Ypsilanti City Council delays vote on AATA countywide transit agreement
For a third time, the Ypsilanti City Council delayed voting on a four-party agreement that would lay the framework for a countywide transportation authority.
The decision comes a day after the Ann Arbor City Council delayed a vote on the same issue.
Council previously delayed the vote because there was no draft agreement and because the City of Ann Arbor and the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners hadn’t yet approved the agreement with the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority.
Mayor Paul Schreiber said after the meeting that Ypsilanti should wait to see what the Ann Arbor City Council does because Ann Arbor holds the largest stake in the AATA.
"It makes sense for them to come to an agreement amongst themselves first," he said.
AATA leaders are asking the cities of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, as well as Washtenaw County, to enter into a four-party agreement that's seen as the first step toward creation of a new countywide transit authority to replace the AATA.
Like Schreiber, Council Member Mike Bodary said he thought Ann Arbor should approve the plan first because it is the largest player. He also said he isn't comfortable moving forward when so many specifics remain unknown.
"We've got a lot of details to work out that we haven't been able to work out, so it's just too early to get anything going," he said.
The AATA is planning 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.
The AATA released a 61-page report in August detailing possible funding strategies, and a special financing task force is at work determining how to best fund the project.
So far, the most discussed option is a new 1-mill countywide transit levy on top of the .987 mills Ypsilanti residents currently pay. Ann Arbor property owners would pay would an additional 1-mill on top of the current 2-mills they pay for AATA service.
Under the terms of the four-party agreement, the current millages would be transferred to the new authority.
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.
That body is expected to publish a five-year service plan and ask the county to file articles of incorporation. The 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.
Ann Arbor City Council Member Stephen Kunselman attended Ypsilanti's meeting. He highlighted an amendment approved by the Ann Arbor City Council on Monday night. If Ann Arbor voters fail to approve funding for a new countywide authority — even if a majority of county voters favor it — then the city maintains the right to withdraw from the agreement without penalty, veto any attempt at termination of the current transit operation agreement with the AATA and refuse to transfer the city's millage to the new authority.
He said he plans to offer an amendment at the Ann Arbor City Council's January 23 meeting that will give Ann Arbor a majority on the new authority's board. Ann Arbor has seven members on the 15-member board.
"There's a huge concern that our transit dollars could start being used outside the city of Ann Arbor to fund things that I think maybe are a little beyond reality," Kunselman said, listing commuter rail to Brighton and Dearborn or van service to Manchester as examples.
The Ann Arbor City Council will hold a public hearing on the issue at its meeting on Jan. 23. No timetable for approving the four-party agreement is in place in Ypsilanti or Ann Arbor.