As Ann Arbor residents head to the polls today to vote in the general elections, current elected officials will eagerly await the results that will determine whether or not they get to keep their seats on the Ann Arbor City Council.
If re-elected, the incumbents say they are determined to continue addressing what they feel are the key issues facing the council today: balancing the city’s budget and redirecting funds toward infrastructure and public safety.
Council member Stephen Rapundalo (D–Ward 2) said maintaining the city’s budget is at the top of the council’s to-do list.
“I think first and foremost the main issue is dealing with the city’s fiscal structure, the budget and making sure that we’re within our means but at the same time being able to plan for needs that we have down the road,” Rapundalo said.
Council member Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1), who is an uncontested candidate this year, stressed the budget’s importance since the amount of money the city receives from the state has decreased in recent years.
“It’s going to be another really interesting year as we try to deal with constant changes coming from Lansing when it comes to income for municipalities and when it comes to knowing what to do,” Briere said.
The incumbents expressed concern over prioritizing city spending and determining which sectors and projects the budget should or shouldn’t allocate funds to. Council member Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) said he is frustrated with the city’s decision to spend money on downtown development projects and public art while simultaneously limiting funds to public safety.
“We’ve been spending more in directing staff to be more focused on downtown megaprojects and economic development than focusing on our infrastructure, our roads, our bridges, our police and fire forces,” Kunselman said. “There is a concern among the elected that we’ve lost sight of our purpose.”
The city’s 2012 fiscal year included a cut of 30 positions in the Ann Arbor fire and police departments. However, because many of the positions were already unoccupied, only six officers were laid off.
Almost all the incumbents said they will vote in favor of the street and sidewalk millage, which will increase taxes to generate funding for updating roads throughout the city. But some expressed concern that the money raised by the millage would be used for initiatives like public art, which many view as an inappropriate use of funds.
“I think it’s atrocious that the city has hired a public art coordinator out of the same funds that provide for public safety and utilities and infrastructure,” Kunselman said.
A public art structure in front of the Ann Arbor Municipal Center was the source of controversy last month because it cost $750,000 to install. For the city’s 2012 fiscal year budget, the council approved an ordinance that allocated 1 percent more to the city’s Public Art fund.
Showing skepticism toward projects like the Fuller Road Station and Library Lot conference center that have yet to show substantial progress, Kunselman noted that the city has made many empty promises.
“It’s frustrating listening to the rhetoric and knowing that it’s just not going to happen that way,” he said. “We need to be more frank with the public, and that’s how I am as a politician.”
Council member Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) and Marcia Higgins (D–Ward 4) said the city should focus on funding budget items that address public needs, citing mainly infrastructure and public safety.
Regarding the University, Anglin noted that student safety is a major concern on his agenda. He said he would like to see council make progress on the issue and and would like to propose an ordinance that would require porch lights to be left on to provide more light for students walking at night.
Anglin added that he wants to start a discussion with University students and work with them to increase lighting in off-campus residential neighborhoods. He noted that more dialogue is needed between the council and representatives from the Michigan Student Assembly. This semester, MSA’s Student Safety Commission, in conjunction with the University’s Division of Student Affairs, created Beyond the Diag — a program that aims to make off-campus areas safer.
Rapundalo, who originally proposed the establishment of the Michigan Student Assembly & Ann Arbor City Council Liaison Committee in 2005, said the committee has been inactive for the past few years. However, the committee has the potential to increase communication between the two entities and work on city issues that affect students, he said.
“Certainly the opportunity — the mechanism — exists,” he said. “It really needs to be revitalized.”
At the polls today, city residents must choose between a Republican or Democratic candidate for three of the four wards that have contested candidates.
Higgins said she doesn’t think the issue of party membership will decide the elections, despite the fact that Ann Arbor’s elected officials has been overwhelmingly Democratic for the past few years.
“I look at it (as) less of a Republican-Democrat casting,” Higgins said. “I think voters are smarter than that. I think they really do look at what you’ve done and what you say you’re going to do.”
When asked what distinguishes her from her Republican opponent Eric Scheie, Higgins responded that her persistence in making sure that funding goes to projects and services essential to the basic operation of the city sets her apart. She pointed to her support of the city spending millions of dollars to upgrade water and sewage treatment plants that have been neglected by other councils since their installation in the 1930s.
Anglin, who is running against Republican candidate Stuart Berry, said he noted some key similarities and differences between him and his challenger during last month’s debate. between incumbents and challengers.
“What we have in common (is) fiscal responsibility — spend what is needed, but don’t overspend,” Anglin said. “The only difference I saw between us as we talked was maybe that I’m more inclined towards trying to help those at the low end of things, meaning the homeless people, people who — through no fault of their own — just don’t have the life that many of us do have.”
Anglin added that he is disappointed in recent cuts to community services that help disadvantaged people.
Facing tonight’s results with no expectations, Rapundalo said he takes his challengers seriously, and he feels the same way he did six years ago when he ran against a tough Republican candidate.
“The voters will decide, and it will be what it will be and on Wednesday morning, life goes on.”