Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Town Hall Meeting: Wednesday, April 9

9. April 2008 • Juliew
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Ann Arbor City Hall
The public is invited to attend a Town Hall Meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, April 9) at City Hall from 7:00-9:00pm. The meeting will include a “State of the City” presentation from the Mayor. Traditionally, these meetings have had very low turnout so they have revamped the format and are hoping for more people. So show up and show the Mayor, City Staff, and City Council that you do care what goes on in the city. There will be opportunities to ask questions. For more information, see Monday’s Ann Arbor News article.

  1. Sabra was there for the last part of the meeting, and said about 40 people attended – a lot more than usual.

    Did anyone here go? What was the discussion like?

       —David Cahill    Apr. 10 '08 - 04:53PM    #
  2. I was there.

    It was pretty interesting. The Mayor spoke first about how good the City is and how many awards we have won. He was kind of the cheerleader of the night, which I think should be his role. He discussed how Ann Arbor continues to be a great place to live despite Michigan’s economic hardships. And he talked about improvements such as buying up land for a greenbelt, bike lanes,Art in Public Places etc. that are continuing to make the City a better place to live.

    Then Roger Fraser spoke at length about the City’s budget and current and future initiatives for the City.

    His presentation began with a short video on how the City works that the City wants to give to schools as an educational tool. It definitely felt like a video for educational purposes.

    So after the video, Roger spoke about how the City has had a balanced budget for the last two years and that things are looking ok. He touched on the hot topics of late such as the Golf Courses and the Courts Police Building.

    Most of the people that spoke spoke against the Courts Police Building and asked to have the issue of the Building put towards the voters. Others spoke about AATA’s service changes and about the City’s budget in general.

    I left around 9:00pm and the meeting was still going.

    I thought the Mayor and Mr. Fraser did a good job of trying to answer people’s questions. Most of the people that spoke out were pretty negative, which I guess is what you get at these types of meetings.

    I saw a lot of people I knew there, including Steve Bean, Alice Ralph, Kristie Martin, Newcombe Clark, Sandi Smith, Tim Colenback, Ray Fullerton, Luanne Bullington, several City Council Members, Vivian Armentrout and Carsten Honke (both running for 5th Ward City Council), and Chuck Warpehoski.

    Sorry if I slaughtered any names!

    I’d be interested in hearing what other people thought. It was filmed by CTN so should be on tv soon.

       —Nancy Shore    Apr. 11 '08 - 01:46AM    #
  3. That’s Vivienne Armentrout (French spelling for first name) and Carsten Hohnke. Also Alan Haber, Lou Glorie, Jane Michener, Linda Pedrick, Stewart Nelson, Tony Derezinski (both running for 2nd ward council), Paul Lambert, Dave DeVarti, and Rita Mitchell. Roger Fraser commented that it was one of the best turnouts he has seen.

    I thought Roger Fraser’s explanation of the city’s influence on and relationship with the UM (as governmental entities) was subtle and thoughtful. A difficult question answered well in the time and context that he had available.

    My only other comment is that I would like to receive my continuing education certificate for the video. The best part (the organizational chart) was slightly too blurry for me to read but the voiceover took me back a number of years.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 11 '08 - 06:37AM    #
  4. While Roger appropriately noted the areas of cooperation between the city and the U, I thought that he also spoke as if he saw the missing piece of the relationship between the two entities as one in which the city lacks the ability to “regulate” (his word) the U. I think that if that thinking could be shifted to looking for better established ways to communicate, that problems like those that arose around the stadium construction could more likely be avoided. After all, the reality is that the city can’t regulate the U. I didn’t see the council meeting this week, but from the sounds of the News account, responsibility for communication was placed largely on Jim Kosteva. Since the city also can’t control Kosteva’s behavior, I think the reasonable thing to do is that which is within our control: ask more questions.

    What I took from the broader budget presentation is that we’re in good shape financially, and regardless of the court/police building financing plan, we are at a point of having most of our ‘belt tightening’ behind us. This is the beginning of a period of opportunity that we could miss if we focus too much on the past and a few currently contentious issues.

    The “town hall” aspect of the meeting was somewhat of a dance, with the mayor and administrator politely rejecting some of the less restrained advances of some of the public who wanted to get into it with them. The defensiveness of the officials was understandable (if not totally necessary), and I thought they were fairly generous in letting folks speak their minds.

    Finally, I had attended a previous such meeting at Slauson a couple years ago. At that meeting Roger referred to the attendees as “citizens”, which I immediately thanked him for. (I don’t appreciate being thought of as a “customer”, as had become popular not long ago.) In his closing remarks at this meeting, however, he spoke about the “organization” and how the council is like a “board of directors”, and we citizens are like the “stock holders” (at least I think I heard that term.) I think that’s an unfortunate shift in thinking about our community that I hope that he’ll move away from, especially given the emphasis of the presentation on moving toward sustainability, which requires not just economic vitality (the focus of corporations), but also environmental protection and social equity.

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 11 '08 - 06:51PM    #
  5. Steve, the information provided clearly showed that the budget is going into deficit next year, and that the city hall project will decrease the fund balance considerably. (To below 2006 levels.) Neither of these are what I would characterize as being “in good shape financially”.

    I agree with your objection to being regarded as a stockholder. They have been getting short shrift these days. Wonder who the CEO is?

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 11 '08 - 07:36PM    #
  6. The “General Fund Undesignated Reserves” graph (p. 10 of the handout which corresponds to the administrator’s PowerPoint slideshow) shows a projected 12% reserve for 2009. The target is 8-12% of expenditures. The fund balance is projected to drop to a little over $11 million in 2009. Am I incorrect in thinking that the approximately $700,000 projected deficit could easily be covered by the fund balance without lowering the percentage relative to expenditures much below the projected 12%? Even with some additional (unanticipated) one-time expenditures in ’09 we could keep it above 10%. The reason the fund balance will decrease “considerably” is because it stood at (an unprecedentedly high) 19% for FY ’08. My understanding is that that high level was (in part) intentionally achieved in anticipation of the capital investment in staff facilities.

    I thought that the mayor put our situation in the proper context: given the national and state economic circumstances and the recent pullout by Pfizer (the city’s largest taxpayer), among other things, we’re doing very well.

    Please don’t assume that my assessment of the city’s finances carries over to the financial outlook for residents and businesses. Those are a very different matter. Actually, one of the opportunities that I referred to earlier would be to strengthen the local economy through a citywide energy efficiency/greenhouse gas emissions reduction program for both residents and businesses that I’ve discussed with the mayor and others. The city of Cambridge, MA has recently initiated a similar effort, which was covered by the PBS program “NOW” two weeks ago. The Cambridge Energy Alliance web site has more info including a link to the NOW video.

       —Steve Bean    Apr. 11 '08 - 08:26PM    #
  7. The numbers for the fund balance shown for FY2008 and FY2009 are projections, not actuals, and are based on a series of assumptions that we don’t know and can’t judge.

    Note to AU organizers or other interested parties: it would help readers if that PowerPoint could be linked to here. I only have a paper copy and don’t have time to pursue it.

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 11 '08 - 09:00PM    #
  8. The Town Hall Meeting will be replayed at the following times on CTN Comcast Cable Channel 16:
    Replays: Saturday, April 12 at 2 p.m.
    Sunday, April 13 at 4 p.m.
    Monday, April 14 at 10 p.m.
    Wednesday, April 23 at 9 p.m.

    Here is one PowerPoint with budget from a City Council Retreat in December. It is the PowerPoint featured on the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget webpage. I’m not sure if this is the same presentation as at the Town Hall Meeting.

    If this is not the right presentation, does anyone out there have in electronic form?

       —Juliew    Apr. 11 '08 - 09:37PM    #
  9. The PowerPoint from the December retreat has some similar slides that were evidently either reused for the Town Hall meeting or slightly updated. It is a different presentation, however. I noticed that while in December, we were told that FY 2008 would have a $566 K surplus and FY 2009 a $1.2 M deficit, the new presentation showed $245 K surplus for FY 2008 and a $4.7 M deficit for FY 2009. That deficit reflects the investment (only the $1.8 M from the General Fund) for the police/court facility and includes the First & Washington sale as both a transfer in and out (effect on balance is thus zero).

       —Vivienne Armentrout    Apr. 11 '08 - 10:51PM    #
  10. If one relies on the traditional use of “customer” and “stockholder”, many residents are both. Whether you object to these terms or not, it highlights that the terminology used in private business doesn’t fit very well in discussions about public services and local government.

       —John Q.    Apr. 14 '08 - 08:42AM    #
  11. The updated budget presentation should be posted within the next few days on the budget website.

       —Juliew    Apr. 15 '08 - 01:51AM    #
  12. The presentation from the Town Hall meeting is now available here.

       —Juliew    Apr. 15 '08 - 09:20PM    #
  13. Another reason why the city is doing relatively well financially (compared to other local jurisdictions and the county) is the fact that it has annexed a lot of properties lately.

       —Larry Kestenbaum    Apr. 15 '08 - 10:50PM    #
  14. “Another reason why the city is doing relatively well financially (compared to other local jurisdictions and the county) is the fact that it has annexed a lot of properties lately.”

    What’s the total value of the properties annexed in the past year? How many of those actually happened before December 31st so that they would have an impact on the tax revenue side of the budget?

       —John Q.    Apr. 16 '08 - 07:16AM    #
  15. Also, there have been a number of new homes built where old ones were demolished. There’s a house on Arlington that sold for $305,000 last year. The builders demolished all of it but like one wall, rebuilt, and now it’s on the market for $1.6 million. The taxable value in 2006 was $136,000, last year $226,000, and this year $418,000.

    There are others around too. Thats got to help the City’s bottom line.

       —Cooler Heads    Apr. 21 '08 - 09:20PM    #
  16. If you watched the “townhall” they said total property tax revenue was going to be up less than 2%, that would include any new annexations.

    Looks like the greatest gain must be from all the efficiencies they have installed over the last few years and having the unions signed on to cost sharing for health care.

    With 200 fewer people at approx. $60,000 each, that’s $12 million out of the payroll every year.

       —LauraB    Apr. 24 '08 - 10:41PM    #