City Council debates use of potential millage funds
City Council passed a resolution 8-3 Monday night declaring how it intends to use funds returned to them from Washtenaw County by a potential millage, though several council members raised questions as to the resolution's legal and political merit.
As the resolution states, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to consider placing a millage on the ballot in November to fund public safety efforts, such as the county's Community Mental Health Department and the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office, specifically for cooperation with the mental health community.
Twenty-five percent of the millage would also go toward providing a "general fund rebate" for communities within Washtenaw County that maintain their own police force, thus easing the burden on the Washtenaw County Sheriff. Councilmember Zachary Ackerman (D–Ward 3) said he thought now was a good time to consider how they would potentially spend those dollars: pedestrian safety, affordable housing and action on climate change.
"We'll be seeing between $2.3 and 2.5 million returned to the city of Ann Arbor, and so it becomes a question of how do we as a community decide to spend those dollars," he said. "To me, I think it's clear that we have very underfunded priorities."
Councilmember Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2), however, said the resolution was premature.
"I think it's very, very premature to declare the intent on how Ann Arbor would spend a significant amount of money and ridiculously premature to specify the amounts," she said. "Those are decisions that come from the budget process."
Moving to postpone the vote on the resolution until the next City Council meeting, Councilmember Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) shared Lumm's concerns, and added the resolution might not be legally viable.
"It's privileged advice, I'm not sure that I can go very deep into it other than to say significant legal questions were posed that we can't get an answer to until we know what the county proposal is actually gonna look like in its final form," he said. "And I think it would be inappropriate for us to go through with this just on speculation as to what it might be like. So I think we should follow the advice of our attorney."
Ann Arbor Mayor Christopher Taylor disagreed, pointing out the resolution was simply an expression of intent and not legally binding in any way.
Though the vote to postpone the resolution failed, with only Lumm, Eaton and Councilmember Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1) voting in favor of postponement, the council members went on to discuss the resolution on its merits. Lumm and Kailasapathy expressed concerns that the millage would place an undue financial burden on residents and work against its own stated goal.
"The other aspect of this that's troubling to me is the almost cavalier tone of raising the tax burden on the already very heavily taxed residents of Ann Arbor," Lumm said. "It's bothersome to me that we're quick to recognize the 'community aspirations' of residents when it comes to spending more of their money and raising taxes but silent on community aspirations when it comes to the pleadings we receive from residents to not increase their taxes anymore because it's driving them out of their homes."
Kailasapathy said while it was important to focus on aiding residents lowest on the socioeconomic ladder, millages such as the one in the resolution could end up inadvertently hurting middle-class residents.
"I was talking to a local ethnic grocery store owner, and they were saying how difficult it has been, the tax burden on them,” she said. “Last week when we were speaking the tax bill wasn't out yet, and she said, 'I'm just so afraid my home is not going to become affordable to me anymore,' and I said a couple councilmembers are thinking about putting an affordable housing millage on the ballot, and she gave me this look, like, 'Do you guys really understand what this is all about?' It's not just funding the lowest of our residents who can't afford, but it's also middle class people who have been sharing this tax burden."