Ann Arbor's financial commitment to Connector project discussed during council budget session
In a lengthy and — at times contentious — six-hour meeting Monday night, the Ann Arbor City Council amended and passed its $370 million budget for the 2017 fiscal year.
The 2017 budget decreases expenditures by $10 million from fiscal year 2016 levels and increases the total city staff from 722 to 729. Public safety and law enforcement is the largest expense at $46.8 million, followed by employee pensions ($37.7 million), payments on water and sewage bonds ($34.8 million and $33.7 million respectively), and road repairs ($23.9 million).
In addition, a total of 16 budget amendments, allocating about $1.3 million in additional funds, were put forward by councilmembers for debate during the session.
The final budget allocates $345,000 for the amendments, with $100,000 going to the city’s affordable housing fund, $60,000 to outdoor wintertime ice rinks, $85,000 for citywide environmental initiatives, $15,000 for a study on removing a historical city-owned structure at 415 W. Washington St., $75,000 additional funds for the city’s annual deer cull and $100,000 for the construction of additional streetlights.
Also of note was the city’s commitment to the Ann Arbor Connector project, which envisions a light rail line connecting the southern edge of the city, through downtown, Central Campus, the Medical Center and North Campus.
The project — which is a collaboration between the city, the University of Michigan, the Downtown Development Authority and the local transit authority — is expected to enter the next-stage, which involves a $3 to 4 million environmental impact study. City residents have recently voiced concerns that the primary beneficiary of the rail project would be the University, suggesting the city would be disproportionately shouldering a financial burden, despite the fact that the University has committed to funding at least 75 percent of the project, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions.
The original budget planned for the city to contribute $184,000 to its share of the project’s next phase, but an amendment sponsored by councilmembers Graydon Krapohl (D–Ward 4) and Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) cut this figure by $90,000. The resolution narrowly passed 6-5, with support from Councilmembers Briere, Krapohl, Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2), Sumi Kailasapathy (D–Ward 1), Jack Eaton (D–Ward 4) and Zachary Ackerman (D-Ward 3).
This means the city would contribute $60,000 to the estimated $3 million study and spend $34,000 on staff training pertaining to the Connector. The University is planning to take 90 percent of the cost of the study, while TheRide will foot six percent of the bill and the city of Ann Arbor and Downtown Development Authority will each take two percent.
Councilmember Eaton, who supported the resolution, argued the city should fund the Connector project proportionally to how much it would benefit the city. He said 2 percent is a reasonable benchmark for the city's obligation. The project is expected to cost at least $500 million. with 80 percent being covered by federal grants, leaving at least $100 million to be divided between the City, University, and other local jurisdictions.
"This has to be taken in the context of the whole project," Eaton said. "This is an important transportation project, and I would like to see it go forward, and I think 2 percent is a number that we can live with."
Mayor Christopher Taylor voiced opposition to the cut in the city’s commitment and voted against the amendment, arguing the city stands to benefit significantly from the project and should not reduce its role.
“I’m not inclined to support this effort,” Taylor said. “The University is taking the lead to finance the Connector, as it must, but the Connector will be a tremendous benefit to quality of life in Ann Arbor. We need to do our part.”