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Posted on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 5:57 a.m.

Pittsfield Township: Too many unknowns in new transit authority; 7-0 vote to opt out

By Amy Biolchini

Citing unanswered questions and too many unknowns in the new Washtenaw Ride transportation authority, Pittsfield Township trustees voted 7-0 Wednesday night to opt out of the program.

“This has been a difficult decision to make,” Supervisor Mandy Grewal said, speaking to the three Ann Arbor Transportation Authority officials at the meeting.

AATA CEO Michael Ford, strategic planner Michael Benham and spokeswoman Mary Stasiak were all present Thursday night to watch the vote.

The township has become the 20th municipality in Washtenaw County to withdraw from the new authority, which was formally incorporated by the AATA Oct. 2. Pittsfield Township has the highest taxable value in the county after the city of Ann Arbor.

Township officials contended that they are still supporters of public transit and want to maintain the service contract they have with AATA, but could not commit to being a part of the new authority and subjecting residents to a millage amount that has yet to be determined.

“This in no way signifies the township does not support public transit,” said trustee Alan Israel.

However, Israel stated that he did not believe Pittsfield Township’s participation in the new transportation authority guaranteed the expansion of transit options in the township.

“We could better provide service on a contractual basis,” Israel stated.

Additionally, Israel noted AATA’s proposed express route to Canton Township in its five-year service plan - and said he didn’t think Pittsfield Township voters should be paying out for that kind of service.

Township officials were especially concerned with the time frame in which they were presented with the new five-year service plan from AATA that detailed what would happen with bus service in Pittsfield Township with participation in the new authority.

Grewal said the board was presented with the plan Oct. 10, giving the township 10 business days to get public comment from its residents before the Nov. 2 deadline for the township to opt out - a time frame Grewal said was too short.

“We should not put this on our residents without any meaningful feedback,” she said.

Shortly before the meeting Thursday night, Grewal said she received an official letter from AATA CEO Ford stating that AATA had extended the deadline for municipalities to opt out of the new authority to 5 p.m. Dec. 10.

However, the notice didn’t chance Grewal’s position on being involved in the new authority because of the manner by which AATA officials have proposed funding its activities in a new millage.

AATA has used a 0.584-mill transit tax as an example of how it would fund countywide transportation efforts - an amount that would be a significant burden for Pittsfield Township residents, Grewal said. The township currently levies a 0.5 mill tax on residents for parks and recreation activities, Grewal said, and prides itself on its low taxes.

The possible millage would have raised $7.7 million in the first year for the Washtenaw Ride - of which Pittsfield Township would have paid $900,000.

The Act 196 board will oversee the operations of the new Washtenaw Ride transportation authority and will determine the funding mechanism for the expansion of services. A public vote would be required on any transit taxes the new board proposes to levy.

Representation on the new board may also have to be adjusted, Stasiak said. Originally, the Act. 196 board was to include seven Ann Arbor members and eight non-Ann Arbor members, Stasiak said.

“We’re glad they’re still supportive of transportation. We recognize there will be different levels of participation,” Stasiak said. “It’s a matter of finding the right way - the way that is most comfortable - is important.”

The smaller footprint of the countywide transportation authority may require the new Act 196 board to reconsider the outside services included in the service plan, Benham said.

With less participation, millage rates would drop in proportion to the cost of service, Benham said.

However, the actual costs are up to the Act 196 board to decide, Benham said.

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Amy Biolchini covers Washtenaw County, health and environmental issues for Reach her at (734) 623-2552, or on Twitter.


Alpha Alpha

Sat, Oct 27, 2012 : 5:08 p.m.

"Fares high enough to pay the full cost would prohibit people from using the system." -Vivienne A different system is needed. Ideas, A2?

Kathy Griswold

Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 1:43 p.m.

Pittsfield Township taxpayers will not have an "opt-out" clause on the New Downtown Library Bond. Few people realize that the library district is the same as the 125-square mile Ann Arbor Public School District (except Northfield Township). It includes the City and parts of the townships of Salem, Ann Arbor, Pittsfield, Scio, Lodi, Webster and Superior. Should township taxpayers have to support downtown economic revitalization and commercial partnerships?


Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 3:17 p.m.

We won't opt out. We'll vote overwhelmingly to not build an unneeded Taj Mahal in downtown Ann Arbor. The real future of the library system is in remote locations convenient to where people live and in digital formats.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 6:29 p.m.

Maybe Ann Arbor can"opt out".


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 6:28 p.m.

The Pittsfield vote along with all the other townships opt-out decisions is a major rebuke of Michael Ford's grandiose plan for major expansion of transportation in Washtenaw County. I assume that not much money really would be expended anyway in the out-lying county areas whose growth over ten or fifteen years is uncertain (not necessarily in percentage but in actual population numbers.) Now Ann Arbor needs to drive the final stake through the heart of this unpopular transportation authority plan by passing an "opt out" resolution at the November 19th City Council meeting.

Karen Lovejoy Roe

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 6:17 p.m.

The 5-year plan and the .58 mills projected for the future ballot issue were clearly tied to more countywide participation. As communities opt out of course the plan will be adjusted and I don't believe there is a single person that has been representing the districts that is interested in supporting any type of increase above the .58 mills, therefore the plan will need to be adjusted accordingly. Less revenue = less service.


Thu, Nov 8, 2012 : 11:32 p.m.

Thank you Karen for your insight on this matter.

Jack Eaton

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

Although it may seem logical to assume that the City of Ann Arbor, as one of the parties to the 4 party agreement that formed the "county-wide" transit authority, will participate, there is evidence to the contrary. The Ann Arbor Chronicle reported that Council member Kunselman may offer a resolution to opt out. The communities that have opted out represent a vast majority of the county's geographic area and a large percentage of the county population not currently served by AATA. This overwhelming rejection of the expansion plan gives the City cause to revisit its plan to transfer our assets and transit millage to a new entity.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 4:09 p.m.

This is a stunning repudiation of the county-wide plan as presented by AATA. Mandy Grewal was one of the concept's strongest supporters and until a couple of weeks ago I was predicting that Pittsfield would be part of a smaller authority, after the rural townships dropped out. Pittsfield trustees made some very astute comments, as reported. These and other points should be considered in deciding whether this process should go forward. There are many different questions, including the governance (I find the suggestion that there could be "different levels of participation" and "representation may need to be adjusted" disturbing; it implies an effort to keep a broader representation on the board that includes communities that have opted out of the funding.) The cost of mounting the millage election should be considered. I have calculated that the millage will have to be 1 mill to support the remaining communities. This means that Ypsilanti Township will be paying 1 mill, Ypsilanti City 2 mills, and Ann Arbor 3 mills in total transit tax. Do you think this will pass? If not, should we go to the expense of setting up a new authority and conducting a millage election? Again, I have shown participation as a map on my post The table shown above is a good summary also.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 1:08 p.m.

Nice to see some accountability. Right now, riders only cover 15% of cost. Why would other communities want to fund an inefficient system?

William Tobler, Trustee

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 4:50 p.m.

I agree with belboz regarding the 15%. The numbers come from the 5 year plan that was published in September, pages 133-134 of the file. The pie charts on page 135 make it even worse, but I believe the pie charts are wrong.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 2:44 p.m.

I don't think your figures are accurate. Fares cover roughly 30% of the fixed route bus system cost. Over 40% is from state and federal funding. What is "efficiency"? The fact is that no mass transit system anywhere is paid for entirely by users. They always require subsidy. Fares high enough to pay the full cost would prohibit people from using the system.

Basic Bob

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 1:07 p.m.

I wonder who many of those opposing taxes for the bus supported doubling the public safety millage. Ask yourself where the extra million dollars is going. Hint: the public safety BUDGET did not double.

Basic Bob

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 3:57 p.m.

I have no complaints about police officers and fire fighters, only certain politicians.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 1:32 p.m.

Man, do you EVER have anything positive to say about anyone or anything? All your comments - on any topic - are always so negative. I think what the township has done here is great. Clearly 99.9% of others do too. As for your beef with the public safety folks, did you ever stop to think that revenues were DOWN by at least a million and that is where the gap is being filled? Pittsfield DPS is doing a great job. Can't have it both ways.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 12:02 p.m.


Albert Howard

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:33 a.m.

Sensible politics!

Blue Sky

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:27 a.m.

It is so refreshing to see our township govt acting in the interests of the taxpayers. What a great perspective to put this in: half a mil for parks vs. more for just AATA but with no guaranty that money would stay in Pittsfield. We need to maintain our parks and continue to contract for bus services. Straight up. Thank you Pittsfield!


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:22 a.m.

Nice to see that sanity. logic and common sense rules pretty much everywhere but under the dome...hopefully 11-6 will be the same


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:10 a.m.

Why are Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti "In" but "haven't voted". How can they be in for this if it hasn't been put to a vote? And were the taxpayers of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti asked whether they wanted the extra millage before the city councils decided to be "in"?


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 6:03 p.m.

The AATA initiated the Washtenaw Ride County Transportation Authority plan which was recently approved by the Ann Arbor City Council. But since then an election has changed membership on the City Council such that more members may now object to the new transportation authority, enough to pass an "opt out" resolution.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 5:59 p.m.

The "opt out" provision, rather than an "opt in" provision, is used in an attempt to maintain participation by as many members as possible when dissatisfaction and dissension may be involved.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 3:48 p.m.

As Amy said, every municipality in the county is "In" by default. They must formally opt out. Therefore, if Ypsi and AA have not voted on the matter, they are still "in".

Amy Biolchini

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 1:31 p.m.

Good question! By nature of AATA formally incorporating the new authority, every municipality in the county was included. Townships and cities were given a 30-day window to opt out of the new transit authority, with a deadline of Nov. 2 to respond. Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti have not voted to opt out of the new TA, but as they were two of the original bodies that shaped its formation in a four-party agreement, presumably they are interested in being involved. AATA extended the deadline for municipalities to respond to Dec. 10 to give boards and councils more time to consider the decision, but it seems most have made up their minds.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:10 a.m.

To me, this was a simple decision. Allow the voters to be taxed until their hair falls out or opt out.