As the largest employer in the city of Ann Arbor, the University keeps an eye on the city’s budget.
In an interview, Jim Kosteva, the University’s community relations director, discussed the relationship between the city and the University — emphasizing the role of the 2013 city budget, which was approved at the May 21 Ann Arbor City Council meeting.
Kosteva said there were relatively few issues pertinent to the University in this year’s budget.
“A notable exception, of course, being police and fire protection because those do have a significant impact upon the University (and) University community,” Kosteva said.
Kosteva said part of the reason the University always makes police and fire protection a priority is because many incidents that members of the University community are involved in are often outside the University’s Department of Public Safety’s jurisdiction.
“We have an equally strong interest as any resident or any business in the community would have to help ensure that there is appropriate and adequate staffing and personnel in the fire department,” Kosteva said. “And while we have our own Department of Public Safety for campus activities, 30,000-plus of U of M students live off campus.”
The 2013 budget allows for City Administrator Steve Powers to hire six new firefighters through a $642,294 federal grant. The city also receives fire funding through the state of Michigan’s fire protection grant program annually, which provides fire funding to communities in Michigan that have substantial state entities like a public university within their borders.
Kosteva said the state funding helps but isn’t consistent.
“The city receives about a million dollars a year from the state fire protection fund … the state legislature and the state government have from time to time reduced those funds that are made available through the grants,” Kosteva said.
Last February, the city announced plans for the Fuller Road station — a collaboration between the city and University — had been cancelled.
The city recently accepted federal funds to explore building a new train station in an alternative location. When council approved acceptance of the funds, they expected the University to provide a portion of what will match the federal funds.
Kosteva said the University may be interested in working with the city to plan construction of the new station at some point in the future.
“It is possible that some of those efforts that the University contributed to will be able to satisfy the federal requirements for local match,” Kosteva said. “So, yes, some of the University money that was spent toward Fuller Road station might contribute toward the federal grant.”
Kosteva said the University acknowledges the Fuller Road location as the prime site for the new train station, even if it won’t include a parking station or built-in University bus station that the original Fuller Road station plan included.
“We believe that it would serve community and University interests, and we are likely to be a partner of some measure at such a time when the city is able to line up federal and other local funding sources for the construction of a new station,” he said.
Because the original Fuller Road Station plans fell through, the University is building a parking structure for the hospital independently.
Kosteva said the University couldn’t afford to wait for the potential Fuller Road station parking structure in collaboration with the city because of the pressing need for more hospital employee parking. Part of the need is due to the opening of C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voightlander Women’s Hospital creating 500 new jobs.
The tables were turned, however, when plans for the Wall Street parking structure caused some Ann Arbor residents and councilmembers to criticize the University.
Though Kosteva emphasized the necessity of the parking structure.
“There were expressions of concern from neighbors in the Wall Street area expressing their preference not to have a parking structure,” Kosteva said. “It is reasonably close proximity to the medical center, so it enables our (medical center) employees to shuttle or to walk from that location. There has also been growth in employment in the Wall Street area with the expansion of the Kellogg Eye Center and the expansion of the Brehm Tower.”
Another factor making the city budget important to the University is that the University has money flowing to the city through streams like leasing buildings and paying taxes, according to Kosteva.
Kosteva added that, overall, the relationship between the city and the University is strong.
“For the most part, there is an appreciation and a value that the University has added 9,000 jobs in this community in the past 10 years,” Kosteva said. “I believe there is a real, sincere appreciation for that on the part of the city and the majority of residents throughout the community.”
However, Kosteva noted that there is sometimes friction between the two parties.
“Nonetheless, there is also an ever-present tension that does exist between the University community, public universities and the communities that they’re in, because there’s such a large amount of property,” Kosteva said.