Ann Arbor's New Year's resolution? Hopefully increased public safety
If 2011 was the year of pedestrians and public art in Ann Arbor, perhaps 2012 will be the year of public safety.
We hope so, anyway.
It has been a tradition of AnnArbor.com to use the first Sunday of each new year to look ahead, and suggest what we’d like to see transpire in the next 12 months.
For 2012, the public has made its priorities clear. Residents of Ann Arbor are deeply concerned about the cuts to police and fire services that have been imposed in the last two budget cycles, and they want City Council to focus on restoring and improving services in those areas.
Fortunately, when it comes to police services, the city finds itself in better position going into the coming fiscal year. While it had originally projected more cuts in fiscal 2012-2013, it’s now talking about the possibility of hiring additional officers instead. That’s due to the savings the city will realize by consolidating dispatch operations with Washtenaw County, and by reaching a new contract with police officers that brings benefit costs under control. In 2012, we look forward to seeing the city take full advantage of these savings to begin increasing the level of police protection.
Doing the same for the Fire Department will be more of a challenge, but the city needs to make progress there, too. For one thing, the city still has not been able to obtain the kinds of contract concessions from firefighters that the police agreed to. In the coming year, we hope the arbitration process results in a fair contract, but one that provides the kinds of savings in benefit costs that the city must achieve.
Beyond that, in 2012 we also want to see the City Council and administration gain a better understanding of how past cuts in the Fire Department have affected service to city residents, and take strong steps to shore up any shortcomings. Last summer, City Council founds itself in the position of having to approve staffing cuts in the Fire Department without fully understanding the impact on service. Now that the city has received a long overdue consulting report on that issues, it’s essential to sort out the findings -- which suggest, among other things, that response times to fire calls are too slow -- and map out a plan for using fire personnel and equipment in the most efficient way possible. (We look forward to addressing this issue in a full editorial in the near future.)
Meanwhile, here are a few other things we’d like to see at the local and state level in 2012:
-- A good traffic control plan next fall when Ann Arbor faces its first University of Michigan home football game with Stadium Boulevard closed for reconstruction of the bridges there. Even on a normal day, the detours around the bridge work are a challenge for local motorists. The first time 100,000-plus people descend on Michigan Stadium, many from out of town, there’s a high potential for snarled traffic -- and snarling motorists. We hope the city’s ready for the challenge. With a bottleneck there, we can at least look forward to the opening of South Fifth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor this year as work wraps up on the new underground parking ramp. And we dream of a day when it’s possible to get around town without multiple road closings due to construction, but that feels like too much to hope for.
-- Speaking of bridges, it’s time for the Legislature to give up its inexplicable opposition to the proposed new bridge between Detroit and Canada and approve this project in 2012. Between the construction jobs this project would create and the long-time economic benefit it would offer to Michigan, we cannot fathom why lawmakers won’t approve this project -- other than they’ve been unduly influenced by the campaign contributions that have been made over time by the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, who wants to build his own new bridge next to the existing span. The case for the new international bridge has been made, and is supported by a wide range of business and labor groups. Lawmakers should approve this project in 2012.
-- If there’s one other issue we’d challenge the Legislature to tackle in 2012, it would be prison reform. Michigan spends more on prisons than on higher education, and has one of the nation’s highest rates of incarceration. We spend something in the range of $4.4 million a day to maintain a prison population of well more than 40,000. Now that some other areas of the state budget have been addressed, corrections spending stands out particularly ripe for scrutiny. We’re convinced there are substantial savings to be realized without compromising public safety. This is a can that it’s time for the Legislature to stop kicking down the road. Let’s make 2012 the year of meaningful prison reform in Michigan.
(This article was published in today's newspaper and reflects the opinion of the Editorial Board at AnnArbor.com.)