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Posted on Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 6:03 a.m.

Ann Arbor's proposed sidewalk repair millage spreads cost in more reasonable way

By Tony Dearing

Ann Arbor residents who go to the polls on Nov. 8 will be asked to renew a street repair millage of 2 mills -- which they absolutely should -- as well as to adopt a new five-year millage of 0.125 mills for a new sidewalk repair program.

The street resurfacing and reconstruction millage has been around for almost 30 years, and voters have continually renewed it. The millage generates about $9 million a year, and given the condition of our roads, it’s important to continue to have that source of revenue. We think residents understand that and will renew it again.


Ryan J. Stanton |

The proposal for a sidewalk repair millage is a new approach to the city’s long-standing and unpopular practice of inspecting sidewalks and requiring that residents pay the cost of repairs to the sidewalk in front of their home.

Supports of the proposed sidewalk millage say it a more fair and reasonable approach to spread the cost of sidewalk maintenance across all property owners, and we agree.

Sidewalks are, after all, a public good used by all of us. When a sidewalk is repaired, it benefits all pedestrians, not just the person whose house it sits in front of. What’s more, the cause of damage to sidewalks can often be the roots of city-owned trees in the right of way, and that makes the practice of disproportionately putting the cost of repairs on a homeowner seem even less fair.

Granted, someone who paid $150 -- or in many cases, much more -- to repair the sidewalk in front of his or her home last year wouldn’t be thrilled to see the city now switch to a new program this year. But if the current program puts an unfair burden on individual homeowners, this new program looks like a better deal for everyone in the future -- even those who have paid out of their own pocket in the past.

The millage would cost about $13 a year for the owner of a home valued at $214,000. That is pretty low-cost “insurance’’ against the cost of even one sidewalk repair, which most homeowners would face sometime in the coming years.

This is not something the city is forcing on anyone. There’s an existing program in place, unpopular though it is. If people want to turn the responsibility of repairing sidewalks over to the city in a way that recognizes them as a public resource and spreads the costs in a more reasonable and affordable way, they can approve this millage. We think it’s a better approach and support its passage.

For more information on Proposal 1, the street millage, click here.

For more information on Proposal 2, the sidewalk millage, click here.

(Editor’s note: This editorial was published in today's newspaper and reflects the opinion of the Editorial Board at The four community members who serve on our Editorial Board -- Mary Kerr, David R. Lampe, Marsha Chamberlin and Kyle Poplin -- did not participate in our endorsement decisions.)



Thu, Oct 27, 2011 : 12:47 a.m.

This past summer I paid nearly a thousand dollars to repair the sidewalk in front of my house, because that's what the city said I had to do. If everyone did this, then we don't need a new tax because the sidewalks are all repaired. If everyone did not do this, then go after them! Seems like I will be paying twice.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 7:01 p.m.

Like Happy Senior said, the city shifted the sidewalk responsibility to residents and received no opposition from a complacent citizenry, now everyone is "up in arms" over another shift. I'm voting no also. Bad roads are just as good as speed laws. Huge potholes in fromt of the crosswalks will slow traffic down.

David Cahill

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 11:26 p.m.

I support the sidewalk millage. is right that sidewalks are a public good and should be paid for by all the public. But the present returns from the poll indicate a big defeat. This is too bad. But it is the opinion of a citizenry that is both deeply wounded and deeply offended by the present crazed and arbitrary sidewalk "fix-it-yourself" policy.


Tue, Oct 25, 2011 : 7:03 p.m.

Maybe pedestrians should walk on the roads and drivers should drive on the well maintained sidewalks.

Tony Livingston

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 12:46 p.m.

Yes, we were forced to replace sidewalk slabs that did not need replacing. I was personally told that "an eighth inch crack is a trip hazard". It was handled so poorly. On another note, has anyone noticed that there are many residences in Ann Arbor that do not even have a sidewalk? We are not allowed an eighth inch crack but others do not have to provide anyplace to walk other than the street.

Adam Jaskiewicz

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 12:01 p.m.

In theory I support the sidewalk millage, however I'm seeing a lot of crumbling streets, and not a lot of work being done to fix them (shoveling piles of cold patch into potholes doesn't count). I'm not too confident in the sidewalk funds being managed any better. Thus, I'm voting NO. If the city can show me that it can step up its game in the use of street repair funds, I'll consider voting YES the next time this issue comes up.

Macabre Sunset

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 9:24 p.m.

Why don't we have a "extra benefits for city employees millage," then? It doesn't seem quite right to only have millages for items the city feels we'll pay for separately. It all comes from the same money source, despite the "pots" that the mayor seems addicted to creating.

Stuart Brown

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 6:24 p.m.

Tony, You failed to mention that the city has a surplus of at least $28 million in the Street's Fund in your editorial. Your paper has failed to find out why the city has collected $9 million/year, REDUCED road repair per year while Ann Arbor's roads have crumbled. Perhaps Roger Fraiser's unexpected resignation around the same time Mr. Ranzini pointed out that the city was gambling with surplus funds in the bond market and this strategy went south, costing the city lots of money had something to do with it? This is speculation on my part but given the lack of true investigative reporting at your paper, what choice do residents of Ann Arbor have but to assume the worst? Not only do we not get true investigative reporting from this paper, but what we do get is outright shilling for the current administration's tax and spending priorities. This administration has been reducing services and raising taxes and fees as if they were stealing candy from a baby; it's time to send a message that we've had enough. Voting NO on the Street's Fund millage renewal is the perfect way to do this. The answer to Laura J's question is to vote NO on both proposals!

Stephen Landes

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 5:18 p.m.

Given that we have a large amount of money in our Streets Fund ($29 million appears to be the figure) AND we have roads much in need of repair AND we have a terrible economy in which contractors need work AND contractors can be expected to bid low in order to get work what would you do as a manager? I would have been using the last two years to flat out repair and repave as many miles of roads as I could with the funds available expecting to get more work done for the money available than at any other time. What have we done? The opposite. 'Nuf said. Vote "NO".

Stephen Landes

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 4:59 p.m.

Mr. Dearing, The citizens of Ann Arbor cannot afford to throw good money after bad by renewing this street millage and adding the sidewalk millage to it. The solution to ann Arbor's road problems is not to simply give more money to people I am convinced do not have a clue about how to build and maintain roads. In a series of emails between Homayoun Pirooz and me earlier this year it was abundantly clear to me that the City expects our roads to last 30 years -- they have only asked for funds to replace each stretch of road once every 30 years. Given the way we build our roads that is absolutely impossible. Putting the sidewalk program in the hands of people who cannot plan and build any better than that means the condition of our sidewalks will get worse over time, not better. What we actually require is a serious analysis of the life expectancy of our roads given the way we actually build them and then a serious tax proposal for matching that cost. As an alternative we should be asking what constitutes the lowest long term average cost for roads (build better, pay more upfront or build as we do and pay more for annual maintenance) and then craft a tax and road maintenance plan along those lines. I believe we have taken none of the above approaches, but have substituted "what do we think we can get the people to pay for this year" and then put that on the ballot. The street and sidewalk millages are a serious issue and I think we need to send a message of "No Confidence" to the City. Just voting for this millage because the roads are in bad shape is NOT a good answer.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 3:46 p.m.

Does anybody else find it "funny" that Ann Arbor just went through a six year (or so) program where the homeowners were forced to repair any squares of the sidewalk that the city inspectors deemed necessary. Now that all of the sidewalks in Ann Arbor have been inspected and repaired, it's suddenly time to institute a tax to fund sidewalk repairs? Are you kidding me? Do the city officials think they are THAT much smarter than the residents? Make the people repair the sidewalks then tax them to "repair the sidewalks" even though they all just got repaired. In other words, there won't be that many sidewalk repairs needed in the near future, but the tax dollars will roll into the city every year. I'm sure they'll put all that money in a lock box and make sure it's available when the sidewalks need to be repaired next time.

Tony Livingston

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 12:42 p.m.

This is all about getting more money for city hall. It will not be spent just on sidewalks. It will carry their IT department and every other department that needs money. They simply attach other costs and call them part of running the sidewalk program. They need money and this is a way to get it.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 3:28 p.m.

*Beating a dead horse, still* NO vote here, after paying for our sidewalk slabs for two homes. (Some of which were questionable, but the high school kids with their spray paint cans deemed them in need of repair!) Spend the funds that are in the current buckets, then we'll talk. Be sure and vote - Nov. 8th...send council the message to drain the buckets first.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 2:50 p.m.

Beating a dead horse, but this one bears beating. This would be an improvement if any of the people involved could be trusted with money. At this point one can take it as a given that they will do much worse with the money than a citizen acting in his/her own interest to repair and follow code. Add to that that the council/mayor are already pouring millions and millions into completely unnecessary projects, and the road AND sidewalk millage are just enablers. They have gone from mismanagement to downright criminal; they should be given less money, not more. They MUST be given less money. Don't forget they just raised your water rates, people. That happened.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 2:38 p.m.

LoL. Well there you have it. No support for another money grab from the city. Let's hope everyone votes. Let's hope everyone also votes against every city council incumbent possible to make the message clear. Jane and the 3 Republicans are qualified and could provide a sane, rational, conservative block to the run away madness that has existed to-date. I'm a proud democrat but in this case I think we need the diverse balance to end the non stop craziness of the current council who refuses to listen to its constituency.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 10:27 p.m.

I would look closer at Mike's voting record. All I know is that it seems that each time an issue is voted on, it is reported that the vote for the issue was 100 percent. We need all new faces leading our city. Between all council personnel and our mayor, we totally lack true visionary leadership. All they know is art and wasteful spending habits.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 3:45 p.m.

I actually like Mike Anglin, he tends not to vote with the majority on every issue


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

I may feel a little better about voting yes to either of these if they were both exempted from 1% for art

Ron Granger

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 1:50 p.m.

Voting NO. I already paid to have my sidewalk repaired. I feel the city will just squander this money. Maybe on a new parking structure for their friends at the University.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 1:25 p.m.

I will be voting no for both proposals. I encourage voters to also vote no. Our city council has wasted our tax dollars on pet projects, art and other programs not in the best interest of our city and it's citizens.

Tony Livingston

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 1:18 p.m.

Foreclosures and bankruptcies are up and housing prices are way down. But all Chris Taylor can think about is raising taxes. I have requested his help in dealing with city hall and he refuses to call them on their wasteful, inconsistent, and way over priced policies and fees. We did the sidewalks and those of us who own rental houses had the misfortune of having to deal with the most ineptly managed project imagineable. Now they want us to pay more so they have even more control of our money. No way. Get the city beaurocrats out of our pocket books.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 1:10 p.m.

Tony - You are correct. This proposal is certainly more fair to everyone. However, I've already taken care of mine thanks to the old unfair system. So I figure I'm paid up for the next 20 years. I'll be delighted to share the burden then once the trees have grown and I'm faced with a new batch of repairs. It's unfair to ask me to pay again so soon. On a side note, which neighborhoods are still in need of inspection and repair? Are these neighborhoods currently without sidewalks? Do these neighborhoods wield some sort of political influence?


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 1:08 p.m.

For the reasons other commentors have mentioned, I have no intention of supporting this mileage and encourage others to do the same (Unless the city plans on reimbursing those of us who already paid to have our sidewalks repaired, or perhaps they'll bring back leaf pickup and Christmas tree pickup?)


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 3:44 p.m.

They spent the money they supposedly saved not the leaf pickup and gave it to ann arbor recycle because they claimed to have a bad consultant (a member of the consultant they used sits on the board of a2 recycle, but the city didn't want to punish a2 recycle for a bad consultant.(I realize this doesn't make sense, but that was the city's reasoning)) We literally get less service for the same cost.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 1:05 p.m.

Let's see if I have the history right: 1) City is responsible for sidewalks and streets and taxes people for them as part of the city millage 2) City decides it does not have enough money - uses funds for other things 3) City lets streets rot 4) City asks for new millage to cover the cost of street repair, meaning the shifted funds now will always be used for other purposes 5) City hands sidewalks to property owners and charges large dollars for repairs to property owners 6) City asks for more millage to take their sidewalks back, meaning the shifted funds now will always be used for other purposes 7) Repeat until property owners are bankrupt

Ashok Gopalakrishnan

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 1:04 p.m.

1. $29 million balance in the street millage according to a summary spreadsheet circulated by Councilwoman Briere. 2. $13 million obligated by USDOT for reconstruction of the Stadium bridges. With this much money available to the city, I would like to see the money spent, with real outcomes, before paying more. There is really no need to renew the streets millage this year.

Bob Carlin

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 12:28 p.m.

It's a question of trust. If you like the way the city has managed the prior street millage, and the way the city has included the public in its large spending decisions, then you'll want to vote for these new taxes. I'm voting no. There's plenty of money in the streets fund. If the street and sidewalk millages don't pass, we can do another one later. I don't have confidence in the current council majority and see this vote as a way to tell them that. Also, the sidewalk millage will only collect $563,000 and 25% of that has been budgeted for administrative expenses. This is not nearly enough money to keep sidewalks in repair. Plus there is no guarantee this new tax will even be spent to repair homeowner sidewalks. Besides, who wants a to support a millage which has a 25% administrative overhead?


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 12:10 p.m.

Would they need this tax hike if they had saved money with art in front of city hall? What about my buddies who have already paid out of pocket to have their sidewalks fixed? Ann Arbor needs to prioritize what is important, sidewalks/infrastructure, or art in the parks and at city hall.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 11:59 a.m.

Does the city know how many sidewalk slabs they intend to replace with the $500k/year that this millage will raise? Will the contract be competitively bid, or will it be awarded to one of hizzoner's buddies? Do we know what other money will be skimmed off the top of this millage beyond the 1% for public art? How will sidewalk replacement for property that is owned by non-taxpaying entities be funded? Until the city can answer these questions, I plan to vote no. Also,, could you find a picture of a damaged sidewalk slab to use to illustrate this story and not a picture of a crumbling street?


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 11:55 a.m.

This editorial is riddled with errors. Can the copy editor please proofread the chief editor's articles before publishing them?


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 2:02 p.m.

Copy editor! Ha ha! What do you think this is, a newspaper?


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 11:51 a.m.

This is an embarassing millage request by the city for the sidewalk program. Sure it's great for the people who haven't spent thousands of dollars on their sidewalks already. What about the residents who have repaired their sidewalks already and in some cases spent thousands of dollars? How is this fair? The article makes it seem that residents were only asked to pay $150 per property. Not quite! They should do their research and see how much residents originally had to pay for many slab sections - not just one. And the selection of these sections were suspect to begin with. I will in no way vote to approve the sidewalk millage. It is just not right the city is moving the goal posts in mid stream. I will do my best to spread the word to not support this millage. Shame on the city for even attempting this.

Alan Goldsmith

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 11:50 a.m.

"Granted, someone who paid $150 -- or in many cases, much more -- to repair the sidewalk in front of his or her home last year wouldn't be thrilled to see the city now switch to a new program this year. But if the current program puts a unfair burden on individual homeowners, this new program looks like a better deal for everyone in the future -- even those who have paid out of their own pocket in the past. " It was $150 a section of sidewalk repair. For folks with several blocks the cost skyrocketed to under a grand. And we get to pay the 1% art tax on future City run repairs too, don't we?

Ming Bucibei

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 11:44 a.m.

No new taxes, no renewal of taxes!! taxed enough already Cut cut cut No taxes for art Remove the useless idiots: mayor & city council all they do is misfeasance and malfeasance! Un-gerrymander the city Ming Bucibei


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 11 a.m.

The proposed sidewalk repair millage looks great on paper. However, look at the street repair millage for the model of actual use of collected funds. City a2 has reduced maintaining roads at former levels over the past several years. They repave fewer road miles every year. However, road taxes are still collected, while our streets are 3rd worst in Michigan. The city will use the existing surplus road millage funds to pay for what? As with roads there is no guarantee that collected sidewalk money will be spent on actual sidewalk repair. Sidewalks should be in great shape for the next 20 years, as citizens just finished replacing broken slabs. When the millage expires in five years, it is possible that deferred sidewalk repair costs will revert back to the residents. No thanks. There is precedent now that collected monies no longer go for collected purpose. The road to folly is paved with our street millage money. I won't be adding "sidewalk fees" to fiduciary fraud and incompetence. How about 1% for art? No thanks. Or, unknown % for additional future folly? No thanks.


Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 10:17 a.m.

You only speak of what supporters are saying. I will not support this millage. The city has shown little to no interest in what the residents think is important. The condition of Ann Arbor streets and bridges is dismal. The city is always cutting from traditional projects to add monies to their special interest projects. It is time to tell the city government 'no more.' The city used to take care of the sidewalks. The city owns the sidewalks. The city moved the financial responsibility to the property owners with little fanfare and notice. Now they want to increase taxes to take it back. Did they lower taxes when they moved it out of their budget? Absolutely not. Your idea of math is to recite it is only a few dollars per $200,000 of value. Take some time to add up all of the few dollars that Ann Arbor has piled on to property owners over the past ten years. Their gimmick is to break everything down into smaller projects and move it out of the general fund and assess a special tax for it. This batch of mayor/council should be voted out at the earliest possible time. That is November 8 for some of them.

Laura J

Sun, Oct 23, 2011 : 10:11 a.m.

Interesting that the city now realizes this is the best way to do this. I have paid over $2000 since 2006 for my 8 houses to be brought up to their standard. Where do I get my refund?

Tex Treeder

Mon, Oct 24, 2011 : 4:54 p.m.

Eight houses? I'm assuming 7 are businesses, i.e. rentals. I'd be more sympathetic to your point of view if you were stating this as a resident rather than as a landlord. That said, I've spent several hundred dollars on sidewalk repair in the past couple of years. I'm not against $13 per year in a millage, but I'd like to see the whole city cycle through "self-repair" once. That seems only fair.