Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

The Taxman Cometh

23. May 2006 • Dale Winling
Email this article

How much are Ann Arbor residents willing to pay for parks activities, maintenance, and development? A citywide vote in November will answer the question. Leading up to the November 2006 ballot question on renewing two expiring parks millages, the city of Ann Arbor is holding a set of public meetings to develop and narrow down the millage options for the fall vote. According to the Ann Arbor News, several of the options include the following:

-Raising the parks levy nearly 2/3 to pay for greenway development; or 8 percent to pay for modest capital improvements

-Keeping the levy the same, with differing options to emphasize maintenance or development

-Cutting the levy and cutting services

The next public meeting is at 7pm Tuesday night at Cobblestone Farm.

  1. I’m completely shocked that the greenway supporters think that we should raise taxes to pay for their project. I mean, what a surprise! I didn’t see that coming. Hmmm. I wonder how long it’ll be before they ask for greenbelt funds as well…...

    By the way, while we’re raising taxes for projects that we haven’t budgeted out yet (or received permission to build from the AA railroad), I’d like to add a line item for a second distillery for my family. We’d like $8 million, please. Thank you for your support.

       —todd    May. 23 '06 - 06:42PM    #
  2. On the one hand, I’m annoyed that the Ann Arbor News would headline a suggested half-mill as a dramatic SIXTY-TWO PERCENT INCREASE.

    On the other hand, the city has funded its parks rather generously in recent years through special millages. Since property tax dollars are a scarce resource, maybe our crumbling and overcrowded county jail is a higher priority now? Just a thought.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    May. 23 '06 - 07:12PM    #
  3. How many mills of beer would that cost the average homeowner per year, Todd?

    I’m still wondering about the railroad myself – anybody know if the taskforce has discussed this, and what the conclusions were?

       —Lisa    May. 23 '06 - 07:13PM    #
  4. I’m attempting to figure out the conversion factor for property tax mils into milliliters of sustainable local microbrew, but I think my brain just exploded…

    Hasn’t there been some talk of putting transit on the rail line? I expect that some work would need to be done, considering the condition of the rails. I might be able to get behind a joint parks/transit proposal that would address all facets of the rail/Creek corridor for carfree transportation.

       —TPM    May. 23 '06 - 08:04PM    #
  5. We cannot maintain the parks we have. How about we actually allow some downtown development (tall buildings!!!!) to increase the tax base, and then take better care of what we’ve already got?

    A mill here, a mill there, and suddenly people are paying hundreds of dollars a month in taxes to live here. That’s eventually going to be a problem.

       —JD    May. 23 '06 - 09:57PM    #
  6. Based on the fact that City staff were able to call on by name most of the public who spoke up at the Cobbleston Farm meeting last night, the meeting had a very usual-suspects quality to it.

    Some highlights in no particular order and in summary form, not direct quotation:

    MOP 1: The last taxes collected under the expiring millages will be collected in November 2006. When is the latest election time this parks millage could be put before the voters and have the City still be able to execute on collection of a new parks millage without ‘interruption’ of the parks millage revenue?
    Answer from City staff: February 2007; a February vote would have less turnout than this coming November; but a February vote would come after the Greenway Task Force report has been submitted (which is due by the end of November?)

    MOP2: Has there been any discussion raised among City staff or City Council of a Headlee Override or else a Charter Ammendment to increase the maximum tax rate for general operating costs … in addition to this millage?
    Answer from City staff: City staff said something fairly diplomatic. I was busy thinking: ”??!!”

    MOP3: If we go for the high end on the millage, and the ballot language is really flexible w.r.t. what the money can be spent on, isn’t it possible that Council might, under increasing financial pressure, simply reduce the amount from the general fund allocated to parks, pointing to the money from the millage? And if we go for the low end (let the millages expire with no new millages) it’s not true that everything currently paid for by the parks millages will necessarily disappear, is it? Because general funds can be shifted around, right?
    Answer from City staff: Basically, yes. There’s interplay between the revenue from the parks millages and the general fund. Generally, if the millage revenue is not kept in some form, however, you’ll expect to see some loss of parks service.

    MOP4: Isn’t this whole presentation based on the premise that general fund allocations to parks are going to be reduced?
    Answer from City staff: No, the premise we’re working with is that general fund money, compared to the City’s costs (which rise faster than inflation as measured by CPI, which Headlee is based on) will be less.

    MOP5: I just want the grass mowed and the trash cans in the parks emptied.
    Answer from City staff: Thanks for the input.

    MOP6: I can’t believe City Council has the right to say what tax money can be spent on parks and what money can’t.
    Answer from City staff: As the elected body charged with doing that, that’s what they do.

       —HD    May. 24 '06 - 07:31PM    #
  7. I LOVE #6!! How dare the city and the state “constitution” perform this end run around direct democracy. Throw the bums out!

       —Dale    May. 24 '06 - 08:10PM    #
  8. The News had a decent editorial on parks funding. It points out the concern with pushing for the greenway at a time when Ann Arbor is having trouble funding parks maintenance. I’d like to hear comments from the P&R department on how they see additional parks impacting maintenance costs. I assume that creating the greenway would both take away funding for maintaining other parks and add to the overall maintenance costs, but maybe there is some fiscal mojo that side-steps this concern?

    The link:


    “While it’s not at all clear that a greenway is the best use of existing taxpayer dollars, especially during the current economic climate, activists are building momentum toward that goal. It’s even less clear whether the greenway project deserves additional taxes, to the point of lifting a state-imposed taxation cap or changing the city charter to allow a higher taxation rate.”

    “We’re not making a case today in support of or opposition to a greenway. Rather, we believe a broader range of views needs to be involved in the discussion of how we spend our tax dollars, and so far that’s not happening. ”

    “Ask yourself how frequently you use the city’s parks or recreation facilities. While Gallup Park is often packed, for example, many of the parks are underused. Go to one of the dozens of smaller neighborhood parks on a sunny Saturday and unless there’s a special event, you’ll see few people there.”

    The last quote is taking a bad direction. Not using a park and finding no value to yourself or the community in having a park are not the same.

       —Scott TenBrink    May. 29 '06 - 10:04AM    #
  9. Scott, I had the same thought when I read that editorial; it is human nature to be emphatic about only those things that you use and to think the things you do not use are then not needed, to the exclusion of others. I was disappointed that the News chose to orchestrate the greater discussion by posing such questions. It is my hope that they didn’t mean that if you don’t use the parks then you should vote to not fund them.

    But the maintenance of the parks is an interesting issue; beyond mowing the lawn and emptying the trash. In my jaunts I have observed lots of areas of the parks that are overrun with invasive shrubs / trees; such as Buckthorn and Honeysuckle. There is so much in places that pulling it would leave the place barren and un-park like. Clearly there is also the battle with Garlic Mustard and other plants. I am aware that the parks have many ‘Stewardship Workdays’ where they pull and cut but I would like to know if they think they are keeping up. I am wondering if this is a realistic and comprehensive enough program to be dealing with eradicating these species that will ensure some kind of diversity in the parks over the coming years. According to the Parks and Recreation website they had 15,600 volunteer hours in the last three years for about 2,000 acres, which is roughly 2½ hours per acre per year. I don’t know but that doesn’t feel like a lot to me. Maybe the program needs some funding and some non-volunteer help. I would like to see this as a part of the conversation too.

    On the lighter side (maybe) listed under their Project Detail Information Sheet for 2004-2007 ( there is a line item for painting four rooms and re-keying the Northside Community Center. According to this the total bill was $106. Shouldn’t these things be read and checked before they are published. It certainly doesn’t bolster my confidence in the other numbers.

       —abc    May. 29 '06 - 03:43PM    #
  10. I think back, yet again, to Jane Jacobs’ idea that a park is useless unless you intentionally infuse it with activities. Advocates for a Full Scale Waste of Money keep talking up the idea of “green space,” which is EXACTLY what the News is describing—open, dead space with a carpet of green. We don’t need more parks, we need more activities and maintenance for the parks we have.

    I regularly row on Argo Pond, launching from the rowing club at Bandemer Park. Bandemer is one of the least parklike settings you could think of—a couple pole barns and a gravel parking lot. However, the two structures hold scores of rowing shells and this mega-cheap park is probably the most-used park in the city with high school, college, and adult rowers out there 12+ times a week. Evaluated by how it looks, it’s not much; evaluated by how it is used, it is tremendously successful because it has been given a use.

       —Dale    May. 29 '06 - 05:41PM    #
  11. “many of the parks are underused. Go to one of the dozens of smaller neighborhood parks on a sunny Saturday and unless there’s a special event, you’ll see few people there” (aa news)

    Actually, as a runner, I rarely see smaller neighborhood parks unused. Whether after school on a weekday or on the weekend, I see the parks full of college kids playing frisbee, children on swings, and softball teams.

    Even the odd-shaped Hanover Square Park is host to the Vets for Peace “Arlington Michigan” display. (I had planned to bike over and pray at each grave marker, but it’s just too hot).

    I haven’t studied the issue carefully, but my first inclination is to keep park maintnance and acquisition separate. Let’s put park upkeep in one millage, and then if folks want to raise a lot of money to launch a greenway, let’s have that as a separate vote.

    Or, Larry commented that, “maybe our crumbling and overcrowded county jail is a higher priority now”. Maybe we should turn the jail into a park?

       —Chuck    May. 29 '06 - 11:05PM    #
  12. Chuck,
    Keeping acquisition and maintenance budgets separate is a good proposal, and I think that this is done within the P&R budget. But it still won’t help account for the impact of using the acquisition budget on the maintenance budget. Maybe someone is already using a mechanism to say, “for every acre of parkland we acquire, our maintenance budget has to increase $X,” but I haven’t seen any indication of one.

    Jacob’s thoughts on parks seem to overlook the possibility that land might be useful without being tread or built on. I think parks contribute to a community in ways that user numbers can’t measure. And Jacob’s argument can be read as eliminating parks that are not used or reinvigorating park space to be more usefull.
    Also, granting all the usership to the boat launch is a little misleading when the river is more likely the main draw. Of course the storage facilities and dock are a necessary component. But at the same time, it wouldn’t be much of a draw if the dam were removed.

       —Scott TenBrink    May. 30 '06 - 07:06AM    #
  13. I am with Jacobs in finding little attraction in green space. I enjoy the trail when I am with a group of runners and the shade when there’s afternoon music in the park, not when it’s just a green spot in the city (I may be an anomaly, though, in being a city-dwelling person who likes activity more than naturalistic solitude).

    And I am doing nothing to mislead re: Bandemer. I am totally with you on the terrific synergy of the river and the park—it’s my point, in fact. Without the rowing clubs there (because of the river), it would be an empty parking lot and two Quonset huts (now demolished). EVERY park should be so thoughtfully acquired and animated—with other assets and activities to ensure its use.

       —Dale    May. 30 '06 - 07:41AM    #
  14. Scott,

    You’re right, of course, about the need to budget for upkeep to accompany the acquisition. Is it possible to structure a greenway millage that would budget for both the acquisition and upkeep of the greenway, schedule it to expire when the park upkeep millage expires, then drop the acquisition millage and vote on increasing the upkeep millage?

    Of course, this doesn’t account for other costs associated with the greenway. I remember (former) Police Chief Oates making some comment about the cost of patrolling a greenway. That’s a “hidden” cost that’s not included in the acquisition or the upkeep millages.

    Now, what we need are subsidized sheriff’s patrols of the greenway…

       —Chuck Warpehoski    May. 30 '06 - 11:49PM    #
  15. Chuck W. wrote: “Is it possible to structure a greenway millage that would budget for both the acquisition and upkeep of the greenway, schedule it to expire when the park upkeep millage expires, then drop the acquisition millage and vote on increasing the upkeep millage?”

    Given that the two current parks millages are expiring and there’s discussion of what, if any, new millages should be levied, it’s not clear what Chuck’s proposed chronology is here. Chuck, could you clarify what you mean? What, for example, would go on the ballot this November in the way of parks millages? And what, if anything, are you assuming about what voters will approve in the fall?

       —HD    May. 31 '06 - 01:27AM    #
  16. Shock #2, Electric Boogaloo:

    The Ann Arbor railroad won’t give greeway activists the blanket right of way that they want (shocker). They want clear, concrete plans before they’ll discuss anything. You know, like those plans and figures that us people in the real world have to prepare when they want to build something.

    And the biggest surprise of all is that the railroad told petitioners that at the very least they’d have to erect fences on either side of the railroad. Gee, I didn’t see that coming.

    If you recall, a few months ago I tried to explain that you cannot build a greenway in the area that they wish without spending millions and millions of dollars….or without buying up property on either side of the proposed greeway…and even then, it’d still be nothing but the world’s most expensive bikepath.

    Here we are, months later, and as I had said, it has been awkward watching the members of the Greenway taskforce slowly come to the realization that this dog isn’t going to hunt. You’ll note that and the end of the article that Peter Pollock has stated the obvious: they need to look at alternate paths for this project. I didn’t see that coming either.

    I write all of this not out of a desire to gloat, but to make sure everyone understands how impractical these half-baked plans are….and that I believe that these advocates will STILL try and fold Greenway funding into the Parks fund/millage vote in the fall, in order to try and fool voters into thinking “well, who isn’t for parks?”, and to obtain a huge blank check.

    I believe, as I did from the beginning, that these advocates will continue to try and fund the Greenway by raising taxes, and shortly thereafter, they will attempt to use funds set aside for the Greenbelt.


       —todd    Jun. 3 '06 - 10:19PM    #
  17. ”[Wong] said the ‘rails to trails’ idea of a path along tracks is popular across the country.”

    To clarify, Rails to Trails is a program that converts abandoned railroad tracks into multi-use trails. The organization has no experience with forcing active railroads to accomodate adjacent pathways on their right-of-way.

    “Wong envisions the greenway using public streets and sidewalks and still running along the Allen Creek flood plan, if not within the tracks’ right of way.
    ‘If you couldn’t get a path in the railroad right of way, you can still get a greenway to these key destination parks we hope to create,’ Wong said.”

    I don’t get this bit at all. This sounds like Wong is equating roads and sidewalks with greenways, since they all are connections between parks. Considering all of the pocket parks and streets in Ann Arbor, one might argue that we have one of the most extensive greenway networks in the country.

    On the other hand, it may be that Wong and Co. are using the term “greenway” to refer to the three proposed park locations wihtout much concern as to the details of how they are connected. In this case, the term “greenway” is misused in the same way as “Rails to Trails”.

    Besides pointing out the disinterest of the railroad in this project, this article also (intentionally or not) hightlights the continuing vagueness of the greenway proposal and the need for a specifics in order for the public and council to consider the idea.

    I certainly understand that the greenway is different things to different people, but come November I expect the committee’s report to be significantly more specific than, “multiple visions for a greenway are needed.”

       —Scott TenBrink    Jun. 5 '06 - 06:50AM    #
  18. I think what Wong has done is brilliant: she lives within a block of the first and Willaim parking lot, a parking structure is proposed, she goes into full-on NIMBY mode which usually turns Council into putty but realizes that it has worked for neither Cahill at Lower Town nor the folks out by the new AA HS in two recently high profile cases. She realizes that all the NIMBY tricks usually used (traffic studies, environmental issues, kids safety) won’t work here.

    So what she does is turn the whole thing into a proposal for a park. No, a greenway! Who in AA could refuse THAT?! Genious!

    Here’s one person who thinks that the whole greenway idea disappears the instant the DDA says they won’t put a parking structure there.

       —Lewis Mumford    Jun. 5 '06 - 07:17AM    #
  19. Lou—why don’t you sign in as Leon Krier next time?

       —Dale    Jun. 5 '06 - 04:55PM    #
  20. That didn’t read right. It was a joke.

       —Dale    Jun. 5 '06 - 05:00PM    #
  21. Dammit, you stole my next alias!

       —Lewis Mumford    Jun. 5 '06 - 10:22PM    #
  22. Oh come now, these talks with the Ann Arbor Railroad are nothing new—this article is just Tom Gantert and the News trying to find some old angle to do yet another Greenway story. The original talks with the Ann Arbor Railroad had the railroad cautiously optimistic that the Greenway would help move people away from walking directly on the tracks, which has been a big problem for them. So the fence idea isn’t anything new, regardless of a Greenway, the Ann Arbor Railroad would like a fence along the way to keep people off the tracks.

    As for waiting on a plan, of course the Railroad is waiting on a plan, which is why there is a Greenway Task Force charged with creating a plan. The Task Force isn’t going to have a final plan until November so of course their current plan is not yet finalized. They are planning to have more public workshops (the next one is Wednesday, August 2) and they have a lot of work ahead of them. I’m glad they are looking at a lot of options now. To think that they would be at this point with a fully-formed plan is ludicrous.

    After going to most of the Greenway meetings, I am far more positive about the Greenway than I was at the beginning. The reason I am more positive now is because of all the other ideas that have come out of this “full-scale” discussion within the community. While the original Greenway might have been envisioned as a swath of mowed lawn from the Huron River to the Stadium directly along the railroad tracks, those plans are long gone. What I have seen lately has been far more interesting: integrated artists’ space, flood plain mitigation, community gardens, long-term use of the railroad tracks for some commuting/transportation use in addition to freight, educational displays, etc. Linking the different parts of the non-built Greenway with simple green lines along those areas that are too small to accommodate walking paths along the tracks could work really well (done very well in Boston with the Freedom Trail red line) and also could link in fun local, but out-of-the-way businesses along the way (like the Washtenaw Dairy and Leopold Brothers, although Todd, you don’t seem to want any part in this). Not only that, but all the residential developers I’ve talked to are very happy about the Greenway because they say it could be a big selling point for condos and houses downtown. Upkeep costs could be greatly mitigated by having “adopt a park” type situations where local school groups and neighborhood groups help take care of “their” parts of the parks. There has been some preliminary indication that this would be well-received.

    For those of you who don’t like the Greenway idea, try coming to some of the public discussions, reading the comments from the previous discussions, or submit your ideas (pro or con) to the Greenway Task Force.

       —Juliew    Jun. 5 '06 - 10:34PM    #
  23. “So what she does is turn the whole thing into a proposal for a park. No, a greenway! Who in AA could refuse THAT?! Genious!”

    Did you mean “genius”, or were you really comparing her to a genie? :-)

       —Steve Bean    Jun. 6 '06 - 04:19AM    #
  24. Julie,

    In my previous comment I tried to allow for the possibility that the News’ reporting was misleading. I know that others here have been misquoted before. Sorry if that did not come through.

    I am also finding myself more comfortable with the idea of a greenway and wish I could attend the meetings and be more up-to-date on the progress. However, I think that your point that “these talks with the Ann Arbor Railroad are nothing new” supports my concern that the greenway proposal is still vague. It doesn’t seem that they gained much from that meeting and it seems like this discussion should have happened sooner, or that they should have brought more details to this meeting. Again, I want to leave space for bad translation by the News.

    I do think “integrated artists’ space, flood plain mitigation, community gardens, long-term use of the railroad tracks for some commuting/transportation use in addition to freight, educational displays” are all great things. But they can all be implemented without a greenway. What I’d like to hear is why a greenway is the best way to implement these things and what the “greenway” part of the plan adds to these other amenities. The quote about using sidewalks and roads as part of the greenway gives me the impression that the greenway proposal is nothing more than this collection and leaves me wondering where “greenway” fits in at all.

    BTW, I know some comments here is not exactly encouraging participation by greenway advocates, but I enjoy these posts most when they offer different perspectives. I’d especially appreciate Margret expanding on her quotes from the article.

       —Scott TenBrink    Jun. 6 '06 - 03:13PM    #
  25. “Oh come now, these talks with the Ann Arbor Railroad are nothing new—this article is just Tom Gantert and the News trying to find some old angle to do yet another Greenway story.”

    Well, actually for once, I don’t disagree with the timing….and it’s not just because I’m against the greenway. The Parks Department has been floating the idea of adding massive ($4 million is the current figure being thrown about) funding from millages to pay for a greenway that isn’t a greenway at all.

    If you recall (and I’m betting the Greenway supporters are hoping that you don’t), this Greenway bill of goods was sold to us using a very well crafted presentation that included beautiful photos of tree-lined paths, and comparisons to Central Park, and other real Greenways is large cities like San Antonio.

    Here’s the current reality that voters are unaware of:

    1. They don’t have the right of way from the Railroad. This is the key to building any sort of connecting path, since there have never been any plans to purchase private lands. Without this permission, this project is dead, over, finished.

    2. What they are discussing now, is essentially their own version of DDA’s three site plan. I can assure you that this is news to the majority of the population. If you take a look at the taskforce’s name, it is still called the “Allen Creek Greenway Taskforce”. If we are going to vote on this, it should at least be called the “Allen Creek Three Park Plan”.

    3. Even if they do decide to install three parks, they cannot build or install anything of significance for simple reason that most of these sites are in either the floodway or the floodplain. You can’t put in permanent structures. You can’t fence it in because it could collect debris during a flood. Same can be said for trees or playground equipment. These don’t sound like very useful parks to me.

    4. No one wants to talk about cost. To remind everyone again, the soil remediation for just one site was estimated at $1 million. That’s 25% of the Parks Dept.’s fudge figure wiped out before you even start construction.

    5. Even if you do get the right of way, you’ll have to put fencing on either side of the railroad tracks…..the obvious problem here is that you can’t install a fence that will literally run the entire length of the Allen Creek because it would be a serious hazard during flooding. Project dead.

    This won’t be a “Greenway”. You can’t do it.

    If we are so desperate for parkland in Ann Arbor, or a long trail, why aren’t we looking somewhere else? The only answer that I can come up with are that the greenway advocates don’t live somewhere else.

    Tell voters the truth. Tell them how expensive this will be. Tell them it won’t be a greenway, and then tell them that you can’t really build anything on these three sites.

    I wouldn’t give two figs about this article, Julie, if the Park Dept. wasn’t mulling over funding the “Greenway” with a millage in November.

    Otherwise, I’d have kept my mouth shut because I knew full well that the Greenway Task Force would eventually come to the same conclusion that I did: this won’t work without spending tens of millions of dollars.

    I’m against the greenway because in the best case scenario it will the world’s most expensive bikepath connecting three treeless parks. Thanks, but no thanks. Why not use the same money (if we need parks so badly), and put in a glorious set of parks in another part of town at a fraction of the cost?

    I’m also against the Greenway because we already have high taxes, and we can barely maintain the parks that we currently have. We are pricing poorer people out of Ann Arbor, and I think that this Greenway, because of the expense involved, will be the crown jewel of Ann Arbor gentrification… incredibly expensive set of treeless parks that only people who can afford to live downtown will be able to use.

       —todd    Jun. 8 '06 - 04:42AM    #
  26. Todd, you’re seeming more charmingly cynical than usual – do you mean to imply that the only acceptable/feasible use of the floodway is a flat, featureless stretch of dirt and pavement?

    While I can agree with your assessment that a continuous fence would probably constitute a safety hazard during the kind of flash flooding we’re assured the Allen Creek corridor sees, and while I agree that the “full-scale greenway” is still nowhere near the highest priority, I expect you’re taking it a bit far.

       —TPM    Jun. 8 '06 - 05:14PM    #
  27. “do you mean to imply that the only acceptable/feasible use of the floodway is a flat, featureless stretch of dirt and pavement?”

    No, I’m saying that the Greenway taskforce has discussed the floodway issues, and THEY have found that you cannot install things that would trap flood debris in the floodway in particular, as well as the floodplain. Doing nice things like lining the Greenway way path with trees (as was shown in one of the photos during Ms. Wong’s presentation) or filling the three sites with permanent benches, elaborate equipment, or anything that would displace the water in a material way, OR trap debris, would not be allowed.

    A two mile long fence (two of them, actually…one on either side of the tracks) that goes through the floodplain/way would obviously be the worst hazard you could find in a floodway, short of an actual dam.

    Watch the Greenway Taskforce discussions. They’ve already figured this out….I’m not just making this up. It can’t be done. Why do you think Margaret Wong’s position was described like this:

    ” Wong envisions the greenway using public streets and sidewalks and still running along the Allen Creek flood plan, if not within the tracks’ right of way.

    “If you couldn’t get a path in the railroad right of way, you can still get a greenway to these key destination parks we hope to create,’’ Wong said.”

    I’m not being over the top here, TPM. It is very, very difficult to build anything of substance in a floodway. Personally, I’ve made fun of the “raging waters of the Allen Creek”, but I’m not the one who makes the rules of what you can and cannot build in this floodway/plain.

       —todd    Jun. 8 '06 - 06:16PM    #
  28. Todd, I agree with almost everything you have said but your details on what can and can’t be built ina floodway are slightly off. Indeed you can build in the floodway and build BIG. Just last year the YMCA was built in the floodway.

       —Noah    Jun. 8 '06 - 10:54PM    #
  29. “Todd, I agree with almost everything you have said but your details on what can and can’t be built ina floodway are slightly off. Indeed you can build in the floodway and build BIG.”

    Well, there’s a difference between a floodway and a floodplain, but for the sake of simplicity, change my post to read “construction is a floodway is difficult, limited, and very, very expensive.”

    There’s no arguing with that…..

       —todd    Jun. 8 '06 - 11:53PM    #
  30. Sunday’s News has an interesting LTE from a railroad engineer . In part:

    ” Every loaded freight car that the Ann Arbor Railroad pulls through our town keeps four to six semi tractor-trailers off of our area highways. Countless studies have shown that the relative efficiency of railroads has a less detrimental effect on the environment than trucking.

    Although Margaret Wong cites that “rails to trails’’ is popular across the country, she would do well to cite another popular trend across the country: Communities are recognizing that railroads can reduce congestion and overall fuel consumption. (The Commonwealth of Virginia is now using taxpayer funds to improve major rail arteries and reduce congestion on I-90.)

    As a locomotive engineer, I know what it is like to worry about cars, kids and dogs on the right of way. We should not blame the Ann Arbor Railroad for not openly embracing a plan to bring them all as close to the railroad as possible.

    We can either recognize that this railroad actually offers environmental benefits to us, all or we can very gradually run them out of town like we did the Lansky’s.

    Might be the first defense of the Annie’s reticence I’ve seen in the News.

       —TPM    Jun. 12 '06 - 06:13PM    #
  31. For the record, the A2News ran a retraction the other day saying that they had misquoted Margaret in their original article and she had actually said “rails with trails” not “rails to trails.”

       —Juliew    Jun. 12 '06 - 06:28PM    #
  32. Right now on Channel 16 CTN, a City Council working session on the parks millages is being aired (live).

       —HD    Jun. 13 '06 - 04:04AM    #
  33. A2 News summary of the City Council working session on parks millages here

    A couple of additional details:

    (1) the proposed combination of the expiring millages into a single millage includes a specified 70%-30% split in spending of millage revenue between maintenance and capital improvements, respectively. But also included the flexibility to deviate by as much as 10% from this (so 80-20 or 60-40 would be the extreme cases); in response to a question from CM Greden, Jayne Miller said that from an administrative point of view, two millages cost more to administer than one.

    (2) CM Higgens asked if City Staff had contemplated funding parks exclusively through millages, to which Miller replied that the idea had received some discussion, but that it was felt that this was an idea better suited for discussion farther down the road, perhaps in the context of regional parks.

    (3) Mayor Hieftje asked if options such as private sponsorships for maintenance of specific park venues had been explored (along the lines of signage saying something like: Maintenance for this Soccer Field provided by XYZ Company). Miller said that idea had received some discussion, but that the implementation of such a program would require some communication from Council about what kinds of sponsorships they’d be inclined to sign off on.

    (4) Miller said that they would be meeting in the near future with various ‘stakeholders’ (e.g., Sierra Club, and second entity, which included the phrase ‘Watershed Council’, I think) to see what kind of millage levels they might support. In response to CM Carlberg’s query about additional regular public sessions, Miller said none were scheduled, and lamented the fact that attendance had been poor at those they had already conducted. CM Carlberg encouraged city staff to hold at least one more purely public meeting. CM Higgens suggested that there were some upcoming ‘neighborhood meetings’ that could provide some captive audiences.

    (5) One point made during the city staff presentation to council, which was also made during the public information meetings held over the last couple of months, was this: the City of Ann Arbor’s tax revenue has now reached its Headlee Cap.

    In light of (5) could a budget-geek who knows Headlee stuff stone cold please weigh in? Here’s the specific question: in a financial climate where a city is collecting taxes at the Headlee Cap, does a new millage (generally, not just parks) passed by voters represent an increase in the size of the tax pie, or does it simply translate to an ‘earmarking’ of a slice of the same-sized pie for the purpose specified by the millage, or is there some other, more useful way of thinking about this?

       —HD    Jun. 13 '06 - 08:42PM    #
  34. Hm, another hack job by Gantert.

    Two things about the article surprise me—one, that it wasn’t entitled “Working session highlights divisions,” with more nonsense about establishment vs. revolutionaries; two, that he didn’t conduct the tacked-on interview with the accountant in a booth at Afternoon Delight or Red Hawk.

       —Dale    Jun. 13 '06 - 09:02PM    #
  35. According to Jayne Miller, in her interview with Tom Gantert, parks are growing because of demand, but remain underfunded, resulting in deficiencies in maintenance.
    (Of course the placement of these quotes under the headings Problem, Cause and Solution are my own. One might get a wholly different read from the article.)

    “We have less revenue coming in to take care of the things we would have taken care of 10 years ago. Since 1989, we’ve purchased an additional 307 acres of park land. We have less money not only to maintain what we had before, but to maintain more acreage. Not only do we have more acreage, but we also have developed parks that 10 years ago were undeveloped.”

    So we are dealing with a funding mis-match that has been around a long time and, once again, we are choosing to ignore the larger problem. As I see it, a flat rate for acquisition of new land and facilities requires a continuously increasing rate to account for the maintenance of said land and facilities. Whether the proposal passes or not, managing the maintenance of growing and improved facilities is not addressed.

    According to another article published the same day,
    the capital improvements millage is for improved facilities in existing parks, not for land acquisition. My previous comments assumed that the improvement millage included acquisitions. Now I’m not sure where the money to purchase new land comes from. At least it suggests that this millage will not go towards funding acquisition of the greenway, just maintaining it. (does that include soil clean-up?)

    “Because the voters have said we want more parkland.”

    This is frightening because it is true. It appears the we do not have of a long-range plan indicating a preferred amount and layout of parks and a rational for funding based on the impact of increasing park land and improved facilities. Or at least not one that we reference in setting funding levels.

    Instead, parks are demanded by the public, or at least some small and vocal group. The problem here is that people tend to ask for parks specifically in response to other, less preferable options like parking garages, libraries, or three-site plans. Thus, due to the language of a proposal, “I don’t want a parking garage” can only be expressed as “I want another park.” I think Dale and Ms. Jacobs would agree that this more likely to lead to dead urban space than productive urban parks.

    “Ideally, if I lived in a perfect world, I would like to see the millage increased to 1.5 mills.”

    Despite Miller’s indication that these improvements add to maintenance costs, there is no mechanism for increasing the maintenance millage to account for such improvements in the future. Nor does she suggest that this is necessary. While I appreciate that Miller is trying to negotiate the current proposal to best benefit the parks department (and I appreciate her efforts), the articles and meetings sited above suggest that more money may not be the solution. Poorly distributed, more money is more likely to result in more unmaintained facilities with potentially less money coming from the general fund. Instead of taking account for earlier mistakes in funding distribution, this millage proposal is just throwing money at the problem (or, perhaps, just changing the mechanism by which it is thrown).

    I’d be curious to know, based on the 1.5 mills that Jayne Miller is hoping to get on the ballot (70% of which would go towards maintenance), how much newly acquired parkland would this maintenance budget cover?

       —Scott TenBrink    Jun. 19 '06 - 12:55PM    #
  36. “In light of (5) could a budget-geek who knows Headlee stuff stone cold please weigh in? Here’s the specific question: in a financial climate where a city is collecting taxes at the Headlee Cap, does a new millage (generally, not just parks) passed by voters represent an increase in the size of the tax pie, or does it simply translate to an ‘earmarking’ of a slice of the same-sized pie for the purpose specified by the millage”

    Yes and No.

    The tax base and millages are two very different things although they both factor into the question. The growth in tax base (the size of the pie) is controlled by Proposal A. Proposal A limits the growth in property values to the rate of inflation or 5%, whichever is less. The only portion of the tax base not limited by Proposal A is new development, properties that change ownership or properties that have been improved. Over time, Proposal A has been slowing the growth of the overall tax base by limiting increases on individual properties. This means that while the size of the pie continues to increase, the rate of increase is less than what it would be absent Proposal A.

    The growth in property tax revenues derived from your tax base is controlled by Headlee. At the millage level, Headlee mandates rollbacks in millage levels when the rate of increase in the property tax revenues exceeds the rate of inflation. This only applies to existing properties and transfers, not new growth. If a millage has not reached its Headlee cap, the governing body, like City Council, can increase the millage without voter approval, so long as it doesn’t exceed the cap amount. Once a millage has reached its cap, the millage can only be increased with voter approval. Over time, the cap amount continues to decrease per Headlee, even if you don’t levy to the cap. Most developed communities are now maxing out their levies at the Headlee cap amounts, which are generally dictated by their city charters or the amount voters approved when approving the millage.

    Back to the original question – if a new millage is approved, this represents new revenue above and beyond whatever revenue is coming in from other millages (assuming that this millage doesn’t just replace existing millages). The tax base that the new millage is levied on is the same size that the existing millages are levied on. So, no, you are not increasing the amount of the pie. But you are generating new tax revenue versus just ‘earmarking’ the revenue in a different way. Whether the City is levying at the cap for other millages isn’t really relevant to a new millage unless there was some City Charter provision limiting total millage or you bumped into state limits on millages levied (unlikely).

    As an example, if voters approve a new millage at 1.0 mills that replaces two existing millages at 0.5 mills, the new millage will generate the exact same amount of revenue as the two existing millages. However, if the two existing millages had been rolled back by Headlee to 0.25 mills, the new millage would effectively represent a 0.5 mill increase in revenue because it would replace 0.5 mills in revenue with 1.0 mills in revenue. If the new millage supplements the existing millages, the revenue generated will be a combination of the 1.0 mills in new revenue plus whatever revenue is generated by the existing millages. All of the millages are levied against the same total tax base.

    If the millage is levied at the full amount, Headlee will kick in the next year and start rolling back the millage. If the millage is levied at less than the full amount, Headlee still takes effect but the City Council can increase the millage amount until it reaches the Headlee cap. Hopefully, you can see, there’s really two issues at play – total tax base limited by Proposal A and the Headlee cap, which limits indiviudual millage rates.

       —John Q.    Jun. 19 '06 - 07:26PM    #