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Posted on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 5:57 a.m.

Ypsilanti special assessment district: Will entities or residents pay more?

By Katrease Stafford

Some Ypsilanti officials said a special assessment district for electricity may be one of the last options for the city to create an additional revenue source to help offset growing costs.

Now, the city is determining who should pay more and what the legal ramifications are.


Ypsilanti is in the process of figuring out the challenges and benefits of the special assessment district.

Steve Pepple | file photo

City Manager Ralph Lange said City Attorney John Barr is providing legal advice on how to make the district "defensible."

"We have to be extremely careful," Lange said.

Within city limits, there are 4,951 parcels and close to 40 percent of the city's land total is tax exempt property, some of which is Eastern Michigan University.

The city is seeking to make every parcel holder, including EMU, pay a fee in the district.

EMU will likely be the largest payer in the district, according to early projections. During a Tuesday council meeting, it was mentioned that a possible negotiations team may be set up to hammer out details with the university.

Lange declined to comment about the negotiations team and whether the city is facing any sort of challenges or push back from the university. Prior to the start of the meeting, council held a closed session to discuss a "confidential attorney opinion" regarding the district.

The university has not responded yet to a Monday request seeking comment.

Council Member Susan Moeller, who is also an EMU professor, said she believes the university should be required to pay just like any other member of the community.

"I do still feel EMU, as a main member of this community, should pay," Moeller said. "I'm not sure why they're fighting on this. Even though I'm involved at EMU, I think they can help the community and it would help the image of the university."

Based upon one of the proposed assessment fee calculation methods, EMU could potentially pay $32,315.33 for just one of it's largest parcels. Lange said the city has not yet figured out the total amount the university might pay. The city could not provide the number of parcels the university has.

When calculating the district, staff made six different special assessment estimates. Four were calculated using information from the Washtenaw County equalization records through the Geographic Information Systems program to define individual parcel areas for each parcel in the county.

The remaining two were calculated as a flat fee per parcel by dividing the total cost by number of parcels.

The GIS based categories were found by dividing the range of perimeters into five or 10 equal categories. All of the city’s parcels were ranked based on size of perimeter and the total range from smallest parcel to largest parcel, was cut into five or 10 equal categories.

The majority of residential parcels, which have the smallest perimeter, fall under category one for both scenarios, but institutional or industrial parcels have the largest perimeter in the city and are mostly in the larger categories.

Within each category, City Planner Teresa Gillotti and her staff totaled the land area of each parcel in square feet, found the total area in each category and then determined what percentage of the city all the parcels in each particular category were.

They then calculated the share of total electricity costs all owners in that category would pay and the total electricity costs were divided by number of parcels within the category to determine the fee per parcel.

Thumbnail image for ralphlange.jpg

City Manager Ralph Lange

Using the 10 categories method, the average resident could pay approximately $52 per parcel this year and about $66 each year up until 2022. Using the flat fee method, residents would likely pay $105.65 per parcel this year and $132.58 next year.

The city owns 65 properties and would pay $29,281 in fiscal year 2013-14 and about $36,000 in 2014-15.

Some council members expressed concern over the legality of having a "select few" entities pay the brunt of the district.

Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber mentioned the Highland Cemetery at 943 N. River St. will pay much more than the average resident, but doesn't have as many lights as some of the residential streets.

"I'm worried that some residents are going to be paying $700 and others $52," he said. "It seems like residents should be paying at least 15 percent of the costs."

Council Member Daniel Vogt said the city needs to examine the benefits each entity and resident stands to gain from the district, when determining who pays a certain amount.

"Some get a lot more benefit," Vogt said. "I think that’s the kind of things have to look for if we’re going to meet the legal challenges."

Council Member Brian Robb disagreed with the thought that residents should pay more.

"We’re making the argument of defending the one percent," Robb said. "We’re saying that we need to push the burden on citizens instead of the businesses."

Ypsilanti resident James Blair said he favors a special assessment district, but only if every entity pays its fair share. Blair said he has about four churches in his neighborhood, none of which pay taxes and he believes they should also pay into the district.

Blair urged council to consider bringing down its millage rates if it pursues the district.

"I think we need streetlights and I think we need the assessment," Blair said. "It should be equally distributed... If we keep adding these assessments, we’re going to keep being uncompetitive. We have the most expensive tax rates and have working class guys that can't even afford to live here."

Lange said the district will give the city much needed funds to remain solvent.

"The city has experienced a continuing reduction of revenues for half a decade now," Lange said. "It's forced the city to make some really tough choices... .The city has tried numerous of times to make up fo the millions of dollars we lost in property tax decreases.

"The last real chance to reclaim revenue for a service we provide is this street lighting assessment so that’s why we’re here," Lange said It's not anything we would like to do, but it’s a service we're having a harder and harder time doing."

Lange said the district will allow the city to save about $490,000.

"That's a huge number when you're talking about being in debt for $1.3 million," he said. "Right now the city covers the entire burden of covering the lights. If you have an assessment, that’s going to absorb 90 percent of the light costs."

Schreiber echoed Lange's sentiments and said he believes there are only four ways the city can obtain more capital: Property taxes, fees for service, revenue sharing and an income tax.

Schreiber said the city's property tax rates are already at the "constitutional limit" with 20 mils and the income tax was voted down convincingly by voters.

"Right now we're scraping by," Schreiber said. "...By 2018, we'll be down to the minimum and we're trying to figure out how to stabilize the budget."

However, some city council members see the assessment district as not only an opportunity to raise more funds, but a way to move the city toward being more sustainable and "green."

"This will be the biggest thing in lighting in the state if we can pull this off," Robb said.

Although many council members favor pursuing the district, Moeller said she's already received complaints from several residents.

"I think that right now it's unclear," Moeller said. "This is all well and good, but we got tons of complaints. They said they didn't want to pay, didn't understand why we were doing it and what the savings were going to be... The numbers aren't convincing to me yet."

Council is tentatively scheduled to consider a preliminary resolution on March 19 and a public hearing will be held at that time.

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.


Steve Pierce

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 1:57 a.m.

Greg too, please cite your source that EMU brings 20,000 people into the CIty every single day.

Steve Pierce

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 1:49 a.m.

Solitude, the City doesn't want EMU's lawyers proving the district doesn't apply to EMU and worse other state and local exempt organizations. If they can negotiate a side deal with EMU and stay out of court, they can proceed with taxing the rest of the sheeple. Another commenter said turn off the street lights on roads next to EMU campus. Four of those roads, Hamilton, Michigan Avenue, Huron River Drive and Washtenaw are state or major roads. MDOT isn't going to let the lights be turned off on MDOT Roads. A Public hearing won't sway council, they have already made up their mind, the two mayors on Council, one that is elected and the one actually running the show already have the votes. This new tax increase is coming and once again this is a tax increase the voters of Ypsilanti don't get to vote on. When this passes, Ypsilanti will have the highest taxes in the entire state. We can all now chant, We Are Number 1. We Are Number 1.


Thu, Feb 28, 2013 : 5:08 p.m.

can you cite your source that says this would make ypsilanti's taxes the highest in the state?

Roger Dodger

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 10:52 p.m.

"Right now the city covers the entire burden of covering the lights." I think maybe the city is forgetting where their operating funds come from.


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 6:51 p.m.

"During a Tuesday council meeting, it was mentioned that a possible negotiations team may be set up to hammer out details with the university." What's to negotiate? If the district is legal and is implemented legally, then send them a bill, just like the rest of the property owners in the city will receive. If Eastern doesn't pay, then treat it like any other property owner would be treated. "Schreiber echoed Lange's sentiments and said he believes there are only four ways the city can obtain more capital: Property taxes, fees for service, revenue sharing and an income tax." Every time the Mayor opens his mouth, he reminds us all how little he brings to the table -- how little vision, how few ideas, how little leadership. Why isn't he calling for a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program with Eastern, as is in place in may other college towns in the country? Why isn't he calling for the state to pay the city what it owes for the fire protection services YFD now provides for free to Eastern?


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 5:05 p.m.

After friday >>>NNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO money thanks washington! One less problem !


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 5:04 p.m.

Who or HOW is or will the PUBLIC HOUSING be . nursing homes, THE new REC center Hotel. familiedollar store on waterstreet .Busstation, Light 'ON" at the cemetry?


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 4:58 p.m.

SOLAR CITY YPSILANTY// SINCE planes FLY on solar power power the show NBC/ABC /CBS

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:33 p.m.

Interesting thoughts and I'm hearing both sides to this from residents. Just as a reminder, no matter your position, a public hearing is tentatively scheduled for March 19. I encourage everyone to come out and share your thoughts. In the public hearing, residents have the right to file objections and if property owners representing more than 50 percent of the expected cost of the assessment file objections, the project may not proceed without the affirmative vote of four-fifths of all of the council members.

Steve Pierce

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:21 p.m.

This number of 40% of total land is is more B.S. from the city and politicians. In their count, they include roads, the river, and parks as part of that land use. Yes that is correct, all the land owned by the City is included in this figure. The City of Ypsi is actually the largest land holder when you count roads, parks and Water Street. According to SEMCOG, Government and Institutions including EMU, Churches and non-profits is 22.% of the total land use. That is 22.2% percent, not 40%. EMU as a State Constitutional body, they will likely be exempt from the special assessment district. It will be churches and non-profits like Growing Hope and Highland Cemetery which are non-profits with some of the largest largest land and frontage in the city that will pay the Lighting Tax. All this is is another argument from the City telling taxpayers, you don't pay enough taxes and they want to raise them. And they would like to raise them without a vote of the people. Ypsi has the highest millage taxes in the County, the second highest in the state only behind Detroit. With this Lighting Special Assessment district, Ypsi property millage rate will be the highest in the entire state.

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 4:31 p.m.

Thanks for the comments, Steve. I did see the SEMCOG data you're referring to. It seems as if the city is including what it owns, parks, etc. in the 40 percent. I'll look more into that and other points you made. However, as far as I know, the city is still planning to pursue making EMU and non profits pay into this district. Concerns were raised last night about it, so we'll see how it moves forward.

Silly Sally

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 4:02 p.m.

"EMU as a State Constitutional body, they will likely be exempt from the special assessment district.^Find out if true. If so, then Ypsi should turn off all street lights on EMU~s side of th streets and stop repaving all of the streets on EMU~s side. Both sides if EMU is on both sides. Hewett North of Washtenaw by the football stadium, for example. Tell ~em that their new buildings, or old, can burn if they catch fire, or they better have a deposit on hand to cover costs.Make it a contract and then see if an underwritter will purchase it and pay a yearly fee. Ann Arbor needs to do the same for UM


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:14 p.m.

This is dumb. Property taxes in Ypsi are now higher than total annual mortgage payments on most houses. Increasing taxes (or "fees") will not bring in more revenue. Property values will just decrease, destroying equity and making Ypsi even more unattractive to prospective buyers. We will end up with higher tax rates, a depreciated house, and no improvement in the city's fiscal health. As far as national income tax rates go, Laffer was an idiot, but the city of Ypsi is well to the right on the curve.


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:15 p.m.

But please do find a way to tax the "nonprofits" in Ypsi.

Jim Osborn

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

The trick to this idea is to mostly offset any homeowner increases by this tax with an equal decrease, making it revenue neutral for a homeowner. The whole idea of this new tax should be to get new money from Eastern Michigan University. Not from cemeteries or churches, but EMU. Why should EMU not pay for fire services or any of the roads leading to it? Sell it this way, as revenue neutral for all but EMU. The state has no sympathy from struggling homeowners who by law must pay for fire protection for it.. I do not like higher taxes, but this can easily be sold as a legal method of ending the practice of a few taxpayers (Ypsi city) from subsidizing the entire state taxpayers via their EMU. People much rather pay their fair share than an unfair share. Supporting EMU via fire trucks, streets, street lighting, etc, is unfair. I hope that they discuss this with Ann Arbor for ideas, as Ann Arbor has its own freeloading UM.


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 7 p.m.

Greg, too, every other taxpayer in this city eats at the restaurants, patronizes the shops, etc. And they all pay their fair share. EMU does not pay its fair share as a tax exempt institution in the city, regardless of the money its students spend on beer and chips. If EMU PD was out patrolling Ypsi neighborhoods last night, it's only because they are grossly overstaffed for the size of their campus and they don't have anything else to do. More taxpayer money being wasted by the University. Why again, exactly, does EMU need more sworn police officers than the city department has, especially since the majority of students live in off-campus housing that is in the jurisdiction of YPD? The state refuses to pay the city for the fire services of YFD, yet EMU does nothing to change this situation. Why? Your argument that students and professors rent houses in the city has holes in it. If there were no students, and EMU had never been there, then the city would have developed differently, and no one knows what it would look like today. However, show me any city that's not better off with more owner-occupied housing and less transient rentals?

greg, too

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 5:36 p.m.

I don't have a degree from there nor do I work there, so I could care less what people think about the school. But to say that they do not pay is conveniently overlooking what they bring to the town in the way of population, money spent, foot traffic in stores, what they have given to public education (charters were a flop), and just focusing on specific bills. By the way, who was out patrolling the local neighborhoods last night during the storm. Oh yeah, it was the EMU police. Who rents the homes in this town? Oh yeah, EMU students and professors. Who eats at the restaurants and bars? Students. Take 20k + people out of the town each day and lets see if you can keep the lights on...with or without another tax (yes, I know its not a tax). This city is a ghost town when the students aren't here.

Jim Osborn

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3 p.m.

@Greg, too Said, " You do know that EMU is a state institutions and runs a good deal of its expenses off of tax dollars, right? You're paying for it, no matter if it comes out of your pocket,..." Yes, but the taxpayers of the City of Ypsilanti are a small group paying for the city services that EMU uses and does not pay for. If EMU had to pay, it would lower a Ypsi tax payer's local taxes by at least $1 for every penny increase in their state taxes, since they are about 1% of the state population, more or less. Even if all college towns did this, the college towns would still save quite a bit. " a local business who then raises prices to offset the assessment, or EMU" The idea is to make it revenue for local businesses and residents, so local businesses would not raise their prices at all. As far as EMU raising their costs, perhaps they will. I've earned a MBA there, paying full price, and last year, winter and fall I've took additional classes. If my tuition were to be increased, I would not like it, but fair is fair. Why should a property owner subsidize EMU or my tuition? They should not..

greg, too

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 2:41 p.m.

I was waiting for someone to say "bill EMU, those freeloaders." You do know that EMU is a state institutions and runs a good deal of its expenses off of tax dollars, right? You're paying for it, no matter if it comes out of your pocket, a local business who then raises prices to offset the assessment, or EMU. And a business (thats what a university really is) that employs and brings in roughly 20k people into the city a day might already be doing it's part.

greg, too

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.

The new school district is imploding as the state and area are watching and now the city wants to levy more "taxes" (yes I know they aren't taxes, but they might as well be) in a city that is already taxed to the maximum level. Brilliant. As for picking on non profits, although this plan is not new, it does seem to be a newly beloved course by penny pinchers and local politicians everywhere. If they cannot get them through property taxes or other taxes, hit them with assessments. There is nothing in the tax code that makes this illegal, it just seems shady and underhanded.


Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 1:05 p.m.

I find the leadership thinking on this to be a bit lug-nut-ish. First: nobody has really made the case that the city suddenly needs new lights now instead of when some of these mils expire to be fallacy. Further, they haven't justified the lights they have or what lighting they think we need - which should be on the table as well. Second, if the city makes that case, everyone chips in and its should be based on lot size or some other standard measurement but don't try to parse this out where one person pays for just their amount of light based on some crazy measurement of 'benefit'. Thats poor thinking in my view. Its the same "I got mine" thinking that dooms so many ideas in this city. Learn from the bus milage campaigns. Third, to repeat myself. Better make the case for more taxes/fees/special assessments because this city's residents have chosen NOT to pay more,and they/we have chosen that TWICE. and Mr. Blair seems a bit misguided. All non-profits don't pay taxes as well as EMU. So, while he's concerned about dinging Churches, Ypsi has a far larger and broader issue with non-profits generally. Picking on the churches might be a bit of a constitutional quagmire.

Jim Osborn

Wed, Feb 27, 2013 : 3:06 p.m.

The dead at cemeteries do not need lighting