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Posted on Sun, May 5, 2013 : 5:51 a.m.

Ann Arbor police and fire deserve added funding before DDA

By Stephen Lange Ranzini

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



Mon, May 6, 2013 : 5:29 p.m.

I am not knowledgeable enough about the DDA to determine if they are a plus or minus. There are a lot of opinions on both sides. I know that when the "MDGOTDA" at our house (mom and dad go out to dinner alone), our "in house version of a DDA", we fund all the necessities first. Mortgage, food, clothes, utilities, and taxes is our version of "required expenses" that are non-negotiable. Public safety (fire,police,EMS), road maintenance, safe water supply, etc. should be the non-negotiable expenses for ANY governmental unit. Maybe we have had these every day things for so long that we have forgotten what it was when we didn't have clean water readily available. We should look back 50 and 100 years and see what government was providing then and what the priorities were. Would be interesting.

Albert Howard

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 9:02 p.m.

DDA: Order in the court!


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 8 p.m.

The simplest way to ensure the current low crime rate stays low is to make sure there is never a rail link to Detroit.

Stuart Brown

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4:37 a.m.

Words of wisdom from our Archie Bunkers. How about passing out the guns at the beginning of the flight and picking them up at the end to end terrorism on aircraft while we are at it?


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 6:21 p.m.

"Properly funding fire safety and emergency medical services, police and roads should be our #1, #2 and #3 priorities, not an afterthought." I could not agree more. It's great that A2 has many cultural and societal initiatives but these need to come after public safety and basic services!


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 4:15 p.m.

I think the city and the DDA should hire a consultant to study this issue. Maybe Roger Fraser?


Mon, May 6, 2013 : 2:05 p.m.

Maybe Barnet Jones will come back and work yet another full time job as a consultant to the city. He seems like such a stand up guy.

Stuart Brown

Mon, May 6, 2013 : 4:31 a.m.

How about adding Joan Lowenstein to your list of consultants then we can identify all of the sulkers in this town to boot.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 6:55 p.m.

Hee Haw!

Larry Ryan

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 3:45 p.m.

Anyone would think the sky is falling or Mr. Ranzini is running for mayor. But the reality is Ann Arbor wins more awards for being a great place to live than just about anywhere. It scores very well for low crime and overall safety, vibrancy, parks, economic activity, low unemployment, walkability, etc. The wonderful downtown is a huge contributor to the quality of life and it makes people want to come here, it attracts business, it is vitally important to Ann Arbor's overall success. Getting the entire affordable housing and business community's together behind you says something good about what you are doing. The DDA does a great job and the city would be making a big mistake to cut them.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 8:49 p.m.

Of course the affordable housing community is behind them. The DDA redirects property tax monies on their behalf. The DDA also skims money to support the downtown businesses, so of course they will be behind them as well. But you don't hear many of the citizens speaking up for them, do you? Just mostly the tourist industry here.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 7:47 p.m.

@Larry Ryan: I did not advocate for cutting the DDA's funding only to not increase the funding by $1 million per year when the new student high rise towers come onto the property tax rolls. Just because the city wins awards you are willing to live with substandard fire, emergency medical services, police and roads? Lastly, do you actually think that I am running for mayor just because I wrote my first column for the paper in a year? Have you considered the possibility that I write the Common Cents column because I would like to live in a town that reaches its full potential, so that my family, friends and business all benefit from the town being as good as it could be?

craig stolefield

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 3:31 p.m.

This ignores many facts. Ann Arbor is one of the safest cities in the nation, top 20% in fact and crime has been going down steadily. Fire services are more than adequate, there just are not that many fires as their were 40 years ago and the departments in near by governments all work together now. The city won't really have any more $$ if this change goes through, nearly $4 million comes back to the city from the DDA each year, that could well go down. And if the DDA isn't able to pay for improvements downtown then the city will have to. Over time, the changes don't make sense. Ann Arbor's downtown was about dead in the late 70's early 80's. The DDA saved it and made it into one of the best.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 7:24 p.m.

@Craig Stolefield: Do you dispute the facts that our fire department does not meet national standards for fire response times and emergency medical services response times? Do you dispute the facts that while crime rates are down the combined Ann Arbor and U-M police forces were cut at a faster rate AND that most of the crime decrease was a decrease in auto thefts due to improvements in passive car security technology AND that the members of the local police force themselves will tell you if asked that they are time presses and not writing reports on many routine crimes such as vandalism? Do you dispute the facts that 58% of our city maintained roads are in poor condition and must be replaced? Do you really think that the DDA's priorities are more important than solving these problems? Do you really think that if we don't solve these problems it won't have a negative impact on our economic development?

Patricia Lesko

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 3:03 p.m.

Steve, thanks for reminding everyone that a portion of the money that would be returned to the city by slowing down the DDA's capture could be used for fire protection. The DDA Board members would prefer we think that their work on "affordable housing" is in jeopardy, or that the DDA will be "forced" to cut 85 percent of it funding for the getDowntown program, which coincidentally employs the spouse of Ward 5 CM Chuck Warpehoski ( . Ray Detter, "Chair" of the Downtown Citizens Advisory Council that records recently revealed has had no members since October 2012 ( called the resolution to slow the TIF capture coupled with term limits for the DDA Board "irrational." What's irrational is the amount of time being spent protecting the members of the DDA Board from term limits (when many of the city's boards and commissions have them, including the Park Advisory Commission).


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

I could not agree more with this opinion. Police and fire, water and roads/sidewalks, garbage collection, building inspection, parks maintainence; these are the things that one thinks of when one thinks about city services. Until these services are maintained to a level of general satisfaction, everything else should be off the table. Unfortunately, much of our city "leadership" has become so entrenched that they have forgotten about the basics of a city budget. The taxes collected for the general fund deserve to be used in those places that will do the most "common good". It is a weak argument to suggest that the DDA, public art or engineering studies for non-existent train stations in any way serve the common good. These only serve a few special interests. My solution? To paraphrase another great civic leader, ask not what your city can do for you, ask what you can do for your city. And what you can do for your city is vote; contact your representatives and let them know what you expect of them, share your opinions with others, and speak up at public hearings. Let your voice be heard and your vote be counted, lest we continue down this path to mediocrity.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2:16 p.m.

Leaving the absurdity of picking one of the mayor's many priorities, ignoring the value of the DDA's work over its lifetime and all the mayors sucesses, and using unions to let us know whether we have enough of their workers, I've got just one question: Does this column space count as a campaign contribution?


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

Feel free to write your own opinion piece on the DDA's value and the mayor's successes.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2:40 p.m.

Perhaps that's why the city paid $50,000 for an independent study on the fire department to tell them all of this. But you go ahead and keep spewing your anti-union comments.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2:36 p.m.

No one is denying the DDA has provided service over the years, but with only about four undeveloped properties left in their district (and even these are in good use as parking), it is not unreasonable to consider that their current level of service may no longer be required. As far as campaign contributions go, you might ask the same for any number of glowing articles about the DDA, the mayor, or his many appointees.

Dog Guy

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2 p.m.

It is most unseemly to speak such truths in the court of Prince John. As his intrigues unfold, we must loudly chant "Yea, verily, yea!"


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

Mr. Ranzini uses old-school scare tactics to fuel his own paranoia about police and fire. We have excellent services in Ann Arbor and need to concentrate on future jobs and growth. Cutting back on economic development is not smart. We should consolidate and regionalize safety services to make them more efficient and then get on with making Ann Arbor a top destination for business.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 7:10 p.m.

@Straight Talk: Our fire department does not meet national standards for medical emergency services, that is undisputed. What facts do you offer to counter the facts?


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2:42 p.m.

@StraightTalk, while I agree with you that our Police and Fire services are excellent given the years of cutbacks they have endured, I get "very paranoid" at the thought of the Fire Department morphing into a 3 Station service. Quite honestly, I fear for the Fire Fighter's safety with only 3 to a truck when they respond to a fire. I am very confused when the "City" entertains the thought of closing 4 out of the present 6 Fire Stations, then turns around to spend X number of dollars to re-open a Fire Station that has been shut down and vacant for nearly a decade! I really do not believe Mr. Ranzini is using any type of scare tactics with regard to his article.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 1:54 p.m.

How about we make Ann Arbor a top destination for the people that already live here? Not just the downtown 5%, the entire city.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

Should be an interesting council meeting. Still waiting to see how they will handle (or continue to ignore) the potential conflict of interest problem with the councilman's wife working at GetDowntown.

Linda Peck

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 1:09 p.m.

Totally with you on this, Stephen.

Craig Lounsbury

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 12:11 p.m.

The longer a politician stays in office the more likely they are to pander to a narrow agenda. The longer a politician stays in office the more susceptible they are to "corruption" or selling out. To paraphrase a quote from the loveable scallywag Sam Riddle "the only difference between our corruption and the third world is the goats in the street."


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 11:55 a.m.

The DDA is long past needing to fade into the sunset , but it is basically one of the pets of , I'll be extra polite and follow the rules , the current governing body of the Thomas train station...road shrinking ... art ? ( ie: the tongue depressor and upcoming bridge tagging ) etc....etc...etc.... as long as they are in power it is grandfathered in to help share in the spoils collected from the taxpayers, be it thru actual tax's or user tax's like parking ...


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 2:32 p.m.

@motorcycleminer; without the DDA we only have UM to pump money into the AATA to fund all of their pie in the sky schemes! I would throw Ypsi's mayor into the mix; but we all know he's broke!


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 11:54 a.m.

Dear DDA, thank you for your service. Our downtown is doing fine now and your services are no longer required.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 11:39 a.m.

DDA needs to go -- the are not fiscally responsible and do nothing more than take tax dollars that could be expended in a more appropriate fashion, i.e. firefighters and police offices, streets, sewers, etc.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 10:57 a.m.

For those who want the details how bad our local roads are, the link in the column is to the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study (WATS) draft report for the area transportation plan from now to 2040. Page 33, Has the stats from a new survey WATS recently did: Table 3: Miles of Federal-aid Pavement by Condition Ann Arbor has 18.7 miles in "Good" condition, 17.9 miles in "Fair" condition and 47.1 miles in "Poor" condition.


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 7:53 p.m.

Thanks, Stephen. Ultimately, it seems there are too many "buckets" in the City budget. The question is whether if the buckets were all poured into the General Fund whether the City Council would manage it any better.

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Sun, May 5, 2013 : 11:26 a.m.

@1bit: These roads in good, fair or poor condition that I've listed are those maintained by the city. A separate list for the roads under the responsibility for each jurisdiction is listed in the table I referenced. For example, the Washtenaw County Road Commission has 80.0 miles in "Good" condition, 162.1 miles in "Fair" condition and 297.2 miles in "Poor" condition. For the roads that MDOT is responsible for, the stats are substantially better, 87.6 miles of "Good" roads, 151.7 miles of roads in "Fair" condition, and 38.4 miles of roads in "Poor" condition here in Washtenaw County. Funds in the General Fund pay for the fire department (which is also the first responder to emergency medical calls) and the police department. The roads are funded by a separate millage, however, if there were additional funds available in the General Fund it could spend more money on roads. TIF funding is sapping money from the city's General Fund, Washtenaw County and the Ann Arbor District Library, which just raised its millage rate, however the county is in deficit and unlikely to spend more money on roads if it had more money. The county has its own financial challenges to deal with. See:


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 11:10 a.m.

Stephen: I agree with the priorities you outlined. For the roads, does the City handle most improvements or does Washtenaw County? Are you arguing that TIF funding is sapping money from Washtenaw County that could be used for the roads?


Sun, May 5, 2013 : 10:29 a.m.

DDA: Dedicated Diversion Agenda. Those with personal, not civic agendas divert dedicated millage tax dollars from their intended purposes. In reality and practice, the DDA is a parking meter and parking structure manager. They haven't developed anything other that parking related endeavors, and they farm most of that to Republic. Downtown a2 thrives solely because of UM. DDA has nothing to do w/a2's downtown well being. However, DDA diversion of funds hurts the entire city and its residents, as well as surrounding entities, in a manner described by guest columnist. Agree with his POV.