City Councilmember Zachary Ackerman (D—Ward 3) who started in the role in November and is a recent University of Michigan alum, had his first proposed resolution unanimously approved at the Jan. 4 City Council meeting.

The resolution proposed by Ackerman aims to collect funding from the Michigan state government for fire protection services in Ann Arbor through a grant program.  

The current grant program was established in 1977 under a state law stating that the Michigan legislature would help fund fire services for local communities with state institutions within city limits. Because the University is considered a state institution, the state should be obligated to provide Ann Arbor with increased funding.

According to councilmember Chip Smith (D–Ward 5), there is a formula within the law that determines how much the state is required to provide for fire service, in cities that contain a public university. By this measure, Smith said, the state has not been providing the city of Ann Arbor with adequate funding for several years.

Ackerman said only 41 percent of the total possible grant funding under the formula for Ann Arbor is being fully funded, totalling $1.3 million. He said $13 million in additional funds should be given overall to local municipalities as mandated by law.

Councilmember Julie Grand (D–Ward 3) said the state government is failing to provide the city with the funding to which it is entitled.

“The state made a commitment to offset the cost that cities pay for fire protection services for universities and they haven’t upheld their side of the bargain,” Grand said.

Ackerman said his goal is to acquire the funding for Ann Arbor that is promised to the city through the grant program.

“We are politely asking Lansing for what they owe us,” Ackerman said.

Smith said he does not like having to use resolutions to spur the legislature to do what is expected of them, but added it would be a mistake to sit back and not try to do anything to resolve the situation.

The resolution states that the fire protection program is necessary for the community to respond to natural or manmade emergencies. In the absence of adequate funding from the state government, it notes that Ann Arbor must take on the financial burden of funding its own fire protection programs.

As it stands, local taxpayers are exclusively responsible for supplying the city with the funds not provided by the state government. The resolution states Ann Arbor should not take on the financial burden of funding its own fire protection programs.

The money currently comes from Ann Arbor’s general fund, the city’s largest pool of money, which is garnered from taxes and allocated annually in the city’s budget.

Grand said the money withheld from Ann Arbor’s general fund for the service should be allocated to other projects where they could do the most good. She said funding to maintain the city’s streetlights are $400,000 less than it should be.

“The city ends up paying a lot more than it should because we aren’t going to let anyone be unsafe,” says Grand.

Ackerman noted that state government underfunding local communities is a chronic issue. He cited the work of his fellow councilmember Jane Lumm (I-Ward 2) on the issue, who introduced a similar resolution in the recent past.

While the resolution was supported by the entire council, neither Smith nor Ackerman said they expected it to have much impact in Lansing.

“I’m always optimistic,” Ackerman said, “but at the same time we’ve seen for a decade a legislature that is willing to disregard their own laws, and this is a great example.”

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