City budget vote tonight: Ann Arbor council members proposing several changes
The Ann Arbor City Council is expected to vote tonight to adopt the city's 2013-14 fiscal year budget, and a number of possible changes are under consideration.
Topics likely to come up include public art, affordable housing, human services, public safety, fall leaf and holiday tree pickup, walking and biking, and the Downtown Development Authority.
"I suspect there will be things coming to the table tonight that I haven't seen, and it's just going to be one of those budget nights," said Mayor John Hieftje.
"The overall budget picture is a good one," he added. "We are not making cuts."
Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, outlined some of the proposed budget amendments in a newsletter emailed to constituents over the weekend.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com file photo
A revised public art ordinance, which eliminates the city's Percent for Art funding mechanism, is on the council's agenda for a final vote on June 3.
Until that vote happens, the existing public art ordinance — which calls for transferring 1 percent of capital project dollars to the city's public art fund — remains in effect.
The city administrator's recommended budget shows $340,464 going to public art in the fiscal year starting July 1. Briere proposes taking action now and removing $326,464. According to the city, the $14,000 difference is investment income that still needs to be budgeted.
Council Member Jane Lumm, an Independent who represents the 2nd Ward, said she and Sumi Kailasapathy, D-1st Ward, are co-sponsoring that proposal with Briere.
Lumm is sponsoring another amendment that would increase staffing in the Ann Arbor Police Department by three officers, taking the department from 146 to 149 full-time employees.
That would increase the police budget in the general fund by roughly $270,000, which Lumm proposes funding by an equal reduction in the 15th District Court budget. Hieftje said he has some concerns where the money comes from, but he'll wait until tonight for that discussion.
Lumm also is sponsoring amendments to restore fall leaf pickup and holiday tree pickup services that were cut in recent years. She proposes using the solid waste fund's cash reserves to cover the one-time cost of $395,000 needed to make that happen, and making cuts elsewhere in the solid waste budget to fund the recurring expenditures of $311,000.
Council Member Sally Hart Petersen, D-2nd Ward, said she's planning to co-sponsor restoring fall leaf pickup services with Lumm, as well as funding for housing and human services.
The DDA's budget is another item sure to generate discussion, with potentially multiple proposals regarding what to do with increased tax-increment financing revenues collected by the DDA.
Council Members Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward, and Kailasapathy have closely scrutinized the DDA's budget in recent months, noting the DDA is in line to collect significantly more TIF revenue in the next fiscal year than previously anticipated.
A new forecast shows the DDA is expected to receive $500,000 more in TIF revenue than anticipated in the 2013-14 budget.
Hieftje is sponsoring an amendment that calls for increasing the DDA's TIF fund budget by $500,000 to reflect the additional revenues, and then using that money to support affordable housing in the DDA area, to help replace 81 street light poles on Main Street, and to fund economic development activities, including studies in collaboration with Ann Arbor SPARK.
DDA board members met on May 13 and voiced their desire to increase funding to support City Council priorities, including affordable housing, infrastructure and economic development.
Hieftje said the amendment he's sponsoring simply acknowledges and confirms the action taken by the DDA and does not require it to do anything beyond what it already voted to do.
Kunselman said he'll be sponsoring an amendment to similarly increase the DDA's TIF fund budget by $500,000, but he wants to transfer all of that money to the DDA housing fund.
He said he'll suggest the DDA spend the funds on Miller Manor, a Housing Commission property. Lumm said she'll be joining Kunselman as a co-sponsor.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com file photo
Other amendments being considered have to do with human services. Briere said the sequestration of federal human services funds — among other funds — could result in an overall decrease of $3 million for Washtenaw County. There isn't any way in the budget to make up for that loss, she said, and there isn't any way for human service providers to manage without it, either.
Briere wants to use $78,825 in general fund reserves to cover human service contracts through the Housing Commission, and $4,500 to cover costs for senior meals at Miller Manor. The funds would be used in the event that the federal sequestration doesn't end by June 30, 2014.
Hieftje said he'll be supporting the increased allocation to the Housing Commission to keep its funding stable in light of federal cuts.
Reacting to a $46,899 drop in human services funding levels through the city's coordinating funding partnership with the county and the United Way, Briere also has drafted an amendment that would restore the allocation to last year's amount using general fund reserve dollars.
The last amendment from Briere is aimed at addressing gaps in the city's sidewalk system, a problem that lacks funding right now. She proposes a one-time allocation of $75,000 from general fund reserves to pay for a prioritization and implementation plan.
In addition to those changes, Briere said she'll be co-sponsoring an amendment put forward by Hieftje to include $10,000 for the second year in a row to help fund the Washtenaw Health Initiative. The money is intended to get the program running in the wake of the Affordable Care Act.
"This is basic work to make sure that everyone has access to health care and is able to sort through all of the changes going on," Hieftje said. "It's a really positive collaborative effort."
The City Council meets at 7 p.m. on the second floor of city hall, 301 E. Huron St. The city charter requires the council to approve an annual budget each year on or before May 31, and the budget has to be balanced, though reserve funds can be used to achieve that.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com file photo
In an ideal year, Briere said, council members would have drafted budget amendments significantly in advance so they could be evaluated by staff for their impacts to planned programs and services, and then shared with all of council. But this year, she said, the amendments have come late.
"The budget discussion promises to be interesting, especially as we may not see all the budget amendment proposals before Monday evening," she said.
The Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition has a vested interest in the outcome of tonight's vote on the city budget. The group set up an online petition at Change.org to get council members to "stop raiding the non-motorized transportation budget" for walking and biking improvements.
The city several years ago decided to take 5 percent of the Act 51 transportation dollars it collects each year from state gas taxes and set that money aside for alternative transportation. But with those dollars decreasing, the percentage for alternative transportation has been cut in half.
"City Council has cut this funding to 2.5% and has chosen not to restore this funding to the past level of 5% this year," the petition states, adding the money helps pay for bike lanes, crosswalk signs and other items. "We need you to tell City Council that this policy decision is not acceptable!"
Hieftje called the group's petition a "great effort," but he said the changes being called for might not be necessary. He said it's true the city did scale back the percentage going to alternative transportation in recent years because more money was needed for road maintenance.
But while it might not show up as an earmark for alternative transportation now, he said, the city still is using some of those dollars toward items like bike lanes — they're just rolled into road projects now.
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 email newsletters.