Washtenaw County debates its role in 4-party agreement for countywide transit
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct contribution in assets from the city of Ann Arbor to the new transit authority.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
During its Ways and Means meeting Wednesday night, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners spent several hours debating proposed amendments to the four-party agreement and the articles of incorporation for the new authority.
All of the talk resulted in a 7-4 vote at about 10:50 p.m. Wednesday to move the agreement out of the Ways and Means committee and into the general board.
Commissioners Alicia Ping, Wesley Prater, Dan Smith and Rob Turner voted against the measure.
“In voting no I am representing the majority of my district,” Ping said.
A final vote on the four-party agreement is now slated for the board’s Aug. 1 meeting, when a public hearing on the agreement has also been scheduled. Once the county passes the agreement, the AATA will be able to file the articles of incorporation and create the authority.
The creation of the authority automatically includes each municipality in Washtenaw County as a participant. Municipalities will have to opt out of the agreement should they not want to be involved.
Early in the meeting Wednesday, night State Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, spoke during the public comment session to voice his support for the countywide transit plan.
Irwin told commissioners that they shouldn’t take into account action by the state or federal government with regards to transit funding,.
“We need to control our own destiny here in Washtenaw County,” Irwin said.
Most of the discussion during the meeting concerned a number of amendments to the four party agreement and the articles of incorporation proposed by Dan Smith.
Each time an amendment was discussed, Commissioner Leah Gunn advised the board not to approve any changes to the documents as they would have to go back before the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti city councils and the AATA board for their approval before the county could vote on a final product.
“It is a foolish waste of time to do this,” Gunn said. “I don’t see any problem in the original language.”
When it came time to vote, every one of the proposed changes were struck down by the board - including one that would require that the members appointed to the new authority’s board of directors be Washtenaw County residents.
“You’re going to be overseeing taxpayer dollars from Washtenaw County residents; I think you should be a resident of Washtenaw County,” Dan Smith said.
It appears the slowed approval process of the four-party agreement means the new AATA millage for the countywide transit authority won’t make the November ballot.
The new transit authority will be a new governing body with the ability to levy taxes in the county, amend its own articles of incorporation and to vote members off its board.
The county Board of Commissioners will have little to no oversight of the board, and the county will have no fiscal responsibility to the authority once it is created.
Dan Smith argued that the makeup of the new transit authority’s board of directors was weighted towards Ann Arbor because of the assets and population.
“It really is three communities that get to decide for everyone else,” Dan Smith said of the way representatives from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Ypsilanti Township will comprise of two-thirds of the new board. “It dramatically diminishes the voice of those in less populous areas.”
Commissioner Yousef Rabhi responded that he thought the board was well-weighted for the city of Ann Arbor because of the existing assets the city is giving to the new authority - a point Gunn agreed with.
“The city of Ann Arbor will be transferring about $200 million in assets and we’ve been paying a 2.0 mill tax since ’76,” Gunn said. “I think the rest of the county might say, ‘thank you, Ann Arbor.’”
The county board previously debated Dan Smith’s proposed amendments during a working session, at which the board instructed AATA CEO Michael Ford to talk some of the changes over with the other three parties.
Ford said Wednesday that he did follow through with the board’s request. AATA has yet to complete a financial plan for the new authority.
Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at (734) 623-2552, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter.