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Posted on Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 5:58 a.m.

Washtenaw County debates its role in 4-party agreement for countywide transit

By Amy Biolchini

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.

AATA Home.jpg

Three of four parties have signed on to the creation of a countywide transit authority. The last to approve the measure is the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners. A final vote is slated for Aug. 1.

Melanie Maxwell |

Though Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and the board of directors for the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority have put their rubber-stamp on a four-party agreement to create a countywide transit authority, lengthy discussions in Washtenaw County government have stymied a final vote.

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 Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.



Sun, Jul 15, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

Does anybody really believe this will not become a huge drag on government coffers? I was shocked to find that ALL WCCC students get free use of AATA by showing their student ID. So tuition @ WCCC is already subsidizing AATA. University of Michigan has subsidized AATA for years, again coming out of student tuition. This is a boondogle and must be stopped cold. If Irwin is supporting this hold onto your wallet. He is the poster boy for spending other people's money. You can add Yousif to the list also.

world view

Fri, Jul 13, 2012 : 11:15 p.m.

It seems clear to me that "rants" are the order of the day on this issue. Has anyone even read the County Transit Plan? Regardless, there is not an issue with representation or anything else unless your local respresentatives vote to stay in (or rather don't vote to opt out). I don't understand all the furor when the decision to opt out is an available option. If you think you will be disenfranchised - urge your local elected officials to opt out. If you think Ann Arbor is giving away the farm - urge your local elected officials to opt out. If you don't want to tell Ann Arbor thank-you - urge your local elected officials to opt out. If you don't trust the new Authority to make good decisions on your behalf - urge your local elected officials to opt out. If you are just cranky - urge your local elected officials to opt out. But PLEASE, stop your senseless rants!


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 7:12 p.m.

outlying population groups vote Republican....then say"thanks" to Ann Arbor... aren't these the people that don't believe in "services"...... If people are all in this together there has to be logic and commensense......sorely lacking.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 7:48 p.m.

cody: what do you think of people who are suspicious,don't like progressives,think taxing and government are bad then proceed to get a service with this price tag. I think the people can live and believe as they see fit, but this magnitude of service , tailored to outlying areas is wrongheaded.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

Gunn: "I think the rest of the county might say thank-you Ann Arbor".....

John S. Armbruster

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 7:27 p.m.

Thanks to Ann Arbor for what? Trying to give us the shaft every chance they get.

Cody Robbins

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 7:17 p.m.

I understand the last line you wrote, but what are you trying to get at in the first part?

John S. Armbruster

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

If we are lucky it will pass and every entity involved will opt out. Maybe this will stop Ann Arbor's politicians from continually trying to rip off the tax payer.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 4:35 p.m.

I hate to say it folks, you will be paying for it. Especially when AATA takes over the role of AAPS transportation for the high school in the fall. O wait, I forgot, they added three more runs to AATA to get the children to where ever they need to go. So, you say you want a quiet commute? Might not be if they pick up noisy teens. I knew there would be comments like this. Everyone on the other post is all for AATA to pick up the children from the hi school. But they don't want to pay for it. Guess what? If AAPS cancels hi school bus service? Taxes will have to go up and AATA will have to out further just to get them home. Can't wait to hear the screaming on that one.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 3:38 p.m.

Just what we need another Government Agency with the power to Tax!

Madeleine Borthwick

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

I realize that what I'm addressing here may be construed as "small potatoes" by a lot of people, but here goes anyway. Night Ride is a Joke. but you won't hear me laughing. someone to whom I am very close has to walk home from work on Saturday nights when the buses aren't running. this person lives on the west side of Ann Arbor. in the current issue of the ride guide, it CLEARLY STATES that all night ride trips must begin OR END in Ann Arbor. the starting point for this night ride is in Pittsfield Township, ok, I get that. HOWEVER,this trip, as I stated earlier, does in fact end in Ann Arbor. So. It begs the question--why is BLUE CAB refusing to pick up this person? Why is AATA allowing BLUE CAB to get away with violating the guidelines as outlined in the ride guide? why is this person having to either take an *expensive* taxi ride or walk 1 -1/2 hours home? How many other people have been* stranded* because of BLUE CAB? I have talked with AATA officials about this; my concerns have pretty much gone in one ear and out the other("we've been pleased with BLUE CAB'S performance"). If AATA is unable, or unwilling to address this relatively small issue, then this Grand & Glorious countywide transit plan doesn't amount to a hill of beans.

cornelius McDougenschniefferburgenstein jr. 3 esq.

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 4:56 p.m.

are you sure the drop off point is within ann arbor city limits?if its west of webbers ,its not.he could take niteride to webbers.

Cody Robbins

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:28 p.m.

So, will I be paying for a bus route that will pick me up at the corner of my dirt road that is right next to the four corners of Washtenaw, Livingston, Ingham, and Jackson? Anyone heard of Lyndon township? I have a ten minute drive to the Chelsea and about 40 minutes to the center of A2. Let this go to a ballet and see if the interest is their for this bus service. If enough interest is shown then get a plan for revenue generation and planned routes, then put it on the ballet again.

Cody Robbins

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 6:21 p.m.

If you feel that you shouldn't be paying for the roads in my area, or the power lines. Get it to a ballet and let the people decide. I will be okay with what the majority of the county want, be it this or maintenance for my roads. My thoughts are if you are going to get this put through see if the people even want it. If it goes through let those people opt. in rather than out.

Basic Bob

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 5:27 p.m.

You mean people in the populated areas have to pay for the roads in Lyndon township that 6 people use? How about the subsidies we pay to electrify your private Idaho. Care to put that up to a vote?


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 4:37 p.m.

Cody? If AAPS has their way? You might just see an AATA picking you up from that dirt road corner. Good luck.

Ricardo Queso

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

You sure have strange ways of making public decisions out in the sticks. I would never have considered a "dance off".

Angi Olson

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.

I don't know much about this particular agreement, but as a social worker, I am glad someone is looking into transportation options for the county. People who are elderly, disabled, poor or have other barriers are often not able to move to the cities that have public transportation, and end up having a very difficult time finding rides for medical appointments, grocery shopping, and other necessities and families/friends are often unable to help for a variety of reasons. The few resources that exist are getting more costly and it's often very difficult to arrange for services for many of the people I work with. I'm not sure what the best solution for this would be, but I hope the discussions continue.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 6:51 p.m.

and the poor hard-hit people in these outlying areas who are now supposedly getting this expensive service vote Republican......because?? Maybe Social Workers ought to stress logical thinking to their clients.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:06 p.m.

Ann Arbor folks are the biggest whiners there are.BUT I would ticked off the way A2 flushes their money down the tubes.I mean really why should the people of A2 foot the bill for Ypsi ? ( keep in mind I'm always defending Ypsi )


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:04 p.m.

What has not been clearly disclosed is the actual demand for transportation services in the county outside of Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti. Potential usage figures have not be presented that would be the basis for determining the routes and types of equipment needed to provide the necessary services. Without this information a budget can not be determined and, as a consequence, the size of any funding vehicle, be it a millage or special assessment or increased usage fees, can not be accurately estimated. At this time Ypsilanti contracts with the AATA for bus services and Ypsilanti has its own millage to pay for the service. Why can not outlying communities like Chelsea, Saline, and Manchester determine what services they need, and even the routes for buses, and then arbitrate with the AATA to pay for such services? Why does a new operational framework like the 4-County Authority have to be created with its additional administrative costs and risks for misuse of funds?

G. Orwell

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:34 p.m.

"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 power to levy taxes should NEVER be given to any entity and it MUST remain in the hands of elected representatives. Politicians that support this are selling out their constituants. Who will hold the AUTHORITY accountable? The board will be made up of those that support the Authority. This is practically a license to steal. always in the name of doing good. This Is a complete takeover and it will be a disaster.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:32 p.m.

2 mil since '76 and another mil to be added on in perpetuity for a service a minority of Ann Arbor citizens use? How is this is any way a good thing? Autonomous taxing authority? How is this even legal? No financial plan? Who are these people? You can bet it won't be on the ballot in November, so they can try to slip it through in an off cycle vote, like the school tech bond was.

Ron Granger

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:19 p.m.

Why do we NEED to hitch our tax wagon to Ypsi and give this new entity $200 million of our assets and authorize them to tax us forever? Why don't we LEASE those assets to the new authority on a yearly basis, instead of gifting? That would give us some additional leverage from the assets we taxpayers paid for.

Ron Granger

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:17 p.m.

Oh dear, this is so very bad: "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." "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." "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." -- So they want us to authorize transferring $200 million in assets to a board with no oversight, made up of members who are potentially from outside our region. And apparently this plan is so unstoppable that its flaws cannot be modified or corrected because that would delay the process. Sounds more like a railroad job than a bus company. But it is really a lot like voting to create a private bus corporation with taxing authority over all of us.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 12:14 p.m.

Leah, you sound actually PROUD you are giving away 200 million in access bought and paid for by Ann Arbor taxpayers. Thank GOODNESS you are bailing and not running for reelection.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 11:51 a.m.

Looks like everyone EXCEPT the voter has a say in this. Smells of graft!


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 11:39 a.m.

"I think the rest of the county might say, 'thank you, Ann Arbor.'" This really says it all, doesn't it? This entire mess can be distilled down to multiple parties saying "thank you, Ann Arbor." Because we're getting screwed and other people are getting our money for nothing. And the icing on the cake is that there's really no demonstrable demand for this. We're not getting screwed for the justifiable benefit to other people, we're just getting robbed. "AATA has yet to complete a financial plan for the new authority." This is kind of the same order of events for the just-as-unnecessary train station. Get the ball rolling, install new taxes, spend the money, take the money, THEN come up with a plan. It seems like corruption HAS to be involved here, because these people can't actually be this dumb.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 11:33 a.m.

Another perfect example of Soviet-style d'emowerment. Whether it is Police Dispatchers, carpet-bagging highrise horrors, DDA digs, high-speed parks, Ciry tax breaks for out-state companies, commute slave buses for the no-tax U, it is d'empowerment for every local voter. People live in a set geography. Global corporations do not. Expand the geographic borders and the local voters become silence among the many. Comrade. So why does Snyder want that Canadian bridge so badly, anyway?


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 3:23 p.m.

Sorry for the confusion. Often a pattern in nature that does not fit the expected "norm" comes from a synthetic bias. In this case, moving local control of the local bus system out to a more "distant" governing body is counter-intuitive - opposite from the "norm" of vote, tax, and spend governance (read the other comments). The rest are further examples of a smilar d'empowering pattern of voter control by geography. Do you truly feel like you have greater control over government now or 10, 20, 30 years ago? There is likely a synthesized or intentional reason why.

Madeleine Borthwick

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

LXIX,what does this diatribe have to do with the subject matter at hand? are you just using it as a platform from which to yell? sure looks like it.

Jimmy McNulty

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 11:28 a.m.

Oh yes, a big thank you for this proposed waste of money that the majority of us do not need or want. Stand your ground commissioners Alicia Ping, Wesley Prater, Dan Smith and Rob Turner.

Janet Neary

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 11:18 a.m.

I have tried throughout discussion of this proposal to figure out how Ann Arbor's council members think they're doing their fiduciary duty to the citizens by transferring $200 million worth of assets (and the current 2 mill tax), plus another mill I believe -- for exactly what corresponding benefit to the city? And will there be some way to get the assets back if this doesn't work? Something doesn't add up for me.


Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 11:14 a.m.

I'm not saying thank you to Ann Arbor. I like the city but I chose to live outside of it so I wouldn't be taxed by non-responsive representatives. Now, here, my county is diving into a plan to create an autonomous authority with the power to levy taxes over me for a service that no one in our local community's government has had much say in or probably needs. We are being told we have to "opt out". I will urge our local board to do just that. This is a power grab by the AATA and that promises countywide funding while I'm totally confident the services will be minimal to areas outside of AA and Ypsi because we are too "rural". This is another means of funding public pensions. As for Jeff Irwin, he's not my representative and doesn't speak for the rest of the county. Another boondoggle masking tax increases I can no longer afford.

Leah Gunn

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 10:56 a.m.

Correction: the assets being transferred total about $200 million, not $2 million. Thank you.

Amy Biolchini

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 : 7:16 p.m.

I've made the correction to the story. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.