Ann Arbor police and fire deserve added funding before DDA
Fiorello LaGuardia, New York City's greatest mayor, famously said there is no Democratic or Republican way to pick up Gotham's garbage.
A mayor's job is to set the priorities so that basic city services are delivered and to build consensus around a vision of what is required long-term to keep the city vibrant with a high quality of life. That is not happening today in Ann Arbor.
We must assure our basic services: fire and emergency medical services that meet national standards; a police car in front of your door in a reasonable number of minutes to help in an emergency situation; and roads that are in good repair. They must meet the current and future needs of the city and keep it safe to traverse by car, bicycle, or on foot, or we risk everything.
To be clear, Ann Arbor is a great town, but our fire department doesn't meet national standards for fire and emergency medical services response times; our police are reactive and not staffed to proactively solve crimes; 56% of our roads are in poor condition; some parts of our road and alternative transportation infrastructure that should have been built long ago are still missing and our crosswalk ordnance seems to reduce safety for pedestrians and motorists.
Ann Arbor needs more money in the General Fund to properly staff the city’s fire and EMS services to get them to national standards. Once benchmarking data on police services is finally developed, we may need more funding for our police to be able to meet acceptable service levels.
Properly funding fire safety and emergency medical services, police and roads should be our #1, #2 and #3 priorities, not an afterthought. We aren't attending carefully enough to the basics and, if things continue to deteriorate and Ann Arbor falls further below par, the quality of life in Ann Arbor will suffer.
Despite these unaddressed problems, our mayor's priority is fighting to preserve a taxing structure that allows a projected increase of $1 million more a year in funds to flow to the Downtown Development Authority.
The DDA's priorities as expressed during the debate on this topic are adding elevators and retail to the Williams Street Garage, paying for a sewer improvement to help develop the Y Lot into a tall building, and replacement of street lights on South Main.
However, they shouldn't even rate a last place "10" on the list of top 10 priorities. High on that list would also be other key infrastructure like clean water, waste pickup, disposal and sewers.
Former Mayor Lou Belcher recently made a statement discussing how upside down our city leadership's priorities are today. Here is what he wrote:
"Priorities, set by importance, are the only way to operate anything, whether it is a government, a business, or a family. For any city, the government's first priority MUST be the health and safety of its citizens. Just ask them.
“ We built the sixth and last fire station to meet the four minute response goal and it is, in my opinion, very bad policy to dismantle the very infrastructure that supports what should be a number one priority. When the money runs out you stop on the last priority and, if you have money left, give it back to those who gave it to you.”
The mayor, who also sits on the DDA and sets its goals, is fighting for the DDA’s priorities, all of which are of lower priority than the city’s as a whole. This is not for the best interests of the citizens, which is to get more money to the General Fund to properly fund basic services.
The seven members of city council who voted April 1st to reallocate the projected $1 million per year of extra funds that would otherwise go to the DDA are correct and the mayor is wrong.
(Stephen Lange Ranzini is president of University Bank in Ann Arbor, where he lives. He's also an occasional columnist on AnnArbor.com.)