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Posted on Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 5:59 a.m.

Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners will be 'catalyst' for expanding transit services countywide

By Ryan J. Stanton


Washtenaw County Commissioner Wesley Prater, D-York Township, expressed concerns Thursday night about the direction the AATA is headed in expanding transit services countywide. The board is being asked to approve a resolution to form a new authority and file articles of incorporation on its behalf.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners will play a crucial role later this year in expanding public transit services throughout the county, according to Michael Ford, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.

"You are the catalyst to helping make this happen, in terms of the administrative role that you can play," Ford told commissioners during a special working session Thursday night.

Ford said the county board will be asked later this fall to approve a resolution to form a new regional transit body known as an Act 196 authority — a multi-jurisdictional agency replacing the AATA, an Act 55 authority chartered in 1969 by the city of Ann Arbor.

Commissioners also will be asked to approve filing of articles of incorporation for the Act 196 authority, which AATA officials expect to happen in the spring of 2012.

"Filing the articles of incorporation costs the county nothing, nothing at all," Ford told commissioners, adding that having the county file the paperwork is simply the most expedient way of creating the new authority.


Commissioner Dan Smith, R-Northfield Township, asks about the governance model of the new countywide transit authority Thursday night. AATA officials said nothing is set in stone.

Ryan J. Stanton |

After the articles of incorporation are filed, the various municipalities throughout the county that are being asked to join in as partners will have 30 days to decide to stay in or opt out of both the millage that would fund the Act 196 authority and the services it would provide.

Ford said AATA officials have been working diligently to seek buy-in from 28 different municipalities throughout the county, and some already have passed interlocal agreements that will help determine their representation on what's being referred to for now as an unincorporated Act 196 board.

The board would be responsible for developing and approving bylaws and a services plan for the new authority — as well as agreeing on a funding plan — before the county board is asked to take any action.

The AATA's proposed plan includes carrying over seven existing AATA board members to represent Ann Arbor, with eight other spots representing outlying areas of the county.

Ann Arbor Township and Superior Township already have passed interlocal agreements, Ford said, and others are being considered in the next two months.

AATA's governing board recently took steps to move ahead with a 30-year transit master plan that calls for investing $465 million to expand transit services countywide. Now the agency is working on implementing the plan, which likely will require going to voters next year with a countywide millage request to fund the new multi-jurisdictional transit authority.

Some commissioners have raised concerns, though.

Commissioner Wesley Prater, D-York Township, asked several questions Thursday night that indicate he's still not convinced the AATA is headed in the right direction.

"My concern is that when this is done, it's done properly, and I'm not convinced at this point in time what you folks are looking at is the right way to go," Prater said, directing his comments at Ford and Jesse Bernstein, the current chairman of AATA's governing board.

Prater said he doesn't think it's fair for Ann Arbor to have seven seats on the 15-member Act 196 board when the city only accounts for about a third of the county's population.

Prater also said he was concerned that by approving the articles of incorporation, the county board essentially would be putting every unit of government in the county under the Act 196 authority with only a 30-day window for opting out. After that, governmental units wouldn't have another chance to reconsider until the authority's millage comes up for renewal.

"That's exactly what you're doing," Prater told AATA officials. "They have to opt out within 30 days or they may be locked in for five years, if I heard you correctly, and I don't know if I want to do that. I don't want to subject my constituents to those kind of issues."

Bernstein said the new authority's governance model will be determined over the next few months by the unincorporated Act 196 board, and there's still room for modifications.

Commissioner Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, said he thinks it makes sense that Ann Arbor should have seven seats on the board.

"Out of a 15-member board, if Ann Arbor has roughly a third of the population of the county, population-wise we're entitled to five members on that board," he said. And because Ann Arbor already has a 2-mill tax that funds AATA, which likely wouldn't go away, Rabhi said it seems reasonable that it would get two additional seats for that investment.

Both Rabhi and Commissioner Leah Gunn, D-Ann Arbor, said it's important that those 2 mills stay on the tax rolls and not be eliminated. Gunn said the tax originally was approved as a permanent millage in 1976.

"I want to clarify, each jurisdiction will vote whether or not it wants to be taxed to provide the service, so it's up to each jurisdiction," Gunn noted.

Bernstein acknowledged the AATA doesn't have a funding plan yet. Most assume it'll be a millage of some kind, he said, but there's still a long way to go before that's proposed.

Ford described the current state of transit services in Washtenaw County as "really patchy" and said the 30-year plan is geared toward a "more robust and seamless" system.

"This is a framework — it's not something that can happen overnight, but it's a 30-year vision of what the future could look like," he said. "There's opportunity to expand the frequency of service throughout the county, really connect everybody going forward."

Ford noted the Act 196 model is used throughout Michigan, including in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Traverse City, Metro Detroit, Jackson and Bay City.

He clarified that the county would not be responsible for putting the millage request on the ballot — that'd be up to the transit authority.

Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for Reach him at or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's e-mail newsletters.


Vivienne Armentrout

Sat, Jun 4, 2011 : 12:23 a.m.

Not being mentioned in this current discussion is that the plan now being put forward is the one with all the bells and whistles, in this case two commuter trains, including WALLY (to Whitmore Lake). See <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> and click on the plan summary. The crux here is not whether each locality decides whether to buy its own service, as Cmr. Gunn's comment seems to imply, but whether enough of the 27 municipalities in the county will buy in to this expanded plan despite the likelihood that few rural residents will derive direct benefit from some of its most expensive features. I attended the AATA Board retreat today and it was stated that the funding plan is still &quot;TBD&quot;. In other words, they are attempting to put together a new authority and governance structure without a clear explanation of what it will cost and how that will be paid for.


Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 11:09 p.m.

Rabhi argues for representation based on ability to pay. What is this world coming to?

Basic Bob

Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 4:28 p.m.

Ann Arbor has one third of county residents. They will use the bus. Ypsilanti and the urban townships have another third. They will use the bus. The remaining third of county residents will never use the bus, nor will they pay to support it. There will be a few express routes to the hinterlands. Seems to me that Ann Arbor getting half is just about right.

Basic Bob

Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 8:17 p.m.

Each city, township, and village are free to opt out of the authority. I would guess that the western townships will opt out at the first opportunity, and that is a sensible choice for them.


Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 5:39 p.m.

In otherwards, those of us in the hinterlands are about to get shafted it this is actually adopted.


Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 4:08 p.m.

Once again the City of Ann Arbor's politicians and bureaucrats are making a serious attempt dictate to the rest of the political entities and the citizens of the county. There behavior here is both deplorable and despicable in that they keep trying to shove this down our throats.

fight hunger

Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 3:08 p.m.

i hope it all works out for us bus riders aata is my car

David Cahill

Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 2:26 p.m.

I hadn't realized that Ann Arborites would still be taxed two mills, plus whatever this new county-wide board assesses. I haven't cared for this half-billion-dollar plan in the first place, since its major purpose is to subsidize development. But now I see that it will also be a real Rube Goldberg machine.


Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 3:10 p.m.

I think that Ypsi will have 2 millage's to pay as well. Ypsi just voted in the Transit Millage, that by the way AATA is saying more money is needed for enhanced service.


Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 2:05 p.m.

Washtenaw county communities would be making a big mistake joining this authority if A2 gets seven out of 15 seats. I agree with BroncoJoe, the money spent by A2 is used in A2. Expansion of public transit is important, as the price of gasoline is likely not going to decline. When the global economy recovers, demand in developing countries is going to increase.


Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 1:04 p.m.

What can we do to kill this new organization before it forms? As with all government commissions, once formed, they take on a life of their own and become near impossible to eradicate. Now is the time to stop the stupidity before it sucks huge amounts of money from our pockets.


Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 1:03 p.m.

&quot;We pay 2 mils so we should get more representation,&quot; is a baloney argument (to phrase it nicely for a family website). Where does that 2 mils get spent? In the city of Ann Arbor. There is no proposal to decrease the service in AA - the 2 mils are staying right where they are right now. So EVERYONE is proposed to pay equally for the additions to the system. But, where will 90% of the $450 million raised countywide by a millage get spent? Ann Arbor. So AA wants 7 seats on a 15 seat board, they want to keep everything they have, plus they want the rest of the county to fund additional high capacity transit in AA which will primarily benefit AA residents and AA businesses. And individual communities will NOT be able to opt out of a countywide millage, either. I have been told it will be put to a countywide vote and an up or down vote of the county will decide if everyone pays for AA's bus service. Oh, yeah - some fraction of that amount will be spent on improved buss service in the outlying areas of the county, but NOT at a level which will allow people to get rid of their cars. Again, AA gets buses running every 5-10 minutes in some cases, and the rest of us get to schedule our lives around buses that come once an hour (if we're lucky) and there will be an additional cost to riders in the furthest areas of the county which will discourage them from using the service. Next the arrgument will be there is not enough ridership to support those outlying areas, and those routes will be eliminated or reduced, but AA will still be collecting that millage. Sounds like a fair trade for our tax dollars. How about if the rest of the county has a transportation board that takes ALL of a millage outside of AA and provides superior service to underserved areas and we let AA residents and businesses pay for their own high capacity transit?


Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 11:59 a.m.

Ladies and gentlemen hold your wallets. A new taxing authority designed by Ann Arbor to shift costs across the county. AATA is a money losing venture subsidized by local and fed tax dollars. And please don't tell me.....&quot;Well, you know, its for the public good.&quot;

Stephen Lange Ranzini

Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 11:15 a.m.

It is an excellent idea to form this new public transit authority and let each community decide whether to join or opt out. The current geographical limitations of AATA cause many problems. Since Ann Arbor provides most of the funding, it is reasonable for it to get 50% minus one seat on the new countywide board. Perhaps over time that can shift as the burden is spread across more jurisdictions that opt in. Though some criticize it, AATA is a critical service which in addition to the environmental benefits, helps businesses and workers in our region. This is a key step forward in our region's future economic development.

Leah Gunn

Fri, Jun 3, 2011 : 10:29 a.m.

I also pointed out at this meeting, that the citizens of the City of Ann Arbor have contributed over $179 million to the AATA through the 2 mills that we have been paying for about 35 years. If there had not been an Authority, there also would not have been the massive amounts of federal funds that have been used for capital purchases and for various pilot programs. Federal funds paid to start the GoPass for instance, which is now underwritten by the DDA, and also have been used to begin such programs as the commuter services to and from Chelsea and Canton. So, in spite of Commissiner Prater's objections about governance, the major financial burden has been on the city, not the surrounding areas. I commend Ann Arbor's foresight in creating the AATA and under the plan as suggested, it would still be paying the lion's share of the cost, as least for now. We must think of what Washtenaw County will be fifty years from now, not what it is today. It was also pointed out that in order for the more rural areas to retain their character, they would support transit oriented development, thus avoiding additional sprawl.