Ypsilanti voters will be asked to approve dedicated tax to fund AATA bus service
Ypsilanti voters will be asked to approve a tax increase to support the city's current bus service through the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
The Ypsilanti City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to place an amendment to the city charterÂ on the Aug. 3 ballot,Â allowing a .9789 mill Headlee override solely for transportation purposes.
The proposal would restore the city’s ability to capture 20 mills instead of the 19.0211 maximum allowed per the Headlee Amendment, which would then provide an additional $281,000 for public transportation in 2011. Residents whose homes have a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $97.89 more annually.
Council members adopted the resolution after a countywide public transportation millage failed to materialize in recent months. In September 2009, the council approved a 21-month contract agreement with the AATA to provide bus service from Oct. 1 through June 30, 2011, at a cost of $312,000. At the time, the council hoped a countywide or regional system would now be under serious consideration.
During negotiations with the AATA, Council Member Pete Murdock broached the possibility of a dedicated funding source instead of continually entering into purchase agreements. The City Council must draw money from its general fund to pay for the service, and the last agreement included a one-time allotment of federal stimulus dollars to help sustain the service in 2010. A Headlee override would guarantee funding every year.
Murdock, Mayor Paul Schreiber and City Attorney John Barr largely crafted the language of the proposal in recent weeks. Barr said in the event the AATA develops a countywide transportation system, the city would not be required to levy the .9789 mills unless it's deemed necessary to supplement a new funding structure.
The city budget projects council spending of $218,000 on public transportation in fiscal year 2011 and $281,000 in fiscal year 2012.
Council Member Mike Bodary said the tax would gives council one less service to worry about as the city develops a budget without knowing how much it will receive in state-shared revenues.
“I think in the long run, this is the best thing to do,” he said. “The main thing about making a separate millage is it's dedicated - it’s automatically going toward those transportation costs, and we’re no longer pulling that money out of the general fund and hoping we have enough."
Schreiber praised the proposal's flexibility.
“I think this is a good proposal because it gives the AATA the ability to fashion a countywide system without jeopardizing the funding here if it is passed by voters,” he said.
Schreiber also pointed out that for the first time in years, property taxes will likely drop by more than 6-percent while the millage represents a 1.5 percent increase, so even if the millage passes, taxes would go down for most residents.
Council members acknowledged the poor economy could complicate efforts.
Another potential complicating factor? Politics.
All council members and mayoral candidates currently seeking seats are Democrats, so those races will be decided in August. That could impact some council members' efforts to campaign for their seats and also a tax increase.
“I don’t know who is going to fight for it, and it’s going to need a champion,” Ypsilanti resident Beth Bashert said during the public meeting. “Without a champion in the anti-tax environment we’re in, I’m worried that a very important thing like public transportation will not pass, so I want you to think about it and come up with that good committee - that effective committee - that will put together the plan to pass this with the voters.”
Schreiber agreed a solid team to campaign for the issue is essential.
“Hopefully we will have enough grassroots support and energy in the community that we can give it a good shot,” he said.
Murdock, who is running for mayor against Schreiber, said he knows of several organizations that would likely jump in and campaign for the proposal.
“I told the mayor if he’s supporting it, I’m supporting it and most of the council candidates are supporting it, then we should be able to get it through in fine shape. It may be close, but we’ll work to do that,” Murdock said.
The council agreed the August ballot was preferable to November because the later elections will likely see more candidates and issues.
Bodary said he believes residents will agree with the council that public transportation is important for the city’s overall health.
“It’s beneficial for the citizens, the city and for the future of the city,” Bodary said. “It makes us accessible to the county and Ann Arbor, and it just works out better all the way around.”
If the millage is defeated, it can't be placed on the ballot again for another two years.
Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.