The Ann Arbor City Council met at Larcom City Hall Monday to allocate the $24.2 million provided by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The proposed amendments were created in response to City Administrator Milton Dohoney’s recommendations on allocating the funds.
In March 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden signed ARPA into legislation, which provided $1.9 trillion dollars nationally to combat the economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ann Arbor was provided $24.1 million from the bill, and the allocation would determine how these funds are used within the city.
Dohoney originally published a preliminary recommendation on allocating the funds in October 2021. In response, the City Council approved a resolution in October to initiate a public engagement campaign to gather public feedback on Dohoney’s recommendations and to inform the final proposal brought forth at the most recent City Council meeting. Members of the City Council were also given the opportunity to draft amendments to the recommendations ahead of Monday’s vote.
One amendment proposed moving $1.6 million previously allocated to establish a universal basic income (UBI) pilot to instead fund street repairs. Initially, $2.3 million was proposed to fund the UBI pilot, which would allow the city to select 100 families in Ann Arbor based on financial need and provide them with a $500 monthly basic income for three years, according to the proposal.
The amendment to divert some funding toward street repairs came after the 2021 pavement ratings revealed 22.1% of major streets, and 39.1% of local neighborhood streets are seen as being in poor or failing conditions. The amendment was sponsored by councilmembers Travis Radina, D-Ward 3; Erica Briggs, D-Ward 5; Lisa Disch, D-Ward 1; and Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2.
William Lopez, assistant professor of health behavior at the School of Public Health, spoke at the public commentary portion of the meeting. During his allotted time, he expressed support for the UBI funding and implored the council to keep its recommended funding intact.
“This direct financial support is one of the most effective tools we have for alleviating poverty, and assisting families in meeting their most basic needs,” Lopez said.
This amendment was not put forward at the meeting, and was not voted on by the council.
Another amendment was proposed to include funding for resident support services to improve mental and physical well-being, develop community environments and encourage citizenship participation in local government. The amendment would take $500,000 from the budget allocated to acquiring more property for the construction of affordable housing and put that towards residential support services, such as income support, coordinated community building and education activities.
Councilmember Julie Grand, D-Ward 3, said the funding for the support services might result in greater leverage for the existing funds because the supportive services would help residents become more self-sufficient, so they can use funds for others who need it.
“A lot of the money that we can leverage comes when we are able to provide these supportive services,” Grand said. “So, having some money set aside for supportive services may actually have an effect of being a multiplier in terms of the money we can leverage from this $3.5 million.”
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said the supportive services already have enough funding, and the original allocation of these funds toward affordable housing from Dohoney’s recommendation may need the funding more.
“I think the money is already there,” Ramlawi said. “We’re collecting six million dollars a year right now. 20% of that is already going to supportive services. I’d rather see these funds buy real property, build real houses with roofs, and put people in shelters.”
This amendment was approved 9-2, with councilmembers Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, and Ramlawi voting against.
The third amendment proposed would allocate $200,000 towards an arts-based trauma program in Ann Arbor. Due to the pandemic, the amendment cites a need for trauma programs to support youth and BIPOC communities. The money would be used to fund these programs in collaboration with art institutions in Ann Arbor.
Hayner said this amendment would only instruct arts programs on how to spend their funding.
“Here’s another case where we’re giving money to the arts and we’re telling them how to spend it,” Hayner said. “I don’t think subdividing our generosity is the appropriate tact here.”
Briggs said these art-based trauma programs can apply for funding from the existing allocation, and the programs do not need additional funding.
“Despite the profound need, we know there’s a profound need for a number of different communities,” Briggs said. “I would hope that a number of programs do apply for funding … I think it can be done without separating out the funds.”
The amendment was passed 7-4, with councilmembers Ramlawi, Hayner, Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, and Mayor Christopher Taylor voting against the amendment.
According to the amendment, the city received $900,000 from the Marijuana Excise Tax, which could be directed towards the development of an unarmed response team. In April 2021, City Council passed a resolution, calling for an unarmed response team to answer to non-violent emergency calls instead of resorting to the police.
Public Health senior Adrian Ashtari spoke at the public commentary portion of the meeting, and expressed his support for the unarmed response team and said the passing of the amendment would hinder its progress. Ashtari, who has participated in research as a medical assistant, shared some of his experiences with the council to demonstrate the need for an unarmed emergency response team.
“One of the things that I’ve realized is one of the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is this challenge of trust,” Ashtari said. “I’ve worked with individuals who don’t feel comfortable accessing emergency services due to fear of escalation, due to fear of violence, due to fear of their own safety … It is for this reason an alternative is needed that can ensure that an individual is able to feel safe, one that is unarmed, one that the community can trust.”
Ramlawi said this amendment would not take away from the unarmed emergency response team.
“There’s a lot of confusion in the community among a few people who believe that we will be doing something to take away from (the unarmed emergency response team),” Ramlawi said. “Essentially, what we’re doing is adding another million dollars to helping those in our community who need it the most.”
Disch said this amendment was proposed too late, and that they did not have enough time to explore all of the options available on how to spend the money produced by the marijuana excise tax.
“I would like to not commit these funds until we’ve heard a recommendation from staff and had some time to deliberate how we can best realize what I believe was what you all voted for,” Disch said. “Which was to use the marijuana funds to directly help those who had been most harmed by the war on drugs.”
Nelson said putting the marijuana excise tax funds towards an unarmed emergency response team would help those who have been disproportionately affected by the war on drugs, and that this amendment was designed as such because of that reason.
“It’s disappointing to me that people at this table cannot support (the amendment),” Nelson said.
The council failed to approve the amendment, 8-3, with councilmembers Ramlawi, Nelson and Hayner voting in favor of the amendment.
During the proceedings, Hayner put forward four additional amendments to the APRA allocation. Hayner proposed moving all fundings that would’ve been put towards the development of the Gallup Park bridge towards the galvanized water service line requirement. He also introduced an amendment to redirect the funding going towards solar on city facilities towards affordable housing as well as redirect half the funds for Vision Zero towards funding for community art initiatives. The other half of the funds would be set aside to assist children and the elderly in their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The council did not pass any of these amendments due to concerns raised about the lack of the public’s ability to comment on any of the additions.
The final resolution to approve the allocation of ARPA funds, with the passed amendments, was approved, 10-1, with Hayner voting against.
Daily Staff Reporter Riley Hodder can be reached at email@example.com.