Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor issued a veto Friday to block a resolution that would direct funds from a new county tax to address citizen concerns, including street repairs, mental health and public safety services and clean water initiatives. The resolution passed with a 7-4 council vote at City Council meeting on April 1.
Washtenaw County passed a new tax that went into effect in December to provide funds for county mental health and county sheriffs’ services. A quarter of the proceeds are returned to cities, like Ann Arbor, who fund their own police departments.
Earlier in the meeting last Monday, City Council approved a resolution, sponsored by Taylor and Councilmember Kathy Griswold, D-Ward 2, in another 7-4 vote to direct funds from the county tax to address affordable housing, climate action and pedestrian safety. Councilmembers Jane Lumm, I-Ward 2; Jack Eaton, D-Ward 4; Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5; and Jeff Hayner, D-Ward 1, voted no.
The vetoed resolution, sponsored by Lumm, served as an alternate proposal to Taylor’s 40-40 -20 tax policy, which would direct the entire $2.2 million from the county tax to the three issues he campaigned on in 2017. The plan pledged 40 percent of funds for affordable housing, 40 percent for climate action and 20 percent for pedestrian safety.
Lumm’s resolution — the proposal Taylor ultimately vetoed — would divide the tax money to address affordable housing, climate action and pedestrian safety, in addition to mental health services, street repairs and clean water initiatives — issues identified in a citizen survey.
Although the two resolutions conflict, Council can pass them both. Council members pointed out that these resolutions act as recommendations, as the budgeting power really lies with the City Administrator who will prepare a city budget for Council to review in May.
Taylor explained he does not oppose spending the money, but is concerned about the source of those funds designated in the approved resolution.
Lumm argued residents did not identify the three issues in the Taylor’s resolution as top priorities, so his measure would not direct the funds to be used in a way that is consistent with the results from a citizen survey.
“The survey was designed, conducted and analyzed by outside professionals — the National Research Center,” Lumm said. “At a minimum, I think we’d all agree the results provide at least a valid directional picture of how residents would like to see the $2.2 million millage proceeds spent.”
The survey asked residents how they would like to see the tax money spent. The results of the survey have not been made public yet, but councilmembers received the results early last week. According to Lumm, the survey results indicate residents believe the issues highlighted in both resolutions are important, but they identified issues like mental health services as being more significant.
“Very few respondents allocated more than 30 percent of the dollars on any one category,” Lumm said. “That certainly suggests to me that it’s appropriate to allocate additional dollars beyond issues of affordable housing, climate action and pedestrian safety.”
Taylor said his concerns are not with funding the issues Lumm’s resolution would address, but he disagrees with using the proceeds from the county tax for this purpose.
“We made a pledge to the voters who would go to the polls in November 2017 about how we intended to spend their tax dollars if they would approve the County Mental Health and Public Safety Millage,” Taylor wrote in his veto letter to City Clerk Jacqueline Beaudry.
Taylor said by passing the millage in 2017, voters indicated their desire to address affordable housing, climate action and campus safety.
“When the voters passed the Millage in November 2017, they converted the pledge to a promise,” Taylor wrote. “I believe, therefore, the 40-40-20 Administrative Policy to be an obligation of honor.”
Councilmember Elizabeth Nelson, D-Ward 4, supported Taylor’s resolution but said the pledge made by the previous council to fund these issues misled many voters, when in actuality the budgeting decisions lie with the current council.
“It’s troubling that voters may have gone to the polls with the misunderstanding that the council’s pledge was binding when the actual spending decisions are now up to the new council,” Nelson said.
City Council amended Lumm’s proposal to address the issues not already covered by Taylor’s resolution. Councilmembers Hayner; Julie Grand, D-Ward 3; and Chip Smith, D-Ward 5; and Taylor voted no to the allocations.
Even after the amendment, Grand said she could not support Lumm’s resolution because she did not consider it “responsible budgeting” to rely on a single survey.
“Even though these are important priorities, I think most of them have their own dedicated funding sources,” Grand said. “They are open for any budget amendments going forward. I would rather see a specific initiative funded through a budget amendment.”
Taylor said he will do everything possible to keep the pledge he made to citizens.
“If we are to make progress in these crucial areas, financial support needs to be consistent and substantial,” Taylor wrote. “While I am mayor, I will do everything that I can to keep that promise and provide that funding.”
Eight votes of the 11-person council are required to override a mayoral veto. City Administrator Howard Lazarus will be preparing the city budget in the weeks to come and will present his proposal to council in May.