At last Monday night’s Ann Arbor City Council meeting, Ann Arbor’s 2013 budget was voted on after much deliberation and even some amendments to amendments. The 2013 budget will officially start on July 1.
By the end of the meeting, the budget was approved despite Jane Lumm (I–Ward 2) and Mike Anglin (D–Ward 5) — voting against the 1-a.m. decision.
In an interview with the Michigan Daily after the meeting, Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje (D) said he was pleased with the final budget, which includes slightly less than $300,000 in surplus for the city.
“It’s a solid budget,” he said. “One of the mistakes that cities and states make, I think, is when they have budgets moving forward that are not funded with recurring revenues they do one-time fixes — We didn’t do any one-time fixes.”
Lumm said the budget did not reflect the needs of Ann Arbor residents.
“There were very reasonable things we could have done to realign our spending priorities with what I think are the communities’ priorities, and we failed to do that,” she said after the meeting.
Lumm said there were various programs and projects that should have been funded and were not, adding that they would have been “minimal added costs in the grand scheme” of the budget.
“I see us setting aside $300,000 for something that we know is not necessary — where we only need $34,000 of that.”
Anglin, who voted against the budget along with Lumm, said that more preparation in April and May would have led to more productive discussion prior to voting.
“It’s not the lateness of the hour that I’m complaining about, it’s the fact that the task is postponed,” he said in an interview after the meeting. “We could deal much more effectively if we did it earlier.”
Though the vote was not unanimous, Hieftje said dissent is common and a non-unanimous vote does not reflect negatively on the budget.
“You never expect to have it unanimous,” he said. “I thought council worked well throughout all the issues.”
The longest portion of the meeting was dedicated to amending the 2013 budget, several of which concerned the fire department and safety services within the city.
During a meeting intermission, Margie Teall (D–Ward 4) said funding the fire department has been a longstanding issue that is affected by the state government cutting funds as well.
“There’s an optimal number of firefighters for us to staff and we’re trying to get back to the previous decade (before) we had to cut a lot of firefighters,” she said. “It’s been a tough road to go down, because we’ve been experiencing a lot of cuts from the state revenue sharing.”
Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) proposed an amendment that would have allocated funds from the Downtown Development Authority to pay for additional firefighting services and jobs. However, the amendment did not pass after much consideration.
Kunselman, in an interview during the intermission, said that much of the tax revenue that the DDA collects is not from the DDA’s work, but from unrelated economic development.
“That additional (Tax Increment Financing) money should be coming to the city of Ann Arbor, so that we can pay for public safety which has been taking serious cuts over the years,” he said.
Kunselman added that he and the dissenting councilmembers — two of whom serve on the DDA — disagree about the parameters of a city government and the success of the DDA.
“Local government is about public health, safety and welfare in my opinion — that’s my priority,” he said. “The economic development that is proposed out there is all speculative. “
Aside from items explicitly relating to the 2013 budget, the council discussed the North Main-Huron River Corridor Vision Task Force, a group focused on bettering the connection between North Main St. and the Huron river.
There were originally 10 voting members and four were added. However, the fourth spot — intended for a member of the Ann Arbor Public Art Commission — garnered heavy debate.
Members of the council were concerned that more members could affect the efficiency of the task force. Tony Derezinksi (D–Ward 2) voted for the additional members and argued for a member of the AAPAC to be on the taskforce, stressing that art is integral to Ann Arbor.
“We think you have to start at the beginning when you’re doing the vision rather than looking it, ‘Oh we can add something later that’s artistic,’ ” he said. “We think it’s critical to start with that as part of your artistic consideration.”
Also during the meeting, a resolution for $39,575 of renovations to South University Park was approved. Lumm, explaining the resolution to the council, said the park was surrounded by young families, but recently more students have moved to the area. The renovations will be paid for through a donation made by a former council member.
Early on in the meeting, the council heard from multiple community members during the public commentary portion.
Esther Choi — a self-described life-long Ann Arbor resident — said her family has owned a party store on Broadway for more than 30 years and that robbery has been fairly common.
Choi described one incident where her grandfather had to be taken to the hospital and another time when her mother had a knife held to her neck. She said that the store has been robbed six times within the last 10 years in total.
The most recent robbery — on April 9 of this year — entailed her father being held up at the gunpoint of a sawed-off machine gun, according to Choi. She said after giving evidence to the Ann Arbor police, little headway has been made in the case.
“Even after this recent incident, there hasn’t been any progress … clearly our requests have been taken lightly yet again,” she said. “These are not petty crimes; they are life-threatening, violent crimes.”
After Choi left, her family’s story was mentioned sporadically as councilmembers discussed Ann Arbor’s safety funds.