pay to pursue second careers at the taxpayers' expense. On any given day you can walk into any city office and find employees surfing the web or ruminating over coffee with co-workers, or worse. There is seldom any work ethic evident. Our police force is grossly overpaid and overstaffed and should be cut in half. Our property taxes are killing us while our city officials are spending money like drunken sailors on shore leave. I love public art as much as the next fellow but our city council is about to spend a million dollars on a water fountain-- and have already spent or committed hundreds of thousands to "study" it. Enough is enough!


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 8:39 p.m.

Well Aware you want to raise taxes then pay the taxes for everyone who has no job in the city.OR just with your lame ideas.That is the last thing we need is more bloody taxes. Try stop paying the Mayor and city council for a year.


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 7:06 p.m.

Hunterjim, you are absolutely right. The income tax should be a priority. The problem is most people haven't felt the pinch of reduced services. So they are no affected. Furthermore, what people don't realize is that if there was an income tax on the ballot. the A2 citizens would receive an property tax break and they would probably in the end pay less tax overall. There are a few variables to this but the public should be asking these questions to the city counsel. Also the non- A2 residents would pay a tax which could amount to a couple of hundred dollars a year which they also may get back at the end of the year. Several cities in southeast Michigan have an income tax. This would bring in more than enough revenue for the city and make up for the decreased property tax base. If an income tax was passed the city would not have to worry about layoffs or the kind of shortfalls we are going though now. The problem is educating the public on what their options are in terms of what they will be paying and what they will be getting back. We should look into this issue!!!


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 6:57 p.m.

Moose, Whoa! A bit touchy, aren't we! To call me a "city hall apologist" is a serious misstatement. The greenbelt is not a "feel good", treehugger, hippie program. It is a program designed to promote density within the city of Ann Arbor, by encouraging development within city limits. By simple rules of economics, there will eventually be a shortage of developable land outside the city causing growth to occur inward. In turn, this will drive property values on the inside higher. To answer your question, the benefit to you, Mr. Moose Ann Arborite, is that you should see a gradual increase in your property value which will likely be much greater than the amount of taxes you have personally paid into the greenbelt plan. The city of Ann Arbor has much bigger problems than the greenbelt plan. If you are going to choose something to get bent out of shape about, I believe there are more worthwhile causes.


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 6:38 p.m.

Here is a question. How can the city continue to spend money it does not have,And why does the mayor,city council and D.D.A. continue this stupidity. Gee I can't spend money I do not have how can the city do it. Hey bednet about your comment about bike riders who ride on the sidewalks well with all the new parking structures stop allowing people to park on the street and give bike riders a bike lane on the road, so bike riders do not have to ride on sidewalks to be safe. gee not a bad idea.


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 6:24 p.m.

I have an idea to raise money for the city.lets tickit bike riders who ride on the sidewalk


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 6:14 p.m.

Do you think we should even be paying the city coucil since they all have other jobs anyway.


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 6:10 p.m.

Wow a whole three percent. Boy roger fraser and the city coucil sure should be proud. Boy I hope we sure get a change in next election.It is time for a change.


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 5:52 p.m.

Thanks for the link to the presentation. One small line on the 20th slide finally list the possibility of a city income tax. I am still not sure why this is not at the top of the city's priority. So much money leaves this community every payday, by people who work and receive the benefits of city services but leave with the cash. The U of M is the biggest but not the only employer that gets the benefits of the city with minimal financial responsibility. With the City income tax, I think the citizens of this fine city gain, (property tax relief) and everyone who benefits from working get to pay thier fair share. I'm not sure how many more employees we loss before the cities ability to function is so severly impacted that the damage will be irreversable.


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 5:36 p.m.

Top Cat, I too reside in a Township, and I can certainly say i am glad i am no longer domiciled in Ann's Arbor. Governemnt is supposed to provide the basics, some philanthropical soul can provide you with the niceties. Just let them have a plaque at the base of the statue they financed. @ Watchman, maybe he should give up the car allownace, ride a Honda Spree instead. Its much greener.


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 5:34 p.m.

While the greenbelt may seem like a frivolous idea right now, we are not yet at the point where benefits can be seen. It will likely take another 10-15 years before this effort will begin to pay off in a serious way. Although this is an extremely long time to wait for some Ann Arbor residents, I am going to reserve judgement until then.


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 5:27 p.m.

I have a idea for a art piece for Ann Arbor,Ypsi,the county and the state.A big dollar bill with an eternal flame coming out of the top


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 5:21 p.m.

why dont we try consolidation? unions are you open to this? -your employer (City taxpayer)

Top Cat

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 5:01 p.m.

EyeHeartA2 is correct about the Greenbelt. I live in Webster Township and it is interesing to see acreage that was expected to be developed is now being returned to planting. The land is not saleable and no one wants to develop it now nor anytime in the future.


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 4:59 p.m.

Like most communities in Southeast Michigan, the local government is out of control. A million dollars for a statue? It is very symbolic of our area's political environment. Instead of offering basic services and letting the private sector flourish with the rest. We have politicians, who decide that our money should be used for frivolous art. The only thing, that these politicians create, is a shortage of U-Haul trucks in SE Michigan! I wonder how many young adults, we could have offered a college education to, with that million dollars?


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 4:47 p.m.

Nice to have, indeed... like the million dollar (f)art sculpture in front of the new Clueless Hall?!? 4 million dollar tax collection shortfall this year and even more next?? Hmmmmm... where is that Percent for (f)Art money, anyway? Sure would help to take up the slack, now wouldn't it? Maybe somebody will find a way to liberate it from its' "bucket"!! Instead of that ugly square phallus, we could have a skilled local artisan build a sturdy hardwood replica of a guillotine, complete with a brass plaque and the quote "Let them eat cake..." That would remind the King and his Vassals to be responsive to the majority, and not let special interests with their hands out for tax dollars prevail!

DaLast word

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 4:47 p.m.

The city must tighten their belts just like the public does. All unnecesary expenses on hold until things turn around. Pay freezes, hiring freezes, renegotiate exsiting contracts with employees, vendors, and management as well as leaders must all share in the pain. Lets not argue about this...Lets all buckle down and save, that which is the best city in the state!


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 4:45 p.m.

AND they just spent $ 2.28 million on that awful new parking system.

Ryan J. Stanton

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 4:44 p.m.

Here's a link to Fraser's presentation:


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 4:36 p.m.

"You don't know who is swimming naked until the tide goes out." - Warren Buffet


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 4:17 p.m.

We are in the midst of the toughest times since the great depression. Govt. has to shrink because fewer people are paying taxes and revenue is falling.


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 3:34 p.m.

Last I heard the staue was well over 1 million dollars (the first of 3) and they don't have enough money for it. So expect a millage there.


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 3:32 p.m.

Maybe the next meeting should take place near the $1mil statue... That could really boost moral!


Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 3:16 p.m.

Becasue it's a staff meeting. Seriously do you think that every staff meeting the Police or Fire Dept. have should be an open meeting?

Fred Posner

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 3:13 p.m.

How is discussing budget and emergency services not open to public records/meetings?

The Watchman

Tue, Jan 12, 2010 : 2:57 p.m.

Has Roger given up his car allowance, his paid life insurance or 3% of his salary yet or does he wait till the new fiscal year?