The Ann Arbor City Council will vote on the proposed city budget for fiscal year 2022 at the council meeting on Monday night. A meeting was held on May 3 for residents to express thoughts and concerns about the roughly $470 million proposed budget. Covering issues ranging from policing to deer population control, the proposed budget contains many hotly contested items.
The budget includes $155,000 for the Ann Arbor Independent Community Police Oversight Commission (ICPOC), which serves as a bridge between residents and the Police Department.
At the May 3 meeting, Ward 5 resident Ralph McKee urged the council to follow recommendations from the ICPOC as well as Dr. Lisa Jackson, chair of the ICPOC, who also spoke at the beginning of the council meeting.
“I would really urge you to really engage (Dr. Jackson) in depth on (police funding),” McKee said. “She has really studied that. Many of the rest of us are what I would call part-timers on that issue. We’re interested in it, but we really haven’t studied it to the level she and other activists have.”
Many Ann Arbor residents want to see mental health professionals, not police, respond to emergency calls when appropriate. City Council passed a resolution in April asking the City Administrator to create plans for an unarmed first responder program for mental health crises in Ann Arbor.
At the meeting, Ward 2 resident Jeremiah Simon said he wants to see police funding redirected to mental health professionals.
“The current budget proposal increases the police budget from $30.7 million to $31.4 million from 2021 to 2022,” Simon said. “The city should shift responsibility for mental health and substance use crisis response away from the police, and therefore should shift money to a new, autonomous, unarmed crisis response program.”
City Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, told The Michigan Daily she supports having unarmed mental health professionals with proper oversight and training respond to appropriate emergency calls.
“The county is responsible for the 911 Dispatch… (if we) say we want to be treated differently you have to have the dispatcher know when to send out a police officer and when to send out an unarmed mental health professional,” Griswold said. “That’s going to be difficult, but it’s going to be possible. We have to have a lot of training and a very clearly defined implementation plan.”
Ann Arbor resident Michelle Hughes called in to the Council meeting to show her support of increasing the amount of money for unarmed responders which is currently at $234,000.
“We should have more money spent on unarmed responders this year, shifting the enforcement of traffic things away from the police,” Hughes said. “The amount that we have on our budget for the new unarmed response program is not zero, and I very much applaud that, (but it) is much closer to zero than I would like it to be.”
Ann Arbor’s Healthy Streets program which aims to provide safe options for pedestrians and bikers in the city was of particular concern to residents.
The program, which was designed to allow for proper social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, was first passed by City Council in July of 2020. The city employed several methods to increase outdoor recreational space for pedestrians, including street closures, sidewalk space expansion, new bike lanes and reducing vehicle lanes.
At the Council meeting, Ann Arbor resident Shannon Hautamaki said paying for the Healthy Streets initiative is vital for the wellbeing of children in Ann Arbor.
“For families with young children, I don’t see a return to normalcy happening that quickly. Vaccines for young children are still several months, if not a year away,” Houtamaki said. “Children will have to do most of their socializing outside where transmission of COVID is extremely unlikely … My six-year-old son and his neighborhood buddy spent hours last summer and fall racing each other on their bikes on our neighborhood slow street … so I really don’t think this amount is too much to ask for.”
A proposed resolution to spend $350,000 on Healthy Streets in the summer of 2021 failed in a 7-4 vote at the May 3 council meeting. Despite the result of the vote, Ward 4 resident Brandon Dimcheff said he still wants Healthy Streets to be considered in the official 2022 budget.
“I was disappointed that Healthy Streets was not renewed for this year … I would love to get it into the budget for 2022,” Dimcheff said. “It’s a long-term thing that I think we should be doing as a city to make the roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.”
Griswold told The Daily she is very focused on pedestrian safety. Griswold said she is prioritizing sidewalk and crosswalk safety, an effort she has been focused on since Ann Arbor implemented a 10-year moratorium on street lights in 2006.
“The city was actually constructing new crosswalks, even mid-block crosswalks, without any lighting (during the moratorium),” Griswold said. “(I’m) focused on getting all of our street lights illuminated and (crosswalks) with positive contrast lighting whenever possible.”
This year’s proposed budget includes more than $300,000 for pedestrian safety improvements. Specifically, the plan includes $185,000 for improved lighting at crosswalks on major streets.
The budget includes $120,000 for the city’s deer culling program. The program, for which the city hires professional hunters to control the deer population, has been controversial since it was first approved by City Council in 2015.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Griswold said she supports the deer cull to prevent traffic collisions between deer and cars.
“I have always supported (the deer cull and) I will support it this year,” Griswold said. “For 15 years I’ve been looking at and tracking the deer-vehicle collisions, and some people say ‘well just drive slower,’ but I’ve had personal experience where deer will jump out of the woods on top of the vehicle … there’s nothing that a driver can do to reduce the chance to zero that there’s going to be a vehicle collision with the deer.”
Ward 1 resident Luis Vasquez called into the Council meeting on May 3 to express support for the deer cull as a way to reduce the number of deer-vehicle collisions and to prevent an outbreak of Lyme disease in Ann Arbor.
“I think (the deer cull) is a way of keeping down the population of deer,” Vazquez said. “(Having less deer) keeps down the number of deer-car crashes, and also keeps the number of deer ticks down so we don’t end up with Lyme disease in Ann Arbor’s future.”
At the City Council meeting on May 3, Ann Arbor resident Tanya Hilgendorf, president and CEO of the Huron Valley Humane Society, said the cull is ineffective and unnecessary.
“(The Humane Society’s) first aerial count showed just 168 deer, and after five years of culling the number has barely changed,” Hilgendorf said. “Culls are costly short-term fixes … that don’t reduce Lyme disease, and there are better ways to make our roads safer.”
According to Michigan Traffic Crash Facts, there were 50 deer-related traffic collisions in Ann Arbor in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available. In 2014, the year before the deer cull was approved by the Council, there were 51 deer-related traffic collisions in Ann Arbor.
In an interview with The Daily, Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said the money proposed for the deer cull is potentially subject to change and could be diverted during the budget amendment process.
“I would suspect that money is going to be vulnerable for trade-offs in budget amendments,” Ramlawi said. “That money probably will be challenged and may be redirected into other programs.”
This year’s proposed budget has a $2.1 million deficit. Ramlawi told The Daily the Council needs to maintain a balanced budget and prioritize their budgetary desires.
“We need to maintain financial discipline,” Ramlawi said. “We have a huge amount of unfunded liabilities that we’ve been unfortunately needing to ignore … (and must be) managed properly.”
The city’s pension and healthcare funds were underfunded by over $200 million, according to a report published in June 2020.
Ramlawi also told The Daily that Ann Arbor has lost a significant amount of revenue from parking meters and tickets.
“One of the biggest factors right now we’re facing is the loss of revenue from parking, and the loss of revenue associated with parking when it comes to tickets and enforcement,” Ramlawi said. “The (revenue from parking) that we’re going to get from the (Downtown Development Authority) this year and the next several years, as it’s forecasted, is going to be much lower than in years prior.”
The American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law in March by U.S. President Joe Biden, provided $130 billion to local governments. In a letter to City Council and Mayor Christopher Taylor, City Administrator Tom Crawford said some of the budget deficit will be taken care of by the provision of funds by the American Rescue Plan Act.
“At the time (the) budget was prepared, the amount of American Rescue Plan funds was unknown,” Crawford said. “These important additional funds, when received, will provide support in the coming years as the local economy seeks to recover.”
At the Council meeting, an unnamed Ann Arbor resident said the deficit was another reason to end the deer cull program.
“(Why) are we ready to spend $120,000 on ‘deer management’ when clearly there are more important issues, as the city has a $2.1 million budget deficit,” the resident said.
At the Council meeting, Ann Arbor resident Thomas McKee had concerns about spending money on Healthy Streets while there is a large deficit in the budget.
“I agree with making Ann Arbor more bike- and walker-friendly,” McKee said. “However, the neighborhood streets program no longer makes sense and is a waste of money when we have a $2.1 million budget shortfall.”
Regardless of the outcome, Ramlawi anticipates the budget meeting will go on late into the night.
“The meeting will be a long one,” Ramlawi said. “There’ll be a lot of resolutions being proposed to amend the budget.”
Daily Staff Reporter Justin O’Beirne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.