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Posted on Mon, May 20, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.

City budget vote tonight: Ann Arbor council members proposing several changes

By Ryan J. Stanton

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.


"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.

Ryan J. Stanton | file photo

Briere herself has submitted five possible amendments and decided to co-sponsor another. The first one would remove most of the funding for public art from next year's budget.

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.


Council Member Sabra Briere, D-1st Ward, said several council members are looking at department budgets that have increased significantly over the past few years to see whether those budgets can be reduced, with the resulting funds either reallocated or placed in the general fund reserve.

Ryan J. Stanton | file photo

Another possible amendment from Briere would allocate $100,000 to affordable housing and direct city staff to find a way to incorporate that allocation into future budgets. During the recent economic downturn, she said, the city didn't put any funds into affordable housing.

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.


Council Member Jane Lumm wants to increase police staffing by three officers and restore fall leaf pickup and holiday tree pickup services.

Ryan J. Stanton | file photo

Each amendment needs six votes to become part of the budget. If the final budget doesn't get eight votes, any amendments to it fail and the administrator's budget is approved by default.

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 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 Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's email newsletters.



Tue, May 21, 2013 : 5 a.m.

I would much rather see more firemen than more police. Why is this not a priority?


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 3:34 a.m.

Funny how my councilman's name never seems to come up. Emailing constituents? Sponsoring or co-sponsoring amendments or resolutions? Meaningful quotes on any subject at all? C'mon Mike Anglin. Do something. Holding court at Washtenaw Dairy doesn't count.


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 11:23 p.m.

If we only had more members like Jane Lumm! And enough with the affordable housing cheerleading, we have too few police officers and too much crime as it is now. Why the council desperately wants to recreate the disaster of the rest of SE MI in A2 is beyond me.


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 10:42 p.m.

All tax revenues should be going into the city's bank account, not the DDA. Also, all funds for art should be put back where they belong --

Larry Ryan

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 10:25 p.m.

Hard to argue against it. Ann Arbor is one of the best places to live in the United States, low crime, high quality of life, low unemployment and the millage is lower than it was in 2000. The city council just needs to stay on course.


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 10:03 p.m.

"...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." In the WAKE of ot? I thought the ACA's whole purpose was to get health care for everybody. Billions of dollars are going into just for that, right? I thought that was the whole point. So why would an organization need money what? the WAKE of it?

craig stolefield

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 10 p.m.

And, if you followed the police chief's report and/or you look at where the city ranks for crime you see it is a very safe city as well.

craig stolefield

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 9:58 p.m.

RuKiddingme?? Empty storefronts in A2? I work downtown and can tell you they are few and if you look at the permit in the window you see someone else is working on the space already. How about the downtown Borders? Filling up with high tech companies, jobs galore. Big new shopping center going up on Washtenaw, new buildings going up people moving to A2 left and right. I heard the residential rental vacancy rate is close to zero. Home prices are shooting up. Lowest unemployment in the state, etc. Maybe Spark had something to do with all that? Get Downtown is awesome, think of all the workers who ride the bus but can't afford a car. We do pay more in property taxes but if you look you see over half goes to the schools and only 29% goes to the city, same as it has been for over a decade. Parks are a big deal and compared to other cities our city has way more. I don't see garbage in the streets and the roads are getting better fast, the city is sure investing. What other city in this state wins a bundle of awards as one the best places to live?


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 10:07 p.m.

There are 3 or 4, I think, places right next to each other next to the Blue Front on State that have been empty for quite some time. And several of those spots on Main were empty for a while, or have had high turnover. What's in Leopold's now? And DID SPARK have something to do with it? If they did, I could finally stop wondering what it is they do. DID they have something to do with it? Half of our exorbitant property taxes going to th school system doesn't make me feel great. See other recent stories re: AAPS. If you don't see garbage on the streets I don't know where you are. I drive on State, Packard, Hill, E. Huron, William , and Fuller, and there's garbage all over the place (usually pop bottles, plastic bags, or solo cups). However, along the bridge on Fuller (or is it Glen at that point), the hill down to the train tracks is LOADED with trash. Like entire truckloads.


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 9:52 p.m.

I live in Lumm and Petersen's ward and strongly oppose leaf pick up. It creates a road hazard with leaves left in the streets for weeks (despite the request not to put them there until just before pickup). The pickup is often disrupted by an early snow making the roads more treacherous. The leaves make driving difficult and bike riding almost impossible in some areas. Plus, there are much greater needs in this city than leaf pickup. Please reconsider.


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 9:41 p.m.

I agree that we could do without leaf pickup. Everyone leaving their cars on the street makes this virtually impossible to carry off successfully anyway. What I WOULD like is some scrutiny of the whole garbage collection/recycling system. That has been through several shady transmogrifications, and I don't get the impression it's saving money or at least not mis-spending it. I'd also like to see recognition of the new tax coming ijn from these recent massive developments; I didn't see that brand new, and I'm guessing pretty large, increase in revenue on any of these reports. What would be great is getting completely rid of unneeded or zero-accountability spending: SPARK, for one; have they ever given any kind of proof that they've provided a payoff for the money they get? No more money for Avalon. GetDowntown. Consultants. Moratorium on repetitive or unnecessary studies. Etc. We pay a lot more property tax than a lot of other towns, and I don't see what we have that's better. I see bad roads and that fountain that doesn't work and empty storefronts and garbage in the streets.


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 10:01 p.m. that $500,000 the DDA's getting "over what was expected" coming from the new highrises?


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 9:28 p.m.

If any of that affordable housing money has any chance of going to Avalon, I don't know why it would even be a consideration. No more for affordable housing until we see better performance from the people who get the money. I have a feeling Avalon's debacle and screwjob are the very tip of the iceburg in terms of mismanaged affordable housing money. Time for tax-funded public art to end. Plenty of public art across the country, in small and big towns, has been better, less expensive, and privately funded.


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 10:13 p.m.

I think any successes Avalon might have, Ryan (if one an call getting money from other people and using it to build houses that will continue to need to get moneey from other people so people don't have to pay as much as other people to live in them) should be tainted by that NEar North thing. Why have they not at least assisted with the demolishment? Or sold auctioned the properties? We gave them money, they bought properties, they let properties fall into disrepair, now we use more money to demolish the properties, and they apparently still at loeast partially own the property. Why should we or they feel good about anything else they're doing while that issue remains? If you gave me $1000 and I bought a car and let it sit until it wouldn't start, and YOU had to pay to have it towed and trashed, would you feel good about someone else buying me a car and me actually driving it? Hooray.

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 9:47 p.m.

It sounds like you're judging Avalon Housing based on the failure of the Near North affordable housing project to move forward on North Main. While some criticism may be due regarding that project and what's happened there (it's a total bummer they let those houses fall into severe disrepair and now we're resorting to demolishing them without a replacement for those units at this point), it's fair to point out there were forces beyond Avalon's control that killed that project, namely the revisions to the FEMA flood maps last year that expanded the floodway into the property and, as a result, the project could not get needed federal funding. But there are many other instances in which Avalon has been successful at providing affordable housing and supportive services to local people in need and where the money granted to Avalon has done a lot of good. And Avalon's new affordable housing project on Pauline is coming along quite nicely (32 units in 5 buildings). Go for a stroll down Pauline and take a look at the project taking shape if you haven't lately.


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 9:18 p.m.

"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." YES. Do this. Remove the $340,464 for public art.

Deb Burch

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 9 p.m.

Sally Hart Petersen and Jane Lumm, For many in Ann Arbor that drive small energy efficient cars, ride a bike or take the bus, it would be great if they would restore curbside pickup for the christmas trees after the holidays. But do we really need to restore the leaf pick-up? It is much better to just mulch them. Please consider.

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 7:45 p.m.

This document was just sent to council members at 3:23 p.m. today by City Administrator Steve Powers: One note of correction: Lumm's name should not be on amendment #7 (she said it competes with the DDA amendment and she is supporting that instead)


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 7:22 p.m.

I am trying to recruit a highly qualified scientist to my start up company right now. I can tell you that quality education and public safety matter a lot more to folks like this than public art, bike lanes, and all of the other nice to haves on this list.

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 7:38 p.m.

As you may know, the city doesn't fund the schools, but it does fund our police and fire protection. Before any potential add-ons tonight, the administrator's budget shows $24.5 million going to police, $14.5 million going to fire, and $4.4 million going to district court from a total general fund budget of $82.9 million. That's roughly half the general fund budget going to what's considered "safety services." If you follow the link I provided above, you'll see a $420,794 line item for alternative transportation, and then there's $340,464 for public art. It'll be interesting to see the final numbers after council is done amending the budget.


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 7:07 p.m.

An annual budget meeting marked not by acrimony but by consensus is much like an Irishman walking out of a bar. It could happen.


Tue, May 21, 2013 : 4:54 a.m.

Really? I'm Irish and have never had trouble avoiding bars.


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 7:05 p.m.

More for police and less for schools? We're not Detroit.

Jay Thomas

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 10:28 p.m.

That's a different budget; take it up with the school board.

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 6:32 p.m.

Here's the actual budget resolution:

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 9:34 p.m.

Sorry, the link ran over above. Here it is shortened: You can stream a lot of local meetings, including council meetings, live using that link. It used to cut out at 1 a.m. but I've been pushing the city to keep it going later since meetings lasting past 1 a.m. can happen with the A2 council.


Mon, May 20, 2013 : 8:43 p.m.

I removed the com at the end of the link and found the city admin. site. However, I don't believe one can watch tonight's mtg. live. Am I right?

Ryan J. Stanton

Mon, May 20, 2013 : 6:33 p.m.

And if you want to tune in tonight via livestream: