The Ann Arbor City Council met on Monday night at Larcom City Hall to discuss and eventually approve the Ann Arbor city budget of approximately $525 million for the 2023 fiscal year. The budget will provide funds for social programs established to support BIPOC small business development, implement training programs for citizens to increase diversity in the workforce and improve sustainability by giving grants for home improvements.
Councilmembers discussed ways to use money collected from the marijuana excise tax. From the excise tax, $75,000 will be used for exploration, community engagement and planning for a space on Catherine St. dedicated to the development of small BIPOC businesses. Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, believes the Ann Arbor community will support this decision.
“Knowing that (the area near N 4th Ave and Catherine St.) historically has been a Black business district in Ann Arbor, the idea that we could have a BIPOC small business development site or space (there) … would have a lot of resonance in the community,” Grand said.
An additional $572,000 from the marijuana excise tax revenue will go towards the establishment of a Deflection Pilot Program. The Deflection Pilot Program will provide mental health services, substance abuse counseling and assistance with housing and transportation to those in need of these resources, without involving them with the criminal system. Community members, ambulance services, substance abuse treatment providers, mental health providers and the police will be able to refer individuals to the program.
Councilmember Lisa Disch, D-Ward 1, said that allowing individuals to seek help without the threat of being arrested is what sets the new Deflection Pilot Program apart from the city’s current diversion and Expungement programs, which are funded by the 2022 city budget. Disch said that the goals of the Deflection Pilot Program align with the Council’s resolution (R-21-098) to use the marijuana tax revenue to improve public safety and provide support for the community.
“Deflection is important because it fuses even more closely than (the diversion program) does to Council-stated purposes for the marijuana tax revenues,” Disch said. “In contrast to diversion, deflection occurs without anyone being charged with a crime or having a criminal file built.”
Councilmembers also debated the use of a one-time withdrawal of $100,000 from the marijuana tax revenue to fund the creation of a Public Works Apprenticeship Program. Many current public works job opportunities require candidates to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The goal of the Public Works Apprenticeship Program is to attract more people, especially students, to work in public works by paying for CDL training and offering other types of job training. Disch said the apprenticeship program will increase the workforce diversity in public works.
“What this Public Works Apprenticeship Program is trying to do is to reach out and find people who would not normally find their way to a job in public works,” Disch said. “So that is about building diversity by giving (diversity) a pathway in and not assuming that (diversity)’s going to find its way to our door.”
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said that while the Public Works Apprenticeship Program is important, the marijuana tax revenue should be used to address more pressing problems caused by drugs.
“I support this apprenticeship program,” Ramlawi said. “I just believe … that this isn’t the right source of funding for that program, and I think we can find the $100,000 somewhere else.”
Ramlawi proposed an amendment that would contribute the $100,000 from the marijuana tax revenue to Dawn Farm, an organization dedicated to providing long-term treatments for recovery to addicts and alcoholics. Ramlawi said that the City’s cooperation with Dawn Farm would effectively help individuals who suffer from overdose, a problem that has been increasing in severity in recent years.
“Within the last two years, both years in 2020 and 2021, we’ve lost over 100,000 people to fentanyl and other overdose drugs,” Ramlawi said. “We have a crisis on our hands with overdoses in our country.”
Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, agreed with Ramlawi and said that the marijuana tax revenue should not be used to create new ongoing programs because it is an inconsistent source of funds.
“Dawn Farm has a long track record of doing good work in our community and they could use this money,” Hayner said. “I know that it’s likely that this funding is going to regrow a little bit more and then kind of probably level off, as long as the state allows it to keep coming to us after they take their cut which is, as you know, the law is written, (so) they can decide what that cut is at any time and change it.”
Although the amendment to allocate the $100,000 to Dawn Farm received support from Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, Councilmember Travis Radina, D-Ward 3, Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, Ramlawi and Hayner, it ultimately failed to pass.
The Office of Sustainability and Innovation (OSI) for the Low-Income Sustainability Grants Program will be given $60,000 from the marijuana tax revenue, which will provide monetary assistance to low-income homeowners to help make their homes safer and more sustainable.
City Administrator Milton Dohoney, who was also present at the meeting, said that the Low-Income Sustainability Grants Program is necessary for Ann Arbor as it moves to meet its sustainability goals.
“This city has determined a strong policy direction for sustainability,” Dohoney said. “This city has also expressed a strong policy support for diversity, equity and inclusion. If low-income people cannot afford all of the necessary expenses for housing, how are they ever going to get the ability or capacity to deal with putting solar on their house?”
Ramlawi proposed an amendment to repurpose the $60,000 to support Home of New Vision, a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to individuals who suffer from addiction, and A Brighter Way, a nonprofit organization that aims to reduce recidivism by providing resources to individuals returning from incarceration.
Although this amendment received support from Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, Councilmember Travis Radina, D-Ward 3, Nelson and Hayner, the amendment failed.
An additional $240,000 will be drawn from the Fund Balance to provide further support to the Low-Income Sustainability Grants Program, bringing the total budget dedicated to this program to $300,000.
Radina said that he believes a program like the Low-Income Sustainability Grants Program is something the city should put its efforts toward investing into.
“I think so highly of the work that the Office of Sustainability and Innovation is doing in terms of equity and really centering the needs of low-income and marginalized communities in their work,” Radina said. “I actually can’t think of a better office.”
The resolution to approve the city budget for the fiscal year 2023 ultimately passed.
Daily Staff Reporter Tina Yu can be reached at email@example.com