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Posted on Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 4:05 p.m.

Ann Arbor's budget problems grow more imminent at City Council retreat

By Ryan J. Stanton


City Administrator Roger Fraser gives a presentation to City Council, predicting general fund revenues won't return to 2008 levels for more than five years.

Ryan J. Stanton | Ann

Ann Arbor City Administrator Roger Fraser laid out a grim financial picture for the next three years Saturday and made it clear firefighter layoffs that officials have been discussing for several months will begin soon.

Fraser said more than $3 million in mid-year cuts need to be made within the next 30 days, and $396,803 of that total will involve immediate layoffs within the Fire Department. Fraser said he intends to begin delivering pink slips to 14 firefighters next week. Ann Arbor officials have been in heated discussions for several months over a proposal to lay off the firefighters by next July to shore up the city's budget.

Fraser also proposed a plan to save $811,475 by not filling several vacancies in the police department. Fraser said when the city offered buyouts to officers this year, it expected 18 to go, but 24 ended up taking the offer.

Fraser's grim report on the city's economic outlook came as department heads and City Council members gathered for a special retreat to talk about the city's future and how to live within the realities of a shrinking budget.

Fraser said it appears the city has little choice but to slash the budget by 30 percent over three years.

"To me, that's frightening," he said.


City Council Member Stephen Rapundalo, D-2nd Ward, front, and Christopher Taylor, D-3rd Ward, listen to a presentation on the grim status of the city's budget during Saturday's council retreat.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Fraser said going to voters to ask for more property taxes - or even a city income tax - isn't being proposed because there's little support in the community. He said it's his belief any revenue question would be ill-fated at this time.

"I think we have to talk about reducing the level of services that are provided," Fraser said. "My belief is that everything needs to be on the table."

Fraser said the city is facing a serious financial crisis that will need to be confronted immediately by trimming $1.58 million in recurring costs and $1.45 million in non-recurring costs in this year's budget. That only begins to address the problem, Fraser said, as the city projects a revenue shortfall this year that is $3.3 million worse than previously thought.

The projected shortfall for the next fiscal year beginning in July is another $5.4 million, Fraser said.

At those levels, the city would have to cut costs by an additional 4 percent this year, which is equal to laying off 39 full-time employees. Next year, the city would have to cut costs by 8 percent, which means another 64 jobs.

In addition to police and fire cuts, other mid-year adjustments proposed by Fraser involve cuts to tree trimming and stump removal services, decreasing staff time by adjusting work schedules, leaving other positions vacant, and decreasing money spent on conferences and travel.

Fraser also laid out the following 18 options for the City Council to consider as the city rethinks its services:

• Require leaves to be bagged by residents. • Eliminate general fund support for the parks system. • Outsource city legal services. • Stop general fund support for golf. • Contract with county for emergency management. • Eliminate human services funding. • Discontinue maintaining some parks. • Reduce solid waste millage (eliminate waste collection and maintain recycling). • Contract with the county for police services. • Sell some parks. • Institute street lighting special assessment districts. • Rescind parks budget reduction resolution. • Reduce or re-purpose general fund support for AATA. • Eliminate the Downtown Development Authority. • Change the way fire services are delivered. • Contract with county for parks services. • Defer uncommitted capital improvements. • Close recreation facilities.

Several of those options would require changes to the city's charter and a vote of the people, but Fraser encouraged council members not to let that become a barrier to considering them. Fraser said there must be no "sacred cows" - everything should be on the table.

Council members remained mostly silent during Fraser's presentation but acknowledged their concerns.

"I think we're on a path to do cuts rapidly," said Council Member Mike Anglin, D-5th Ward. "We have to come up with a stated amount of money in a relatively short period of time."

"We've spent a lot of time over the years ... coming up with some creative measures or efficiencies," said Council Member Stephen Rapundalo, D-2nd Ward. "We're at a point where I think we're ready to amputate part of the institution."


Matt Schroeder, left, president of the city firefighters union, and Shane Doyon, one of 14 firefighters on the chopping block, listen to City Administrator Roger Fraser talk about the need to trim the city's budget.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Roger Fraser said the city's financial struggles are the result of several factors, including continued declines in state revenue sharing and declining property tax revenues. Investment interest rates also are at or near zero percent, compared with previous years when the city earned $300,000 to $700,000.

Fraser said the Pfizer property will be fully off the tax rolls next year, which is another major blow to the budget. Revenues from traffic citations, new development review fees and parking meters also are down. Police Chief Barnett Jones said the city has 24 fewer people on the streets writing tickets, leading to the decline in traffic citations.

Fraser said the city must immediately challenge which government services should be continued, reconsider all special property taxes, work with employees to reduce costs and pursue more collaborative opportunities.

The city's two-year plan going into this fiscal year was to cut costs by 10 percent. But a new two-year plan laid out by Fraser today includes cutting costs by 22 percent, with another 8 percent in cuts in fiscal year 2012.

Proposed cuts outlined in the original two-year plan included closing Mack Pool, eliminating the Leslie Science Center subsidy, closing the Ann Arbor Senior Center, and restructuring the police and fire departments to eliminate 18 police officers and 14 firefighters.

The plan also includes eliminating wage increases, reducing outside legal services, reducing janitorial services and snow maintenance at city offices, installing new parking meters and eliminating various other positions. Fraser also proposed reducing human services funding by $260,000, but says now the city could save $1.3 million if it eliminates funding for human services programs altogether.

Police and fire services currently account for nearly 48 percent of the city's general fund budget. General government operations are the next biggest piece of the pie at 16 percent, followed by public transportation at 12 percent. Social services, parks and other expenses make up the rest.

Fraser said the city already has reduced staffing by nearly 25 percent over the last seven years, dropping from more than 1,000 employees to 746 by next year. He said future reductions will deeply impact the number and level of services.

Fraser also predicted today general fund revenues won't return to 2008 levels for more than five years.

"We've managed for a long time to make some budget cuts, keep things under control budget-wise, and actually do very well," said Mayor John Hieftje. "And we haven't had to affect our services ... but I don't know how we can do that anymore."

Commenting on the tough times facing all of Michigan, Hieftje added, "Hopefully there's light at the end of the tunnel, but I haven't seen it yet."

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Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.



Mon, Jun 14, 2010 : 9:26 a.m.

The leaf collection thing does my head in. I would have literally 80 bags of leaves at my house, as would each of my neighbors. As much as my gardeners would enjoy filling all those bags, I can't believe it's cheaper to have a guy pick up each one of those bags than a truck that scoops them all up in seconds. ***6/14/10, Add-- Ok, I received my green flyer notice in the mail this past Friday noting the "New Leaf Pickup" process and am in disbelief -- I didn't know this was being discussed last Fall 09' and voted on apparently in Dec, 09'. I too have a similar situation where our residence has Many Many Maple trees, usually always fall after our 1st pickup in mid October, and then its a 3-5 week labor fest of dragging tarps after tarps of leaves to the street. I live right on Scio Church and our boulevard has Mountains of leaves -- I am always so relieved and thankful when leaf pickup week rolls around to pick them up. This new method is SO Inadequate as a problem solver. I have attempted contact to our city council members and the mayor, hoping for some ideas.


Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 9:01 p.m.

Hi Mike Lincoln-- For one thing, Utah's teachers are paid less and their prisons are cheaper (probably due to the legacy of unionized labor in MI. For that matter, we have a much higher incarceration rate than Utah.) Also Utah's largest city is smaller than Grand Rapids, so there is probably less infrastructure to maintain. (This might also contribute to our higher incarceration rate.) Utah's unemployment rate hasn't been much above 6% for the last two decades. MI's hit 10% in the '91 recession, matched UT from '98-'03, then stayed at about 7% until reaching 15%+ this year. This no doubt leads to higher social services costs than in UT. However, the Utah State Tax Commission website seems to be telling me that Salt Lake City's sales tax is in fact 6.85% (including all additional city sales taxes), higher than MI's by about.85%, and even more if you include the 1% tax in UT on restaurant meals. The income tax also seems to be higher there ( tells me the rate is now 5%, or.6% higher than in MI). I'm also a little surprised about your claimed.65% property tax, since the Utah Property Tax Division website seems to indicate that property tax rates in Salt Lake City are around 1.2%. Maybe you're not including your old school millages? So the local tax burden in Salt Lake City seems to be about half that of Ann Arbor (rather than a quarter), and maybe a bit more. Add in the additional state costs above and it probably explains most of the rest. In fact AA appears to spend fewer city dollars per capita than Salt Lake City--about $350M for 115K compared to nearly $750M for 180K. (The general fund revenues are at about the same ratio, $85M vs. $200M. In fact, AA's tax/general fund ratio is less than that of Salt Lake City's: $51M/$85M=.6, vs. $147M/$208M=.7. So Salt Lake City must be making up for its lower property taxes somehow or other. Salt Lake City also apparently earns an enormous amount from its airport alone, about $275M.) This is not to say of course that there isn't good tax policy and bad tax policy--but it's not always obvious. Speaking up for Michigan, Utah might have better mountains and skiing, but I can at least say our beaches are better :) (In the summer, anyway.)


Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 9:36 a.m.

3 non-productive revenue golf courses and maintenance absorbing costs for parks and vacant land will lay this town even lower.I speak from experience.


Tue, Dec 8, 2009 : 8:28 a.m.

I guess not enough showed up last night, because they voted to lay off the fire fighters. At the same meeting where they approved spending on over $2M in other departments for ridiculous items. My earlier comment was deleted as a personal attack simply because I pointed out that all Fraser wants is headcount from the FD. He doesnt care that theyve brought forward alternative ways to save this money, then he tells the city council that the FD refuses to negotiate in good faith, which is untrue. Why doesnt this newspaper investigate THAT and bring it to light instead of deleting comments calling them an attack? The whole story isnt out there, as a newspaper Id think you would care about something like that! Bottom line, truth of the matter is, this man wants FFs to lose their jobs. And he can claim it pains him, but in my opinion I believe he actually enjoys it!


Mon, Dec 7, 2009 : 2:51 p.m.

Close Huron Hills golf course. Do only 1 mowing cut behind the sidewalk. Let Project Grow setup and maintain large 1 acre gardens on the properties. Let the rest go wild.


Mon, Dec 7, 2009 : 9:16 a.m.

Great comments. I wonder how many people I'll see at the city council meeting at 7 tonight to stand up and say this.

Concerned Citizen

Mon, Dec 7, 2009 : 12:12 a.m.

And about the leaves: I rake both my leaves, an elderly neighbor's leaves and even a long stretch of City owned median strip that the City has not raked in many many years. I wish it were not so, but, if the bagging of these leaves was required, the City would simply be unable to rely on my free services, as, for that large amount of leaves, the task would be backbreaking. (Currently it is only NEARLY back breaking! :-)!!! )

Concerned Citizen

Mon, Dec 7, 2009 : midnight

Since the DDA has been mentioned here a number of times, perhaps someone can tell me: 1. How long do they "project" it will be before the new underground parking structure will pay for itself? (...and does that include the unavoidable repair and upkeep?) 2. Am I the only one that finds that the "wayfinding signs" clutter-up many areas, block and/or make illegible merchants signs and windows, and often are, in fact, actually misleading, as they send readers unnecessarily off in directions adding blocks to their paths? Surely someone should have realized that serving both walking &/or motoring audiences with the same directions would be incorrect? ( When strangers ask directions in this town I've never overheard anything but kind, helpful responses from us "locals"... so, HOW did these traffic stopping, distracting, clutter-creating signs come to be? )(...Is there ANY chance that they might go the way of Bollinger's Halo??? :-)!!!)


Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 11:47 p.m.

It's the old personal safety scare tactic, cut Fire and Police. Why don't we start with making the people who stole our money for the city hall project pay it back to us! They hid that moneythan spent it, all while other city buildings sat empty and could have been used. Who is in the News building? Building an empire! Take a look at the budget, it's way over what cities our size spend. I'm doing research and will prove it. Are there some things that could be cut, sure. Maybe one leaf pickup. Less free handouts of any kind. No more U of M stealing taxable land (the city is to blame for Pfizer). Being green may be too expensive. Spend the money on current parks and not on buying greenbelt land. Kick the bums and criminals out of town. Diversity my behind, they cost us police time and money. Losing ventures end. If AATA makes no money, bye, bye, along with those who run it. If you try any income tax on residents, we will defeat you. Take money from outsider, but leave us alone. None of this funny math, we pay you and you give us a discount on proprty taxes. No way! Once I review the budget, I'll have more.

Jim Johnson

Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 11:11 p.m.

OK - so lets look at this here. Ann Arbor has about double the per capita income and per capita taxes of Westland. And now Ann Arbor is proposing to cut services to less than that provided by Westland. Maybe we should learn a few things from them? For starters - stop talking about cutting police and fire. We need those. Cut the fat elsewhere. Have you ever gone into City Hall? Have you noticed that 30-50% of the staff is surly, slow, lazy and rude? That they don't seem to do much (if any) work? They all need to be fired immediately. There would be no impact on city services. Now if we want to make bigger changes, we should do what other cities have done: Make each service (other than police and fire) bid against private sector contractors. This includes legal, clerks, plan review, engineering, street maintenance, street lighting, plowing, garbage, water and sewer plants, and water and sewer piping. Then we can compare bids (not forgetting that there IS a city cost to adminster private contractor work) and throw out any substandard bids by checking references. Then when the bids come in to be WAY less than the city can provide the service for, we give the Union a firm, fast deadline for a proposal to match the costs. When they fail (and they almost always will) we fire the city staff and hire the contractor. Maybe we'll have to wait for union contracts to expire to do this, but it can be done. The few good city workers will be snapped up by the contractors, and the rest...well...they can work at McDonalds. Now AFSCME will balk at this, so we'll need to contract with turnaround specialist lawyers to fight them. We'll also need to show we're serious by having a private contractor lined up to replace EVERY service provided by the union, so they know that if they go on strike they will be easily replaced. If there are one or two services that are well-provided right now then I have no grudge against those people and am happy to let them stay working for the city. This is my money and your money being spent on these people, and we have a right to demand that it is spent well. Now if we really want to look at major reorganizations, I think we should look at merging all the cities, townships, and villages into a single Washtenaw City-County entity. I also propose merging the school districts into this entity. I believe that a single entity serving the 300,000 county residents could obtain major efficiencies of scale and save us all money. Finally, I'm also not opposed to creating special assessment districts for plowing, lighting, leaf pickup, and road maintenance in residential neighborhoods. Apartment dwellers and private road residents currently subsidize these services for neighborhoods, while also individually paying for these services at their own properties. I think that creating these districts would lead to more fair service distribution in the city. (I do think that major roads and downtown maintenance should be paid for by all residents though - not just those living along those roads.)


Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 11:23 a.m.

@Moose. When the emails were FOIA and poseted, provided a 'road map' to some of the good ones. One of them was Fraser and others saying they needed to hurry up and vote in their wage/benefit packages because everyone "knew what was coming." Fraser wants to cut this city to the bone while taking everything he can out of it... including himself! Destroy our basic services, then drive home out of the city. Good move Mr. Fraser.


Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 11:15 a.m.

Folks... comments on this board aren't going to get your message out. All it serves is to fire up others that agree that this city is out of its mind with their priorities. Show up at the next city council meeting and let them know what you think! Stop writing it here. Let them know that the last time they got rid of 30 fire fighters and closed a station, that should've been the end of it. Now they want to lay off 14 more and close another station. Which council member is going to stand up infront of the citizens and say, "Go ahead, close the station in my ward. Our residents can go without the protection." Or we can just keep complaining about it on message boards and take what they give us. I know which route I'm going... anyone care to join me?


Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 11:10 a.m.

How many top managers at city hall make around 100k a year? Was there a Powerpoint slide outlining the savings from a 20% cut for them? Was there slide showing how much could be saved by privatizing the City Attorney's office? Was there a slide showing cuts to Fraser's and other top managers perks? Was there a slide comparing the actual costs of Etrakit and BS&A software?


Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 10:24 a.m.

The shame is that the mayor and nobody on council, the people we elect to oversee the bureaucracy, has the guts to openly, publicly speak truth to power and get real, substantive and honest answers to real serious questions and concerns. Instead they swallow the bureaucratic gibberish and walk away like they've been hypnotized. If the council minority, Briere, Anglin and allegedly Kunselman really wanted to make a difference, they would investigate, comment and then act on some of the comments and suggestions that are written about here on this blog. They would be vigilant and not run away like small children when confronting the administrator. Unfortunately, they, like the others who are plainly complicit by their support of the mayor and administration, are gutless wonders.


Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 10:01 a.m.

What happened to the money that the UM gave the City to buy that new Fire Department ladder truck? The current one is 23 years old and has been of the road for lengthy repairs this year. The UM decided to help the city by giving some money for a new ladder truck for the FD. The ladder truck was never bought and the money for the truck "disappeared"? Have we heard any explanation from the administrator? Mayor and council?

Stop & Think

Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 9:06 a.m.

To all you folks wondering what the County employees got in a contract re-write, We gave up our 1.5% raise, and took basically a working wage reduction I will work my normal 75 hours a week and only get paid for 72 1/2 because of "furlough" days" 8 to be exact. But we got no "guarantee" that no one else would be laid-off. The Fire Dept is asking for NOTHING~! NOTHING! Just to keep status Quo what they have now and to keep staffing at it's current levels. The City is already using the county buildings while they build thier palace and the county IT dept is rooming with the City's servers too. Now, the county went back and screwed the union because we in good faith eliminated 5 million from the budget, the BOC went and gave back the MGT wage cut they were getting (3%) so now MGT is just getting a $50 co-pay on month on Health Care. HEllo their wages are totally way to high for what they do also. Don't know if they will see "Furlough" days. The FD is trying to keep the services intact for the residents. Wake up AA! Your services are getting cut but you are paying the same amount in taxes. Come-on you folks voted these people in place-time for some tough love to the city and say "no". 14 guys means 2 fire stations, TWO, 2 fire trucks out of service less people to save your property, dogs, cats, loved ones. Do you think the cops are going to save them? How about Roger Fraser getting out there and doing some "cross-training" like i've had to do because we have lost staff. Don't trust City Council to do the right thing, Fraser has got a puppet show and is coming to your neighborhood soon!

David Cahill

Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 8:52 a.m.

My personal hit list has two items on it: First, the world's largest urinal should be flushed away. Doing that will save at least $800,000. Second, the new "ZORO project", to redraft the city's zoning ordinances, should be impaled. This is a lawyer's "insider" issue. The project, while it might be worthwhile in better times, is not critically necessary. The idea behind ZORO is that the city's current zoning ordinances are a patchwork and should be rationalized. What will happen is that, in an attempt to correct mistakes and inconsistencies, *new* mistakes and inconsistencies will be introduced. Beware of the perils of codification!


Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 8:16 a.m.

We have a new police building that no one wanted, countless roundabouts that no one wanted, an art structure for what will probably cost a million dollars by the time it's done that no one wanted, yet services that affect most of us and for which we pay dearly in property taxes are being eliminated. We have had the most ridiculously extravagant mayor and city council who have created debt that we will pay for years. They are ruining what was a great city. I think the mayor should step down.


Sun, Dec 6, 2009 : 1:15 a.m.

We all know the City is spending money unwisely, all the mentioned areas. The Fire Chief cannot give himself a raise. I believe the 10% that was mentioned was by a previous city administrator for himself. City council at the time, approved the raise and later blamed Police and Fire.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 10:50 p.m.

Mike Lincoln, while I agree on many things, the schools in Utah are lousy.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 10:07 p.m.

Mike... First of all, AAFD trucks are NOT 'fully' staffed. Second, they often beat the private ambulance company to all medicals. Third, the FD requested multiple times to let the FD to the transports and actually create an income stream for the city. However, the city shot that idea down since they didn't want to 'compete' with the ambulance company. They don't want to 'compete', but are willing to cut the staff by 25% or so. Intersting logic they use.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 9:59 p.m.

Consider the following:. The state of Michigan still has to learn all the things that being a poor state means. When the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis releases finalized 2009 data, Michigan (is expected) to be among the 10 poorest states. Quote from the Pew Center on the States interview with Donald Grimes, senior research specialist, University of Michigan, Sept. 17, 2009.. Michigan has spent the past decade learning the hard way about downsizing. In 2001, the famed automobile capital of the world fell into recession with the rest of the country, but it was the only state never to emerge. Pew Center on States, Beyond California: States in Fiscal Peril, November 2009.. Economic forecasters from Moodys said they do not expect Michigan to see another peak in its business cycle during their entire 30-year forecasting horizon. Pew Center on States, Beyond California: States in Fiscal Peril, November 2009.. These are some reasons why the City must totally reconstruct its idea of identity and purpose, and reinvent the budget from the ground up. No more business as usual, with quick and ineffective hatchet-jab cuts.

Mike D.

Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 9:38 p.m.

The leaf collection thing does my head in. I would have literally 80 bags of leaves at my house, as would each of my neighbors. As much as my gardeners would enjoy filling all those bags, I can't believe it's cheaper to have a guy pick up each one of those bags than a truck that scoops them all up in seconds.

Mike Lincoln

Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 8:39 p.m.

To respond to Really--as I said, I'm not an expert on AA finances or the fire department. I only think that folks will react to the adverse tax climate in logical ways. Those with portable, highly-demanded skills and relatively high earning (and taxation) potential will make logical decisions. They'll move or choose not to come in the first place. I've read that some in Ann Arbor hope to capture taxes from the tax-chiseling commuters living outside the city limits. The folks I'm thinking of won't be commuting in from Chelsea; they'll blow the Michigan pop stand all together and take their taxable income with them. > It is a powerful fact that many municipalities out West (well, except for California of course) can do the same things for a family as Michigan and Ann Arbor can do on a fraction of the budget. Why pay 4x as much in property taxes in Ann Arbor, when, for example, in Salt Lake the skiing is vastly superior, the national parks are much closer, the schools, libraries, and symphony are great, and the streets are well-paved? If Michigan and Ann Arbor city leaders do not respond to these market forces, they'll simply lose in the long run. I have read, for example, that public employee benefits and retirement are greatly above market levels in Michigan. I don't know if that's true or not. However, if it is, political leaders must look at it, and face the problem squarely, or be faced with continual out-migration, budget shrinkage, and public anger at service cuts. > I say all this as someone who is a raging liberal, at least in Utah :-)


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 8:24 p.m.

Well maybe now people will realize we cannot go the way of California! For years people in this town have tried to have everything in the store just like a kid at Christmas! Lets try to think ahead on a few things. It has been about a month since the paving was done near the new Aldi's. The city has been out there tearing up the pavement the last few days. Why? Where were they a month ago? This has happened for years in Ann Arbor. No wonder some of the streets are such a mess.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 7:15 p.m.

Why was the County able to figure this out months ago and the city is just now starting to grapple with it?


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 7:09 p.m.

The chickens are coming home to roost. I like the idea of eliminating the DDA. Why should they get most of the parking revenue. They don't spend very wisely - mostly redecorating the downtown with vintage street lamps and way-finding signs, and other do-dads to disguise the increasing numbers of empty storefronts, condos, and offices. Speaking of waste... can you say "Public Art Commission". Let's remember to hold the administration's feet to the fire on this boondoggle, which will probably end-up costing twice as much as forecast, if allowed to go forward. Plus it is fugly, to boot. This city's financial woes are just beginning - and the city has been prioritizing as if the the good ship Ann Arbor never hit that financial iceberg... oops!


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 7:06 p.m.

Mike... First of all, AAFD trucks are NOT 'fully' staffed. Second, they often beat the private ambulance company to all medicals. Third, the FD requested multiple times to let the FD to the transports and actually create an income stream for the city. However, the city shot that idea down since they didn't want to 'compete' with the ambulance company. They don't want to 'compete', but are willing to cut the staff by 25% or so. Intersting logic they use.

Mike Lincoln

Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 6:59 p.m.

I grew up in Michigan, went to undergrad and medical school in Ann Arbor, and then moved to Utah. In Salt Lake City my family and I lived in the University Historical District, similar to the Old West Side and Burns Park. I walked to work. We paid ca. $3200/year in property taxes for a $500k (market value) house, 6% state income tax (reduced in 2009 to 4%), and 6.25% sales tax. > My wife decided to accept an offer from U of M because of alma mater considerations, family connections, and all of that. We were considering relocating permanently, and we sold our Salt Lake City home. However, we quickly found that property taxes on an equivalently sized and situated house, of approximately equivalent value, in Ann Arbor would be at least four times higher than in Salt Lake City. Instead of paying approximately 0.65% of the value of our home every year, we'd pay approximately 2.5% (approximately 50 mills calculated upon the "half retail value" SEV). Our tax payment alone, in Ann Arbor, would have been about equal to our principle and interest for the Salt Lake City house. Therefore, we decided to rent instead of buy. > Why is Ann Arbor so expensive? Not being an expert I can only guess, but here's one example: I read after arriving that each Ann Arbor rental property must file an annual recycling plan with the city. Well, recycling either makes sense or it doesn't. Filing an annual plan for every rental would seem to simply make rental property more expensive. What's worse, I presume that several employees in the Ann Arbor city bureaucracy spend part (or God forbid, all) of their time reading these plans and managing the process. What is the cost-benefit of this activity? Does more recycling occur as a result? I have also read today, in this discussion thread, that Ann Arbor sends fire engines to medical emergencies, with the implication that this keeps the fire house employees busy, thereby justifying their work despite a low fire workload. Salt Lake sends ambulances and light trucks to medical emergencies, not fully staffed hook and ladder units. Despite the property tax rate being approximately 1/4 of Ann Arbor's, Salt Lake's roads are all paved (unlike Ann Arbor) and all excellently so. City services are at least equal to Ann Arbor, with a notably superior library and public transit system. Salt Lake schools are at least equal and quite possibly superior. > Because of the high tax burden, my family and I have decided to leave Ann Arbor upon conclusion my wife's schooling in 2010. We can't see paying $12-20,000 per year in property taxes to live in the essentially the same house, in the same neighborhood, that we enjoyed in Salt Lake City. So in conclusion, I'd like to point out that one side effect of high city tax rates is tax base erosion as folks like us, with options, decide not to buy into the Ann Arbor and Michigan tax systems. I hope the Mayor and City Council members are aware that some people will make decisions like this over the long run, and it won't be good for the city. Mike Lincoln


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 6:21 p.m.

Here is a solution do away with the D.D.A. And the city council take a pay cut.Instead of laying more police and fire fighters.How come these things never happen. The city continues to waste money the city does not have and havinga city debt of five point eight debt. wake up people.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 6:14 p.m.

Here's an idea that's been bandied about for years: close the entire building department and move the services to the County. I've been a builder in the area for over 18 years and cannot think of a single builder/developer who likes dealing with the City. We are treated like dung on the bottom of their shoe. Besides, the County does a much better job. Also, there are very few services that cannot be privatized. Police and fire are two of the exceptions. So which two are constantly on the chopping block? Police and fire. This is nuts. Lastly, I'm sure others have noticed, and noted the glaring silence with regard to City employee pay, pensions, retirement etc. So, are there no 'sacred cows' or aren't there?


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 6:02 p.m.

We see that The Mayor is bragging about how much more efficient and streamlined city operations have become since he's been Mayor and Fraser has been administrator. It sounds like this efficiency and streamlining has come at quite a cost. Workforce has been cut by more than 25%, city services have been cut. Yes, everyone is doing more with less and this may seem like efficiency and streamlining... but over that same time, costs have risen and nobody in charge at city hall had any sense to see the economic writing on the wall while all this "efficiency" was taking place.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 5:21 p.m.

For Ryan or another author. Can you find out some details of the health care plan/benefits and what the typical employee pays? I've heard AA employees complain bitterly about possibly being required to increase their co-pays from $10 - $15!! These people are completely out of touch with the real world. Apparently most or all of the county union employees took some kind of paycut etc. Could you compare the county employees benefits with those of the city employees? Also would be interesting to compare the salary/benefits of comparable positions from admins, to department heads and attorneys.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 4:56 p.m.

Looking at expense reduction from a bloated budget is backwards thinking.. Forward thinking is needed here.. It starts by defining essential services and functions. It continues with building a budget from scratch, based on fulfilling defined essential services and functions.. The "new" thinking needs to incorporate paying people to work, not constructing and supporting perpetual overhead of "retiree payrolls." 30-years-and-out thinking is so stupid when "out" lasts for 50 years. Let workers pay for their own retirements, as in the private sector.. It is interesting that the City's goal is to return to peak 2008 levels. What was wrong with 2005 levels? How did we manage then, with far more services, and fewer dollars?. Answer: The City has gone insane with the budget levels of the past several years, placing "platinum-grade" projects over bridge replacement, street maintenance, snow plowing, garbage pickup, etc.. City Hall and court construction need to finish. The library lot parking garage needs to be cancelled, with surface parking to be restored. The City needs to get out of the development business, forgetting about former YMCA lots, Ashley street lots, First and William lots, etc.. Selling parks comes with two caveats: the market is depressed, so little cash will be realized. Also, land purchased with matching federal funds may have repayment clauses.. However, the City should stop its greenbelt property acquisitions, asking voters to channel those funds to general fund. The economy in MI has made greenbelt property acquisitions obsolete for at least the next fifteen to twenty years.. The golf courses could be leased to private sector operators, or sold with deed restrictions that disallow the land from ever being removed from the tax rolls. Otherwise, let the golf courses return to nature, becoming like Bird Hills Park.. Change the City charter to eliminate the DDA. There is no reason for one part of City government to hold another part hostage, working against each other.. The City needs to partner with other Washtenaw County governmental entities (County, Cities, Townships), collaborating to maintain service quality by sharing functions through partnering. How many planning departments, building departments, human resources departments, etc. are needed?. We have many challenges ahead, with many workable solutions to be found. It starts with a new attitude of the function of government providing essential services.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 4:26 p.m.

Etrakit, the million dollar software used by Planning and Development costs the city much more than the alternative that they scrapped. Etrakit has not lived up to the terms of the purchase contract and the costs are much higher than first envisioned. No other city department uses it, it doesn't do what is was supposed to do and contractors and staff don't like it. It was a horrible costly decision to change from BS&A to Etrakit BS&A is a commonly used, far less expensive municipal software made by a Michigan company in Okemos. Etrakit is made by a California company and the city continues to pay costly fees to fly consultants from Califonia to service the software. The City Attorneys office is a money pit. Legal services could be privatized and contracted out at quite a savings to the city.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 4:21 p.m.

umbirder what type of services? Air? the privledge to work,buy food,spend money,pay for parking etc? people who work and live in Ann Arbor would also be taxed more,and in case you have'nt noticed Annarborites are also fed up with more and more taxes


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 4:09 p.m.

I remember about 5 years ago, the fire chief gave himself a 10% pay raise months before retiring at age 54. So he now draws a 10% greater pension (paid for by you and me) for the rest of his life. We simply can't afford such excesses. Sorry, Mr. & Mrs. City Council, it's time for you to pay the bills. And please, remember that Tax is a four-letter word. PS: I think we need another new high school in SE Ann Arbor (with Olympic-size swimming pools)..


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 4:01 p.m.

Fire and police make up 50% of the budget. That can't be off the table. Why do we let all the people who live in the townships use city services without paying? It's time for a city income tax.

Andy Piper

Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 3:37 p.m.

The city needs to cut, cut, cut. Just like the rest of the businesses and individuals have had to! It's very difficult but I am not sure why this seems like a big surprise.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 2:35 p.m.

FIRE FRASER! Roger Fraser needs to go. Roger may be a nice guy but he just doesn't listen. He is a typical closed minded administrator who thinks he "knows what's good" for the citizens. Now he wants to change the city charter to give himself more power to cut services to the people while still building a super expensive palace for himself and adoring it with super expensive foreign art. One must also note his continued instance on building the new underground homeless shelter while saying we have no police to patrol it. Or how about building ANOTHER parking structure (sold to the public by misnaming it "multi-modal transit center") which will be over 3/4 reserved for exclusive UM use. Let's see a nice big fancy chart comparing the city revenues with the city spending on construction. Notice how no mention is made of cutting the unneeded city building projects. No mention is made of cutting the mayor's or administrator's staff. No mention is made of cutting the Mayor's Green Fair. Fraser and Hieftje are spending this city into a deep financial crisis and the only budget cuts that they can think of are ones that directly hurt the citizens.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 2:23 p.m.

To those who have commented on this. Thank you very much for your comments about Police/ Fire services. I was laid off from AAPD 2 years ago and had always hoped I would someday be able to one day return to the job I loved. But at the rate this is going, that will never happen, and I see more bad times coming in the future for this city. It's just sad


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 1:59 p.m.

other communities require residents to bag leaves in paper compost bags, they get picked up on garbage days I agree, sell the golf courses. get out of the business (funny how the city kept a Liquer license for themselves to help make money at one, so stupid) I love how they want to cut fire jobs, consider closing parks and facilities, however people vote for a stupid greenbelt and for 1% art. The city of trees (and parks) is replaced by a minimum four story multi use building plan with low income housing and really expensive public art to the toon of $750,000 + dollars. BUT, that in extreme financial peril common sense does not take hold.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 12:38 p.m.

Here are some novel ideas: How about eliminate all the perks, retirement, medical, etc. of all elected officials. After all, if they cannot obtain these by private means, how can they say with a straight face that they can manage our money better than their own?! Eliminate all of the costs associated with these "retreats" officials and employees get to go to on the dole. Eliminate all public transportation (which is merely causing me to pay for someone else's transportation needs and costs). Eliminate all parks funds from taxes and create a pay-as-you go park system. Again, it will discontinue the practice of making others pay the cost of persons who enjoy the parks. Eliminate the practice of sending fire trucks out on calls dealing with anything other than fires. In other words, stop justifying budgets and pay when a call does not warrant the service. However, one thing is for sure, by discontinuing and/or cutting safety services such as police and fire (where actually needed), the city officials are making it quite clear that they have absolutely no respect or care for the citizens at large, but rather are working to continue the special interest group warfare as in the past, which brought us to this financial blight.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 12:32 p.m.

How about the city gets out of the golf course business altogether? Sell both courses.

Mature Townie

Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 12:30 p.m.

Bet the firefighters are CHARMED to see that expensive mess going up across the street from them! Plus, the underground "homeless shelter," being dug down the street. Another place for the police and firefighters to monitor. Our tax dollars at work, thanks for nothing. This is NOT the time to be spending money on a new city hall, underground parking structure or expensive art!


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 11:40 a.m.

Can't say I agree with many of the 18 options, but 'requiring leaves to be bagged by residents' seems like a no-brainer.


Sat, Dec 5, 2009 : 10:57 a.m.

solution:more taxes more art