Ann Arbor City Council convened Monday evening to discuss a range of policy topics ranging from municipal staffing levels to permit fees for medical marijuana facilities.
The council discussed CA-4, a resolution to increase the amount of full-time city employees. The resolution would increase the budget to include funding for new staff members, which caused discussion across the council. Councilmember Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2, discussed how she believed adding another full-time city employee was unwise from a budgetary standpoint.
“For fiscal year 20, we added 14 full-time employees to the city budget, and over the last three years, we’ve added 30 FTEs,” Lumm said. “That is a huge number…It roughly represents three million dollars a year additionally…Adding FTEs during the year and outside of the budget process is poor budget discipline at any point during the year, and it’s especially poor process when we’re three and a half months into the fiscal year.”
Lumm went on to discuss how seeing the budget as a flexible document is a bad habit for the council to cultivate.
“We rarely used to do it, now it seems we do it frequently,” Lumm said. “Instead of a firm, binding document, the budget has become a suggested starting point that council just adds to during the year. Emergencies are one thing, but adding resources for normal business activities this soon into the fiscal year is not the kind of fiscal responsibility I believe we need to maintain.”
Councilmember Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, agreed with Lumm’s concerns about budget flexibility. He also argued that city residents didn’t specifically indicate a desire for these new positions.
“We reach out to these communities and we ask them, ‘Would you want us to lower your revenues next year or do you want more service?” Hayner said. “They say they want more service. That’s great, and I think that’s great that the city is going to provide that service…But I’m not so sure they knew that they were going to get a sustainability person.”
Overall, the motion carried, authorizing an increase in community service staffing.
The council went on to discuss a new permit fee for medical marijuana facilities. The ordinance would establish an initial $5000 fee for suppliers of medical marijuana when obtaining a permit, and a subsequent yearly $5000 renewal fee.
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, discussed how this provision was a part of the process of legalizing recreational marijuana use, and expressed his desire for the fees to fund programs targeting social injustice.
“I sponsored the ordinance allowing recreational marijuana to take effect November 1st, this is just protocol in allowing that to follow through,” Ramlawi said. “The fees that are associated with the permitting process will go back into administering the program, I just hope that future fee that we collect give us the latitude to put money into social programs associated with the social ills and social injustice that come along in everybody’s life.”
Hayner expressed concern with the high fees, citing they may act as barriers to entry in the market for supplying medical marijuana.
“There’s some equity issues with these fees,” Hayner said. “That seems for small business owners to me, five grand just to ask for a permit and then five grand to renew it…it just seems like a large amount.”
He went on to express concern that the fees were unfairly high, and did not provide an equivalent benefit to permit-holders.
“Does this not have to be commensurate with the service provided?” Hayner said. “What is it that we are doing for that five thousand dollars?”
The motion passed, authorizing the permit fees for suppliers of medical marijuana.