City residents comment on proposed 2017 budget

Tuesday, May 3, 2016 - 9:03pm

Ann Arbor’s $370 million budget for the 2017 fiscal year was subject to a public hearing at Monday's City Council meeting at Larcom City Hall. At the meeting, city residents also expressed their opposition to two local development projects for fear of damaging wetland ecosystems and increasing flood risk to adjacent areas.

The 2017 budget includes an approximately $10 million decrease in expenditures as well as the addition of seven full-time employees, increasing the total city staff from 722 to 729. The budget additionally includes $35,000 to study non-lethal alternatives to the city’s controversial deer cull and $50,000 to implement recommendations for police oversight reform that were approved in March.

Many residents commented on specific items of the budget, ranging from calls for improving the city website to improve accessibility to City Council documents to a proposed organic waste disposal program.

The $35,000 provision for a study on non-lethal deer management options drew attention from a number of public commentators opposed to the deer cull, who reaffirmed their opposition to the city’s annual lethal deer cull.

When Ann Arbor was planning its deer management strategy from 2014 to 2015, non-lethal options were considered but ultimately ruled out for lack of scientific basis. The lethal cull of 63 deer was a controversial and polarizing decision for many city residents.

Robert McGee, an Ann Arbor resident opposed to the cull, called for the city to continue to uphold its promise to explore non-lethal deer management, offering to start a fundraising drive to cover the costs of such a study for the city.

“Let Ann Arbor once more be a leader,” McGee said. “Let’s unite this community behind something positive, and let’s benchmark non-lethal methods for deer management in the state of Michigan.”

Residents also voiced their opposition to the proposed Woodbury Club Apartments project on Nixon Road. The project was originally proposed to Council in 2014, but its approval has been repeatedly postponed due to opposition from residents over concerns that the project would damage surrounding floodplains and increase flooding risks in adjacent areas.

Eric Lipson — a local attorney challenging incumbent Graydon Krapohl (D–Ward 4) in the 4th Ward City Council race — said new development should not take precedence over the safety of existing residents, which would be threatened by the Woodbury project.

“Just for the sake of tax base, we are allowing ourselves to flood those other people who’ve been paying taxes for years and years,” Lipson said. “Now we’re going to build on the floodplains … it’s going to come back and bite us.”

Noting that a public meeting to finalize the apartment plans was held in 2014 without proper notice to all relevant local stakeholders, Councilmember Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) motioned the issue be postponed with the unanimous support of the body until a new public meeting could be held with proper notice to nearby residents.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article suggested that the budget was approved unanimously by City Council. There was only a public hearing during the meeting, and voting will take place at the body's May 16 meeting.