Ypsilanti City Council moves cautiously on countywide bus transportation plan
The Ypsilanti City Council is continuing its cautious approach to a proposed countywide transportation plan.
For a second time, the Council removed from its agenda a resolution that would advance their involvement in the process for creating a countywide transportation authority. Council voted to do so at their Dec. 20 meeting and will revisit the issue at their regular Jan. 10 meeting.
The Ann Arbor Transportation Authroity is in the planning stages for a nearly $600 million expansion over 30 years. Officials say the plan will provide significant service improvements and help spur economic growth throughout the county. It would also bump the AATA’s annual operating costs from $25.1 million to $85.8 million by 2040.
Officials from the AATA are asking Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County to join a four-party agreement that lays the framework for establishing a countywide authority.
Council removed from the agenda a resolution to join the four-party agreement at their Oct. 4 meeting, which Council member Pete Murdock said was because no other parties had approved the agreement and its final draft wasn’t available.
No final draft was presented Tuesday and Ann Arbor and the county have yet to approve the agreement.
Several council members also expressed concerns over how much taxpayers could be asked to contribute.
Michael Ford, AATA’s CEO, said a financial task force is still exploring options for financing the plan, but the most widely discussed option so far is a 1-mill countywide tax that will eventually grow to 1.5 mills. Ypsilanti currently has .987-mill that will generate $292,000 this year and would eventually be transferred to the new county authority.
But Council Member Mike Bodary pointed out that language in the city’s charter amendment that dedicates funding to transportation says City Council can reduce or eliminate the millage if a countywide millage is passed.
Tom Perkins | For AnnArbor.com
Ford clarified the agency is expecting the city would transfer that millage to the new countywide authority and pay the additional 1-mill levy. AATA officials said council isn’t required to eliminate or reduce that millage, but Bodary said he understood that.
“We also have responsibility to voters to uphold what we propose,” he said.
Mayor Paul Schreiber, who is the city’s representative on the unincorporated board, said he also had concerns about a 1-mill tax and suggested the AATA stagger smaller millages.
“I’ve been pushing the board to consider something less than a mill,” Schreiber said. “That would be a better sell not only in Ypsilanti, but countywide. One mill is a pretty big bite to take in the first year.”
Ann Arbor currently has a 2-mill transportation tax that it would also transfer to the new authority, and the AATA would transfer its assets to the authority once a funding source is determined.
After incorporation, the authority would be able to ask voters once a year through 2014 to approve a new millage before the authority dissolves.
Whether or not the plan is successful, current service levels will not change, with the exception of an already planned increase to the route four trip frequency and extension of the Night Ride service.
One of the AATA’s first steps in its plan was creating an unincorporated countywide board. Officials representing districts throughout the county sit on the unincorporated board, which has met several times.
The board’s first objective is to craft a five-year transit improvement plan that it will present to municipalities before incorporating. That plan is a short-term program that will help the countywide authority quickly expand service in the region while the 30-year plan is revised.
The board will subsequently incorporate, making the countywide board official. No timetable is set, but Ford said incorporation is expected sometime in 2012.
Municipalities can opt out of the plan, and four have already done so. One of the concerns is over taxpayers in outlying townships paying a full mill for less direct service than those in the larger, core municipalities.
But officials are touting the plan as one that will generate economic activity throughout the county and improve quality of life
Schreiber said he is concerned about how high of a millage the AATA is considering asking voters to approve, but said he thinks a countywide authority would be advantageous to Ypsilanti because it would provide more stability.
“A county authority would lock us in and give us better service,” he said. “Residents of the city said 3 to 1 ‘We value transportation,’ so to me it’s more than just the millage. I think we ought to give residents the opportunity to say it’s worth more than just nine-tenths of a mill.”
“I think we need to take it slowly, but I think we need to take it deliberately,” Schreiber added.