ypsilanti: opportunities for additional city income

I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to chime in and add their thoughts in the comments section following my last post on the looming cuts of 4 police officers, 6 firefighters, and bus service in Ypsilanti. I look forward to reading through the entire discussion much more closely once the Shadow Art Fair has passed, but, in the meantime, there was something that caught my eye that I wanted to move up here to the front page. The following comes from a comment left by Cameron Getto.

…What about generating revenue outside the bounds of a tax? For example, other municipalities along the I-94 corridor have negotiated agreements with their respective counties and the state to collect overweight fines from the heavy trucks that ruin our highways. These fines are usually in the thousands of dollars per offense. They generate millions per year in revenue throughout the state, and municipalities such as Taylor and Van Buren make huge amounts of money ticketing commercial violators. We have police personnel trained to do this, but unlike other cities, Ypsi hasn’t gone to the trouble of negotiating deals to make it worth our while.

Every time this issue comes up for discussion, it’s poo-poo’d by the establishment, even though it’s never really been pursued in earnest. But, for it to happen, we need to take the initiative…

If anyone from the city could 1) verify that what Cameron says is in fact correct, and 2) explain why we aren’t pursuing it, if in fact Cameron is right and we’re not, I’d appreciate it. And, I’d certainly appreciate the comments from those outside of city hall as well. I’d just request that we try not to let this thread get bogged down in the income tax debate. For the time-being, I’d rather keep such comments contained to the post noted above. I would, however, love hear hear other ideas as to how the city could raise revenues here, however.

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36 Comments

  1. egpenet
    Posted July 13, 2007 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    I mentioned this in a previous post … that I wrote on a 3×5 card at one of the public meetings: What other ways are there for the city to make some money? (Or something like that. I have a few ideas about that.) The meeting MC tossed my card into a discard pile after looking at it.

    Not such a stupid question, eh?

  2. Posted July 13, 2007 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    “Verify” that it’s correct, Mark?

    I know it’s correct. When I was with my former law firm, I used to cover for the prosecuting atty in both Taylor and Van Buren when he was not available. I used to negotiate the plea bargains on overweight tickets personally. This isn’t a theory — it’s how they do it elsewhere.

    If you don’t believe me, do a FOIA request and obtain the documents yourself. I’d be quite dubious of the City’s take on it, since they have in the past appeared quite close minded about the possibility.

    Click here to check out the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction account of a day at court.

  3. mark
    Posted July 13, 2007 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    Don’t tell me you’re thin-skinned, councilor. I’ll have to reassess my opinion of you, and, to be honest, I like thinking you as a thick-skinned shark of a man. Seriously, I didn’t mean any offense by it, Cameron. I just try, whenever possible, to get things verified. For all I know, the city tried to implement it, and, for some reason, couldn’t get the state to go along, or something like that. And, I just didn’t want to start from a position of blaming the city right off the bat. I may not always succeed, but I try my damndest to be fair on this site… For what it’s worth, however, it never even occurred to me that you were making it up.

  4. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 13, 2007 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

    TrustyG, you mention that “millions” are generated across the state and “thousands” per offense yet the number for Taylor and Van Buren is “huge.” Can you specify “huge”?

    Both Van Buren and Taylor are, geographically, much larger than Ypsi proper. VB is on the way from heavy shipping Willow Run airport to I-94. The land mass of industry ample Taylor connects to both I-94 and I-75.

    I trust that any comparisons in income from truck ticketing will also include comparisons of truck traffic and potential revenue.

    Here’s a true assertion: “Cities who ticket trucks have seen numerous businesses fail and multiple incidents of child-molestation while cities who ticket less frequently have, across the state, seen massive investment of new business and an influx of families moving into their communities.”

    Unless you site sources, to me, your appeal sounds as convincing as mine. Don’t dare others to FOIA to prove you wrong. If you can, why not just prove yourself right.

    And, I’ll buy a steak dinner for anyone who can categorically refute my statement, above. (Which one? exactly.)

  5. egpenet
    Posted July 13, 2007 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    I think my headache is coming back … mmmmm.

  6. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 13, 2007 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    EgP. Please get some rest. Across the nation, people with issue-induced headaches die at alarming levels. In fact, over 90 percent of fatal headaches are caused by, or related to, mortality. At the same time, a majority of American’s without chronic, issue-induced headaches live well beyond global mortality rates.

    So, EgP, if you value freedom, please get some rest. I plan to do the same.

  7. Posted July 13, 2007 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Ol E,

    What is the source for the data to support the claim that if you write traffic tickets on trucks you get multiple incidents of child molestation.

    – Steve

  8. Posted July 14, 2007 at 1:01 am | Permalink

    It’s not a thin skin, and I’m not offended (being a thick skinned maniac and all). I’m amazed at the magnitude of the skepticism.

    I do find it somewhat offensive for pro-tax advocates to question the veracity of revenue generating ideas that have been proposed before, for the city to fail to follow up on them, and then to suggest the person who communicated the idea bears some kind of burden to prove it. I feel rather strongly that it’s the job of the people who we elected to solve these problems for us.

    I’ll make a few calls next week to see if I can get the breakdown. Since I’m no longer with my former firm, I don’t have easy access to the documents and personnel that I used to.

    The fines when I was doing them were in the $4k to $6k range on average. Taylor, for example, kept at least half the fine when they wrote the ticket, but the agreement they negotiated also allowed them a smaller cut when another entity wrote the ticket. Some of their cut went to a libary fund, too. Judge Sutherland generally wouldn’t approve a plea deal more than 20% below the fine, so the math works out to a minimum of $2400 to the municipality on a $6k fine. At one per week, that’s over $100k, and in Taylor, it was definitely more than one per week on average. If you apply this formula to the various county sheriffs, the state police and the various municipalities that choose to pull over trucks, the potential for revenue is obvious.

  9. egpenet
    Posted July 14, 2007 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Steve, he’s making it up, just like the stat about headaches.

    (I can’t believe that this “Who shot whom” is going to go on until November!)

  10. Dirtgrain
    Posted July 14, 2007 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    “Ol E,

    What is the source for the data to support the claim that if you write traffic tickets on trucks you get multiple incidents of child molestation.

    – Steve”

    Why don’t you FOIA it, dammit?

  11. Mark
    Posted July 14, 2007 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    OK, now it’s my turn to appear thin-skinned, Cam. I don’t consider myself a “pro-tax advocate.” To be honest, I haven’t made up my mind. As I see it, it’s a complicated issue with positives and negatives on both side. I envy all of the rest of you, on both sides, who can see it with such clarity. That’s just not a gift that I have.

  12. Mark
    Posted July 14, 2007 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    OK, let’s stop the FOIA talk now… Or, actually, let’s not stop it just yet. I have a comment I’d like to make first, and then we can stop it… Here’s my comment.

    What if I had this blog so that no one could see it unless they FOIA’d it? Wouldn’t that be kind of cool? I could just have a blank white page that said, “If you want to know what Mark’s thinking about, fax your FOIA form too….”

    At least I think that would be funny.

    OK, not more FOIA talk… starting NOW!

    Unless you have something important to ad.

  13. Posted July 14, 2007 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    “Dear Citizen,

    “We thank you for your recent FOIA submission to MarkMaynard.com. Your thoughts are important to us.

    “We therefore regret to inform you that, due to national security concerns, MarkMaynard.com is unable to respond to your request at this time.

    “Regards,
    MarkMaynard.com.”

    (Fun fact: MarkMaynard.com is neither part of the executive branch, nor part of the legislative branch!)

  14. edweird
    Posted July 14, 2007 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    You guys are funny.

    Seriously though, I think Cam may have something there. I would really like to know what the cities position on it really is. Why not take a look at this?

  15. Posted July 16, 2007 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Vicki, court administrator at the 23rd District Court in Taylor, returned my call this afternoon. She confirmed:

    $40 of every ticket goes to the state.

    Subject to that charge, the remainder of the fines are broken down as follows:

    For overweight fines, if the ticket is issued by the Wayne County Sheriff, then 30% goes to the Wayne County Library Fund, 35% to MSEU Sheriff’s Dept. (the acronym is for the municipal enforcement unit — I don’t know the actual name), and 35% to the city. If the ticket is issued by the city, 30% goes to the Wayne County Library Fund and 70% to the city (subject to the $40 to the state).

    For mis-load fines ($385 in Taylor), if the ticket is issued by the Sheriff’s Dept., then $200 goes to the Wayne County Library Fund, and $145 to the city ($40 goes to state per above). If the city issues the ticket, the city gets 70% and 30% goes to the Wayne County Library Fund (subject to the $40 charge to the state).

    For general civil infraction traffic tickets written by city cops, $40 goes to the state, and the rest goes to the city.

    Here’s a link to a related press release establishing that it is not uncommon to write overweight tickets for amounts in excess of $10,000.

    She did not have detailed information on how much revenue was generated, but she thought it was in the six figures, and she did give me some leads. I will make some more calls tomorrow and later this week. Also, I have made a minor alteration to my schedule to allow me to stop by Taylor City Hall during business hours to get a copy of their budget. Though it isn’t likely broken down in the detail we are seeking, it may provide a lead or two as to how to find out.

  16. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 16, 2007 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    TrustyG, a heart-felt thank you for that. An odd thing about the beloved blog is folks go on vacation, die, are raptured/abducted/bored, etc. without warning.

    I’m a presently a little shy on time/access but have been trying to find stats when I can.

    I’m glad for anything we can uncover that adds income to our town if the cost/benefit pans out. And, I do agree with the sentiment of the anti-taxers that says just because the nickel won’t save a dollar doesn’t mean we shouldn’t scrub the nickel ’til it shines.

    At the end of the day, I suspect many of us will still have ideological differences on death and tax (I relish both), but I’m all in favor of setting those aside for things that make common good sense.

    And, I probably said this in the past, but as the debate drags on into one constant migrane for EgP, please don’t mistake my ideology for animosity, and I’ll try not to do the same.

    It can be harder to judge online, but I try to toss my skinless spine towards folks who seem ready for the pitch.

    Peace neighbors.

  17. Posted July 17, 2007 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    You’ve got a deal, OEC :)

    Apparently, Vicki’s interest was piqued by my questions yesterday, so she ran some reports on her computer system and called me back this morning. According to her records, last year Taylor wrote $288,635 in overweight fines alone, and collected $181,232. She explained that collections will always be lower, as some will be successfully defended, and some will be plea bargained at a discount.

    She gave me a few leads as to who negotiated the above arrangements, but unfortunately they are no longer with the City. Since Taylor’s Council resolutions are not online, I will try to put together a FOIA request to see if the resolution approving these breakdowns offers any further information as to what kind of obstacles were encountered.

    I will also try to call today or tomorrow both the Washtenaw and Wayne County Road Commissions to see if the truck volume on I-94, Michigan, Washtenaw, and Prospect through Ypsi is anywhere near the volume on I-94 and on Telegraph through Taylor. By the condition of some of our roads, one would certainly think that, but only the data will provide an objective perspective.

  18. Posted July 17, 2007 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Cam,

    MDOT has traffic count maps online, separated into “general” and “commercial” (truck) traffic. They only covers the highways (not Prospect), and they only sample 1/3 of segments annually, so you have to flip between maps, but it’s still a useful data source to keep on hand:

    2005 detroit metro commercial average daily traffic (CADT) map: http://www.michigan.gov/documents/detmetro_19781_7.pdf

    Looks like I-94’s volume is comparable; Telegraph in Taylor is significantly higher than any of Ypsi’s other other roads, though Mich Ave from Ecorse Rd. to Hamilton is probably 2/3 Telegraph’s traffic?

  19. Posted July 17, 2007 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Cool, Murph! I will definitely check that out. I had no idea it was online, but that will make things easier.

  20. mark
    Posted July 17, 2007 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    See, this is the kind of stuff that can happen when people work together. This is fantastic. Thank you Cam, Murph, and everyone else who has contributed… I happen to know that, as a result of this thread, action is being taken at City Hall. Let’s keep the momentum going.

  21. Posted July 18, 2007 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I left a message for the 14A District Court administrator, but haven’t heard back. I’m leaving town for a trial deposition in Philly tomorrow, so I won’t be able to do much more on this until next week.

  22. Ol' E Cross
    Posted July 18, 2007 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Murph may know better if these are real services they provide, but I think if someone, say … a city council member … contacted SEMCOG (Trudy Swanson is on their Transportation Advisory Council), they’d gladly pull the data from their bulging databases.

  23. Posted July 24, 2007 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, after waiting almost a week without a callback from the 14A District Court, I left another message today. I’ll report back when I hear back from them.

  24. Posted July 25, 2007 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    An official from the 14A District Court called me back today. She did not know what the breakdowns are, but has put me on the trail of how to get that info, which I’ll keep working on.

    I’ll report back once I have more.

  25. Posted July 31, 2007 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Spoke with Lisa at the 14A District Court this morning, who referred me to Judge Simpson’s Judicial Coordinator. It’s not quite clear why this is such a difficult question to answer for a court that adjudicates the tickets and collects the fines, but I’ll keep plugging away.

  26. RT
    Posted July 31, 2007 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Thank you for staying on this, Mr. Getto.

    Hopefully the city is still working on it from their end too.

  27. Posted August 10, 2007 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    After no response to the previous voicemail I left about a week and a half ago, I left a second message with the Judicial Coordinator for Judge Simpson today. If I don’t hear back by middle of next week, I will make an inquiry in writing.

    Anyone else hear back on this? Has anyone with the City made any progress? It would be nice to know if someone has.

  28. mark
    Posted August 12, 2007 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I know the Mayor and City Manager were looking into it, but I haven’t heard anything recently. I’ll send an email this morning.

  29. Posted August 14, 2007 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    Still no call back, so I sent the following via email today:

    Dear Ms. Fisher:

    I spoke with someone in the administration office who hooked me up with Lisa Motin who then suggested I give you a call. I’ve called twice, but I haven’t gotten a call back.

    I’m currently looking into how the revenue generated from overweight fines is split between governmental entities. My research has established that in Taylor, for example, a large percentage of the fine can go into city coffers if the ticket was written by a city police officer, and that they get a percentage even when the State Police or Wayne County Sheriff writes the ticket. I’m trying to track down what arrangement the City of Ypsilanti, the State of Michigan, and Washtenaw County has with regard to these fines.

    Can you help me? If not, can you point me in the proper direction? I’d appreciate any help at all that you might be able to provide.

    Thanks in advance.

    ____________

    We’ll see what turns up.

  30. Posted August 15, 2007 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Late yesterday afternoon, I got a call from the Judge Cedric Simpson at the 14A District Court. He was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. To make a long story very short, he explained that our District Court is in a different class than the Taylor District Court, which was something I was unaware of. This classification affects how revenue from tickets is shared. He was under the impression that the revenue sharing breakdown was set by statute, and that the City of Ypsilanti would normally obtain 1/3 of the fine collected on overweight charges.

    I will be looking into the statutory authority Judge Simpson was discussed with me, and I will try to find out whether this is a matter that is negotiable among governmental units, or whether our state rep and/or senator would have to pass a bill to make the activity more lucrative for the local municipality.

  31. Posted March 5, 2008 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Saw a report on DetNews.com today that shows over $1.7 Million in tickets written (half collected) in Wayne County alone in the last fiscal year. Though this thread is old, I hope there comes a time when this issue is reconsidered and a pilot program entertained. There is little to lose, and potentially much to gain.

  32. egpenet
    Posted March 5, 2008 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    I had a copy of maps pulled from the County files at City Hall and was charged a mere $12 and change. I’d gladly pay more.

    In NYC (and we talk about Ypsi being a walkable city) it’s a $500 fine for not having your sidewalk shovelled within a reasonable time after a storm. Most of the city sidewalks are impassable or downright dangerous. Cachingo!

    Parking fines could even be bumped. I’ve paid $10 for an expired meter. That’s cheap! Cachingo!

    Fees and other fines could be bumped, and bumped again if it takes a written notice to get your buitt into the building department office … like not having a bullding permit or an HDC OK for exterior work other than maintenance or repairs. Cachingo!

    There’s a leash law in town, but it’s not enforced as a rule, unless someone calls the police. Dogs run free in Riverside and Frog Island, probably other parks, too. Cachingo!

    In addition, many official services provided at City Hall could get a 10-20% boost without causing too many grumbles or screams.

    Come’on Council, get ON IT!

  33. mark
    Posted March 5, 2008 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have time to search the archives tonight, but I thought that we picked this thread up again, and I believe the Mayor or the City Manager weighed in. I can’t recall what their reasoning was not to pursue it, but I remember someone trying to make the case that it didn’t make sense… I also recall not being convinced… I agree with Mr. Getto that it should be looked into more seriously.

  34. Paul Schreiber
    Posted March 6, 2008 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    You can look up information provided to city council at the Council Information Letters city web page. Page 4 of the August 22, 2007 CIL contains information from Chief Harshberger.

    Paul Schreiber

  35. mark
    Posted March 6, 2008 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Paul. I will check this out.

  36. Posted March 6, 2008 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Having read the document, I still don’t get what the problem is. If I’m being a moron, please feel free to spell it out so that the denser among us (me included) will get it. If it’s considered not profitable enough, what about going to the county and/or the state and trying to negotiate a bigger piece of the pie? That’s what Wayne County did, and that’s why they keep more money.

    As I’ve said before, if we don’t try – we won’t know. I’m willing to concede that it is possible that it won’t pay off. It is possible that it may not be cost effective. We won’t know unless we give it a try. I realize that my criticism can be hard to listen to, but it would appear that there are a lot of committee meetings taking place, a lot of consultants being consulted, and a lot of visioning going on, but very little by way of actual results. It’s long past time that we see some.

    One thing I know this for sure: As the economy continues to worsen, there won’t be much sympathy for municipal leaders who fail to give new ideas a try. I’d really like to hear fewer excuses and see a bit more progress.

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