Candidates elected in Aug. 2 Ann Arbor primary will make key decisions on city's financial future
Ann Arbor voters in three of the city's wards are faced with a choice on Aug. 2: Keep the incumbents in office or elect new faces to the Ann Arbor City Council.
With the city facing continued budget pressures and a number of major decisions about Ann Arbor's future likely to be decided in the next two years, the three council members up for re-election stress now is not the time to bring in newcomers without experience.
Seeking re-election are Stephen Rapundalo, D-2nd Ward; Stephen Kunselman, D-3rd Ward; and Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward.
Rapundalo is defending his seat against Tim Hull, a computer programmer at the University of Michigan and a member of the city's Taxicab Board.
Kunselman is defending his seat against Ingrid Ault, executive director of Think Local First, and Marwan Issa, technology director at Global Education Excellence.
Anglin is defending his seat against Neal Elyakin, special education supervisor for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District and a member of the city's Human Rights Commission.
In each of the primary battles, the incumbents and challengers offer different perspectives on city budget issues. Two of the challengers, Issa and Hull, have hammered on the topic of public safety throughout the campaign and question whether Ann Arbor is at a turning point.
"I think there's a chance we've already crossed the line, because our staffing is definitely way down compared to where it was," Hull said. "I'm definitely concerned."
Rapundalo said he reluctantly supported the most recent cuts to publicly safety, but he doesn't think the council went too far. He pointed out the police and fire unions could have saved some of the jobs if they agreed to contribute more toward health care costs.
"I think we're committed to ensuring that the town stays safe," Rapundalo said. "I think if we got to a point where it would severely impact safety or the perception of safety, then we'd have to be careful about any further decisions we make, but I don't think we've gotten there yet."
Ann Arbor had 191 sworn officers less than a decade ago, and now that's down to 118 after the most recent round of budget cuts. At this point, the city would need to more than double staffing levels in the police department to meet national standards.
Meanwhile, the fire department has seen its ranks shrink to 82 full-time firefighters, leaving the city with 0.72 firefighters per 1,000 residents. Nationally, the average full-time career fire department in the U.S. has about 1.72 firefighters per 1,000 residents.
All three incumbents up for re-election voted in favor of the $79.1 million general fund budget for the current fiscal year, which included the elimination of 30 full-time positions in city government — 20 of which were in the police and fire departments.
Issa vowed if elected not to vote in favor of any budget that cuts more police officers or firefighters. He also said he'd immediately propose that all council members, who make just short of $16,000 a year, take a 50 percent pay cut.
"It's not something that any council member is taking lightly," he said. "Our challenge for next year is to make sure we're not cutting more and I think that's where my focus has always been as a council member — on the public health, safety and welfare."
Anglin said he has some regrets about the recent cuts to police and fire and, if re-elected, he'll be working in the next term to reverse the trend.
"I'd like to think about restoring more to public safety by making cuts to other areas," he said. "It's important that we continue to look at that and maintain a level we feel comfortable with."
Rapundalo and Ault both said further cuts to police and fire can't be off the table, though. Ault agreed with Rapundalo that the police and fire unions need to make concessions.
"Everybody needs to be at the table, and everybody needs to give," she said. "Do I want to see more losses? Absolutely not. But is it a reality we might be facing? Yes. Unless we can create revenue in other ways, and smart development would be one of those."
Elyakin said the city's budget challenges call for a robust discussion with the community about all options, and the city's books should be open and transparent.
"I would love to be able to provide everything our citizens want, but I think we have to have a real robust conversation about what the services are that we need," he said.
He also said the city should be talking with the University of Michigan and the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office about what he considers "overlapping" police services.
Another topic of debate during the primary campaign season has been the city's proposal to build a new parking structure and transit center on city park land along Fuller Road.
Of the incumbents, only Rapundalo appears to fully support the project, while Anglin and Kunselman both have hesitations and question whether the city can afford it.
With costs increasing and revenues stagnant, the city has been spending more money out of its general fund in recent years than it's been taking in. The city's debt also has more than doubled to nearly $250 million due to major capital projects the city has undertaken.
"A lot of people want to see a new train station and we all recognize its value," Kunselman said. "But you have to have a financial plan showing how this is going to be accomplished or else we're going to be left in a wake of debt and many hours of staff time wasted."
At this point, Kunselman said, the project is based on a lot of speculation and he's not going to approve a first phase that includes only a parking structure with a bus stop.
"If you can find $10 million to build a parking structure, you can certainly put some of that money back into police and fire," he said.
Of the challengers, Ault and Elyakin appear most in support of the project. Hull said it's not clear the funding is there and he thinks the project should go to voters for approval.
Issa said the project is "great in theory," but the city needs to be sure it's not just going to end up a parking structure for U-M. He also thinks it needs to go to voters.
Another question council members must decide whether to put before voters is whether to ask for more money for city services.
Kunselman said he's opposed to a city income tax, but he'd consider asking voters to approve a Headlee override to restore the city's millage rate to approved levels.
The 1978 Headlee Amendment to the state Constitution limits the growth of tax revenues to the rate of inflation. Steadily over the years, the combined effects of Headlee and Proposal A have whittled Ann Arbor's 7.5-mill operating millage down to 6.17 mills.
That means the city's general fund is netting nearly $6 million less than it could if voters approved a Headlee override and reset the rate to 7.5 mills. A 1.33-mill tax increase would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $66.50 a year.
Alternatively, city officials estimate an income tax could bring in up to $12 million in additional net revenue annually, with much of that coming from people who commute to Ann Arbor for work, while property owners in Ann Arbor would see their property taxes go down.
Ault said she'd vote to put the city income tax question to voters. Issa also said he'd be open to going to voters with a revenue question, but not until the city takes a harder look at its budget.
Anglin said he doesn't support a city income tax, but perhaps there's a "more creative" way to raise funds for basic services. He suggested a temporary millage with a promised end date.
Elyakin said revenue questions, including a city income tax and Headlee override, should be on the table and there should be an open community dialogue about the pros and cons.
"I've only started looking at income tax issues," he said. "I'm just now learning more about it and I think we need to educate our citizens."
Kunselman believes there's another option.
"The old-fashioned way to generate revenue for local government is through property value, so we need to add value to our property tax base," he said. "The city owns some of the most prime real estate downtown. We need to get some of that back on the tax rolls."
Stephen Rapundalo, 2nd Ward incumbentAge: 52; resident of Ann Arbor for 25 years; Education: Ph.D. in physiology from Virginia Commonwealth University; postdoctorate in pharmacology and cell biophysics at University of Cincinnati; Occupation: president and CEO of Ann Arbor-based MichBio; has background in pharmaceutical research and development; Public service: first elected to the City Council in 2005; past involvement in the community as a neighborhood association president and chair of the Park Advisory Commission; now is a sitting member of the city's Budget Committee and chair of the Labor Committee; also chairman of the Local Development Finance Authority; Website: n/a
Tim Hull, 2nd Ward challengerAge: 26; resident of Ann Arbor for 5 years; Education: master of science in information from University of Michigan; double-majored in history and computer science for undergrad degree from U-M; Occupation: computer programmer at U-M; Public service: serves on the city's Taxicab Board; Website: www.timhull.org
Stephen Kunselman, 3rd Ward incumbentAge: 48; resident of Ann Arbor for 45 years; Education: bachelor's degree in natural resources and master's degrees in urban planning and landscape architecture from U-M; Occupation: U-M's energy conservation liaison; Public service: finishing his second term on City Council; previously a council member from 2006 to 2008; city planning commissioner from 2004 to 2006; environmental commissioner from 2005 to 2006; has more than 20 years of public sector employment experience; former administrator for Sumpter Township in Wayne County; member of Parks Advisory Commission from 2006 to 2008; currently serves on Brownfield Review Committee, Taxicab Board, Cable Commission and Audit Committee; Website: www.kunselmanforcouncil.com
Ingrid Ault, 3rd Ward challengerAge: 47; resident of Ann Arbor for 47 years; Education: bachelor's degree in geography and master's degree in urban planning from Eastern Michigan University; Occupation: executive director of Think Local First; Public service: has served on Ann Arbor's Housing and Human Services Advisory Board since 2010; previously served as interim director of the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority; board member for the Washtenaw Economic Development Corp. since 2009; Website: www.ingridforannarbor.com
Marwan Issa, 3rd Ward challengerAge: 27; resident of Ann Arbor for 21 years; Education: master's degree in information from U-M; Ph.D. in technology from EMU; Occupation: technology director at Global Education Excellence; Public service: None; Website: www.marwanissa.com
Mike Anglin, 5th Ward incumbentAge: 67; resident of Ann Arbor for 19 years; Education: bachelor's degree in history and master's degree in special education from Catholic University in Washington, D.C.; Occupation: spent 17 years teaching before becoming a master electrician and running own business for 14 years; now runs a bed and breakfast in Ann Arbor; Public service: first elected to City Council in 2007; serves on the city's Liquor License Review Committee, Park Advisory Commission, Community Corrections Board, Budget Committee and Audit Committee; previously served on Environmental Commission and Energy Commission; Website: www.voteformike.org
Neal Elyakin, 5th Ward challengerAge: 56; resident of Ann Arbor for 26 years; Education: bachelor's degree in education from Michigan State University, a master's degree in special education from EMU Occupation: special education supervisor for the Washtenaw Intermediate School District; Public service: member of the city's Human Rights Commission since December 2009; previously worked as a teacher for emotionally impaired students in Lansing; Website: www.elyakin4a2council.com
Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's e-mail newsletters.