the possibility of a debate on the proposed ypsilanti income tax

As most of you know, some friends as I started a community organization a few years ago called Ypsi Votes. Our goal was to facilitate substantive, action-oriented community dialogue around issues that we felt weren’t being dealt with productively. Over the past year or so, we’ve hosted a few events that have come off well, and, as a result, I think we have a reputation for being fairly evenhanded and effective. As the vote on the city income tax approaches, several people have approached us, and asked us to host a debate. To be honest, I personally have been against the idea. The dialogue around the issue, I thought, had become too politicized and too heated. I didn’t see how a constructive dialogue could take place… Well, lately, some of us in the organization have been rethinking it. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but the sense I get is that we’re coming to realize that a large, impartial forum of some kind might be necessary. So, I’d like to know what you think. Is there room for constructive dialogue, or has the time for something like that long since past?

As both sides have launched fairly effective marketing initiatives, are there any voters that still aren’t informed on the issue? And, assuming both sides have gotten to all of the regular voters, are there perhaps non-regular voters who could still be brought into the process? And, is there any misinformation out there that needs to be cleared up? If any of those things are true, maybe there’s reason to do something. As it is though, at least from my perspective, there’s already a surplus of information out there.

We’ve discussed it here before at length. The City is hosting a series of town hall meetings. The “Ann Arbor News” has covered it. There have been both pro and anti tax groups established. Our former Mayor has sent out personal appeals, and published her thoughts in the “Courier.” The opposition has responded. “Crain’s Detroit Business” has taken a look. A lawsuit has been filed to keep it off the ballot. Signs have started popping up in windows. And, just a few days ago, a new student group on the EMU campus held a session on the subject of the tax which drew about 40 students, faculty and staff, some of which can be found here.

So, with all of that information already out there, I’m wondering if another event is really the way to go. Might it not be better, I wonder, if we just put up a website that outlines the main points on both sides of the debate, and encourages people to print brochures to leave them around town for those without access to the internet. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I don’t have much tolerance for listening to people yell at one another, especially if it doesn’t lead anywhere… So, what are your thoughts?

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46 Comments

  1. visitor
    Posted October 7, 2007 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    I would say that not alot of good would come from a forum on the issue. There is plenty of information avaliable from both sides of the debate. The papers have covered it very well. Any forum would just lead to a shouting match in which disinformation and rumors are spread. Unfortunatley alot of political groups on a variety of issues in America have decided the best way to win a debate is to shout louder and make personal attacks against their opponents.
    The only new thing that would come from a forum would be rumors and lies. Both sides have stated their case well and now its up to the voters to decide…maybe :)
    Thats my opinion but I would definately be interested in hearing the pros of having the forum given the attention that has been focused on the issue.

  2. egpenet
    Posted October 7, 2007 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Too late for a debate.

    Once the lawsuit is handled, we’ll finally get a chance to vote “Yea” or “Nay”.

    Most everyone I know has already made up their minds.

    What you MIGHT do, if you could guarantee the secrecy and a one person/one vote, is conduct an online poll.

  3. Ol' E Cross
    Posted October 7, 2007 at 11:13 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard that the anti-tax folks were offered a slot at the city meetings to present their side and they declined, which meant the pro-tax folks weren’t allowed to present their side. The sole value of a debate, as I see it, would be to bring both sides into a public forum that the anti-tax folks seem to be avoiding (choosing, instead, to circumvent the voters through litigation).

    On the other hand, I think for a lot of voters this will come down to hard-held beliefs about the value of taxes, “big government,” public funding vs. private property rights, etc. If a debate doesn’t address these core issues, I’m not sure it will do much good for either side.

    We Americans will put banners on our Web sites saying we value transit, health care, alternative energy, etc. but when we’re asked to put a dollar amount on our values, our wallets close.

    And, no, I don’t like sitting in rooms full of red-faced folks spitting on each other.

  4. Edwards Fan
    Posted October 8, 2007 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    If only there were a way to keep the most vocal on both sides out of the room so that the matter could be discussed rationally.

    Exhibit A:
    http://ypsinews.com/index.php/political-cartoon-october-6-2007/

  5. Unfiltered
    Posted October 8, 2007 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    How about, I can’t afford it. The state is cutting my paycheck and now Ypsi wants to do the same. How about, no!

  6. Mrs. C
    Posted October 8, 2007 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Instead of suing each other, why don’t we focus on the state? Isn’t it possible that we could take them to court over the cuts in revenue sharing?

  7. mark
    Posted October 8, 2007 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s satire, Edwards Fan. I don’t think Mr. Pierce really believes that the pro-tax folks are saying that if the tax isn’t passted, “Ypsilanti will lay off firemen and hire arsonists.” I believe it was intended as humor. I think you’re right though, that it doesn’t help rational conversation.

    And I know what you mean, Unfiltered. I find my self somewhere between your postion and that of Ole’ EC. I feel as though I pay enough in taxes as it is, and I don’t want to pay a dollar more, but, at the same time, I don’t want to live in a community without the kinds of services that we’re talking about. We’re all being pushed to our breaking points and something’s got to give. And there doesn’t seem to be any way out.

  8. maryd
    Posted October 9, 2007 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Mark, we don’t have to live in a community that doesn’t provide services. We need elected officials that prioritize services and can think outside one bad choice, city income tax. I am a professed tax and spend liberal and supported the raise in state income tax, but I cannot stomach this particular city tax. it is propagated by those that have screwed up. As soon as they were elected they began to plan on how to spend the new revenue an income tax would bring, not on how to solve our problems. Any other community that wants to develop their waterfront wouldn’t put “affordable housing” condos on their river front. They said they wouldn’t balance their city budget on city employees backs but seem to willingly do so on fire and police protection (Apparently they are not the employees on whose backs “the city problems won’t be solved” maybe cuz they’re union?) Just listen to their ways to make us feel the pain: Give away our parks, close our pool, cut fire protection… all with a simple majority of 4

  9. maryd
    Posted October 9, 2007 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    Oh and by the way I do open my wallet where it counts, just not to those that would waste it away, without even an understanding of how our own city budget should work. Maybe you should attend some city council meetings. It is enlightening.

  10. Glen S.
    Posted October 10, 2007 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I believe there are still many Ypsi residents who still are learning about this proposal and/or remain undecided.

    In last year’s mayoral election, the YpsiVotes folks did a great job of publicizing the major issues surrounding the election — and provided a very effective (and neutral) forum for the candiates to state their cases, and for voters to become better informed.

    With less than 30 days until election day, time is running short. However, if YpsiVotes decides to host and run a community-wide forum on this issue, I think they would be doing the community a great favor.

  11. Ol' E Cross
    Posted October 10, 2007 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Maryd,

    What items would you have city officials prioritize and what items would you have them cut to make up the shortfall? If you can be specific about another solution, rather than casting vague accusations, I’m willing to listen.

  12. maryd
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    There was nothing vague about my accusations. Closing parks, cutting the fire dept. has all been stated in their narrative, or doomsday account. I expect our elected officials to do their job, to get their own hands dirty in the budget. To look at it line by line and make the cuts, just like our own household has to every month. But they have no plan to do that, they are myopic in their vision. It is not my job nor am I qualified to do the job they are elected to do. I certainly don’t plan on standing by and watching them cut fire fighters while they provided their directors high raises. I will work hard to elect better reps for our city in the next election cycle.
    What I do know is that the 4 councilman support only one plan and it will be bad for Ypsi and all who own homes here, and for the people that come here to work.
    As far as their dog and pony shows, the Town Hall meetings, been there done that.

  13. visitor
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Your still vague. To all the anti-tax folks be “solvency plan” specific. The parks are not going to being sold to developers to make parking lots. Maintenance would just be cut to maintain them. As for the raises please be specific as in specific numbers and positions of those who have recieved raises. If you think certain people are getting paid to much please state why and compare them with other cities of similiar size. We could get a deal on bellevilles old manager whos looking for work. He has a fake phd in theology and a fake bachelors degree. He could be qualified for any position with the click of a mouse. Heres the reality, the solvency plan was made by trained professionals and takes into account the reality of the fiscal condition of Ypsilanti. Theres a reason the anti-tax folks can’t propose an alternative to the tax without implementing the solvency plan fully. Its because the solvency plan is well thought out and any other cuts that could be made without cutting fire and police are non-existant. Cutting back on office supplies and equipment our just drops in the bucket. They will not solve our structural deficit. Ypsilanti has to much untaxable property. EMU is getting services it doesn’t pay for. Students buying beer at Theos or lunch at Jimmy Johns isn’t making up for police and fire protection. Referring to the solvency plan as doomsday is wrong. The solvency plan reflects the reality of the situation and takes into account the best way to keep the city out of recievership. The income tax will soften the blow for the residents and keep their insurance rates from skyrocketing and property values from plummeting like they would with major fire and police cuts.

  14. BrianR
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    The problem is no one wants to have a rational conversation.

    At the most recent forum at EMU, even the mayor was making stuff up when he said that six police officers would need to be cut without the passage of a City Income Tax (SOURCE). That number of officers isn’t on the solvency plan, but it’s being told at forums and on door steps all around town. Cutting police and fire has become the local equivalent of terror warnings.

    The threat level is ORANGE.

    If you look at the information the City has put out on the tax, you’ll see that their plan is to have an income tax then spend all of the $2 million general fund reserve by the end of fiscal year 2012. At that point, they would need to cut more than $1 million in 2013 and more than $3.5 million the following year.

    With or without an income tax, you’re going to get cuts. You just have to decide if you want reduced services and an income tax or just reduced services.

    It’s foolish to say this is about taxes or big government or paying for services. This is about whether or not a City Income Tax is a solution. The numbers just don’t add up.

  15. Glen S.
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    BrianR – “teror warnings?” “threat level ORANGE?”

    On the contrary: What City Council had done is to act responsibly by anticipating future budget shortfalls, developing a plan to keep the budget balanced, and presenting that plan to the voters.

    It is now up to voters to decide whether they want to adopt a modest, temporary income tax to preserve essential services at current levels (including police, fire, ordinance enforcement, and AATA)– or whether, instead, they ware willing to risk these cuts.

    This is not a “warning,” nor a “threat.” It is a CHOICE.

  16. Posted October 11, 2007 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Why not simply pledge all of our property, income and land to the wise sages that run our fair City? If we do that and open up a model commune, we can all live together in Utopian harmony, and perhaps franchise the rights to other cash-strapped communities to pay for Water Street.

    We can call it Ypsitopia.

    And I’m not just saying this because we have the best brewery and beer in all of Washtenaw County, either.

    Is there time to get this idea on the ballot?

  17. BrianR
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    Glen, you’re not telling the whole truth. As I’ve said before, the plan you support raises taxes and spends all available reserves in four years.

    What are you suggesting for 2013 and 2014?

    The only thing you can suggest is to cut.

    My point is the same exact cuts happen in FYE 2009 or FYE 2014.

    Rationalize your way out of that.

  18. visitor
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    A)Vote yes for the tax and hold off the cuts in 2014.
    B)Vote no for the tax and make those cuts in 2009.
    The more years with adequate fire and police protection the better.

  19. Glen S.
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    BrianR – No one is suggesting that the temporary income tax is a permanent solution.

    However, anyone who has lived in Michigan very long knows that our economy is prone to sharp downturns — such as we are currently experiencing — but that, eventually, things do get better.

    SEMCOG’s best estimate right now is that southeast Michigan’s economy will begin to rebound sometime around 2013-14. Eventually, job growth will resume, wages and home values will rise, and state revenues will begin to improve. When that happens, the pressure on the City budget should begin to improve, as well.

    The temporary income tax is meant to be just that – a temporary measure that allow us to maintain essential services, and basically “hold the city together” during this extremely difficult period.

    In the mean time, we all need to be working together to find realistic ways to cut costs; and to attract new residents and businesses to Ypsilanti.

    When the economy does begin to improve, I am confident that Ypsilanti, with our river, parks, historic downtowns, walkable neighborhoods, etc., will be well-positioned to benefit — but only if we continue funding basic services that keep the community viable in the mean time.

  20. BrianR
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    Again Glen, not the whole story.

    While SEMCOG is suggesting the economy will turn around, that doesn’t translate into new money for Ypsilanti.

    Proposal A and Headlee will keep our revenues rising at only the rate of inflation. Mr. Koryzno has already taken that into consideration in his projections. When the pro-tax plan runs out of money in 2013, the assumption of a state turn-around has already been put into the numbers.

    Ypsilanti’s population has been shrinking too (the only city in Washtenaw to see a decline since 2000). Revenue sharing is tied to population among other things. If our population continues to decline so will our state shared revenue. To assume that the state will fund Ypsilanti at 2000 levels is to fail to understand the state shared revenue formula.

    I’m with you on the wonderful things Ypsilanti having being a benefit to us down the road, but suggesting to spend all available monies on the hope of a miracle is irresponsible.

  21. Glen S.
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    BrianR – So what I hear you saying is that no amount of improvement in the economy is going to help us; that the State’s broken revenue-sharing formula can’t be fixed; and that efforts to stimulate new business and residential development will be futile.

    Are you suggesting that we should all just accept our fate and resign ourselves to never-ending population decline and ever-declining city services?

    I continue to have a lot of faith in this community, and as long as I live here, I intend to keep fighting to make it better.

  22. Posted October 11, 2007 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Interesting interpretation, Glen.

    Brian was implying that that the best way to move Ypsi forward is to spend more time and effort making Ypsi more attractive to prospective residents and businesses, rather than making things nice for you by shaking down students, renters and people who have chosen to take jobs here in our community. In fact, that’s pretty much a consistent theme I’ve heard in Brian’s words (which he confirms through his actions) since I met the man — that we need to abide by our common, Democratic values and use them as a guide for decision-making. (As opposed to abandoning our values by taxing the poorer and less-advantaged among us while rolling back the burden for landowners – which is precisely what your income tax does.)

    I guess we’ll just have to wait (tax or no tax) until Water Street is solved before we can make Ypsitopia happen.

    By the way, anyone remember what the City’s plan for Water Street is? All this hullabaloo about a tax seems to have pushed that off the radar.

  23. BrianR
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    The problem with the income tax discussion is that people respond emotionally rather than rationally.

    In a few short paragraphs, we’ve gone from taxes for Ypsilanti’s future to delaying cuts for four years to accusing me of saying Ypsilanti is doomed. I’m sort of afraid to see what comes next.

    Arguing back and forth on a messageboard is like dancing about architecture.

    I’m merely countering your emotional claims with information created by City Staff. You say a tax will save City services. I explain that by continuing to spend at our current rate will cause the money to run out by 2013. You say the economy in Michigan will turn around. I explain that the economy is not directly tied to increasing revenue sharing payments.

    The entire state is coming to grips with a fiscal disaster here in Michigan. Ann Arbor has been laying people off for years. Pontiac just announced they are laying off 54 employees this week (including 29 police officers) and may have to lay off 38 more employees later this year. Royal Oak is struggling with an annual budget shortfall of $1.8M. They have also eliminated 60 jobs over the past 3 years.

    A City Income Tax is a divisive issue. The City hasn’t completely healed from the recent mayoral election. This one is going to be more difficult for some people to put behind them and begin working together.

  24. Glen S.
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    It is true that many communities across Michigan are now being forced to make cuts – but I’ll bet very few, if any, of them have been cutting as long, or cutting as deeply, as we have.

    In response to declines in revenue-sharing, the closure of many of our heavy industries, and diminishing revenues due to Proposal A and Headlee, Ypsilanti has been cutting since at least the late-1990s. I remember much community angst, years ago, when Ypsilanti was forced to cut grants to local charities and social-service agencies … since then, the cuts have progressed from peripheral programs and services that are “nice to have” toward core services that are “must haves” to maintain a healthy and viable community.

    What are clean, well-maintained parks worth? Do we really need a pool or a senior center? Could we live with fewer police officers and firefighters? Who will be at risk if we cannot adquately inspect rental properties? Who will harmed if we lose AATA service?

    Forgive me if my claims are “emotional,” but I think these things are worth having and worth fighting (and paying) for.

  25. Ol' E Cross
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Brian,

    Referring to folks who disagree with you as emotional, irrational, irresponsible, foolish terror mongers doesn’t help improve the dialogue.

    From my side, suggesting regional cooperation or increased revenue from truck tickets are potential cures isn’t any more irresponsibly optimistic than hoping that things will get better in a few years.

    How is suggesting police services will be cut any more fear-mongering than suggesting businesses will flee and housing values will plummet?

    Isn’t it more likely that businesses and residents will respond differently and we really can’t predict their behavior? (After all, the owners of two of the most successful new businesses in Ypsi favor the tax.)

    One landlord says a tax will increase rents, another predicts rents will fall. There’s a lot of guessing going on.

    If there is one cold fact, it’s that with a tax the city will have more income in the next few years than without one. From there, we all slide into speculation.

    You just have to decide if you want reduced services and an income tax or just reduced services.

    That oversimplifies it a bit, doesn’t it? We have decide how drastically we want to reduce services and how soon. You don’t deny that the income tax will provide some short-term relief? I know the anti-taxers say we’re just “kicking the can down the road,” but I’m all for kicking.

    If my doctor tells me I have cancer and only a few months to live without treatment, or can hang on five years with treatment, I’m taking the treatment, however unpleasant.

    After all, maybe in five years, science will advance and there will be better treatments. I don’t see how that’s irrational, to me it seems prudent.

  26. BrianR
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    The operation of Riverside and Frog Island Parks has tenatively been turned over to the Depot Town CDC.

    Rental inspection isn’t even mentioned in the solvency plan.

    We currently spend $59K per year on recreation. In 2006, City Council voted to redistribute $336K from the Core Communities Fund that was originally approved for Water Street to fund a riverfront pant and recreational improvements to the building of an elevator for the Riverside Arts Center.

    The elevator project is predicted to cost upwards of $1M. It has become highly unlikely that the project will ever happen. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on recreation? That’s $336K that could be put towards the pool, the senior center, and Parkridge. Are you with me on that?

    AATA is another funny one to me. A previous Council unanimously opposed a charter amendment that would have guaranteed funding for busing. It cut payments to the AATA in years wherein they had surpluses of $600K and $300K, respectively. A previous Council unanimously recommended a fare increase. A previous Council unanimously offered support for a regional bus millage. Council doesn’t want the bus subsidy to come from the General Fund, they want a regional millage.

    Again, to take the emotion out of this you need to explain how the plan you support will pay for these things in 2013 and 2014. And if you keep wanting to call the tax temporary, you need to explain how you fund these things after the tax expires.

    The cuts in 2013 and 2014 will need to be massive under your premise of spending all reserves. We’re talking more than $3.5M in 2014 alone. What kind of effect will a dramatic gutting of services in one year have on the communities as opposed to spreading it out?

  27. egpenet
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Brian’s examples of monies that could be reallocated to keep basic services afloat are telling.

    The choice, by example is: 1) an elevator to nowhere or, 2) keeping fire department teams at five or six.

    In light of the GM and Chrysler settlements …

    1) I wonder what our chances are with the several municipal unions regarding early buyouts, health care and retirement.

    2) I wonder what other previously negotiated deals could be unwound … refinanced … placed on slow pay … moved to a back burner … even dropped.

    3) Our public housing situation is shameful. Why are we in THAT business? Fire all those guys and sell those places to a private developer who’ll fix them up …
    or demolish them … and get those folks and kids into decent places to live. (Lots of available rentals in town these days.)

  28. Posted October 11, 2007 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    “How is suggesting police services will be cut any more fear-mongering than suggesting businesses will flee and housing values will plummet?”

    One involves the threat of violence, rape, murder and robbery by vagabonds and scalliwags.

    The other involves just the threat of robbery by elected vagabonds and scalliwags.

    Sorry, couldn’t let it go . . . ;)

  29. egpenet
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Hang on, Trusty, gonna be quite a ride!

  30. Ol' E Cross
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Trusty,

    We’re all, in some hypothetical fantasy, afraid of voilent crime. But most of us, have never experienced it. We don’t assume that if crime increases, we will automatically be effected.

    On the other hand, if housing values plummet, we know we landowners will definately be effected.

    One fear offers lower odds but higher consequence, the other offers higher odds but lower consequences, i.e., there’s a small chance you’ll be robbed vs. there’s a certainty you’ll lose your nest egg. I think most folks are more afraid of losing their home investment than their stereo. And so, you might be robbed is less fear inspiring than you will lose everything.

    And, yes, lets keep the debate civil by adding scalliwags to emotional fools. (I’m not taking this personal, I know I’m a emotional scalliwag, albeit an unelected one … smile/wink.)

    Brian,

    “The elevator project is predicted to cost upwards of $1M.” Since we’re talking about balancing the city budget, how much of the $1M is coming from the city budget?

    Spread out the cuts? Better to close one park one year and another next than close them all at once a few years later? Is your vision really that you’re gonna lose the hand, so better to cut off one finger a year than keep all the fingers and cut the whole hand off in five years? I fail to see the difference, esp. if there’s a chance that in five years things will change and you might keep some extra digits.

    Egpenet,

    So you’re suggesting that Riverside Arts is “nowhere” or that it should just be “nowhere” to folks who can’t climb the stairs? And, it’s nice to wonder about cutting folks retirement, but there’s too much wondering right now. Let me know if you find anything concrete.

    I’m too drunk right now for this ride. I think I’ll go try to pick on Mark or something.

  31. Ol' E Cross
    Posted October 11, 2007 at 11:53 pm | Permalink

    Ah, Mark picking can wait.

    Brian,

    This is a sincere question. You ran, partly, on openess in gov. You’ve crunched the numbers. What cuts do you, as a councilmember expect, and, however begrudlingly, approve over the next five years assuming the city tax fails?

    (Without the uncertain hopes of a baseball stadium, regional bale-outs, pension cuts, etc. i.e., given what we know today, what can we anticipate tomorrow, that is, every year to 2014.)

    I know you’re a details guy, please be detailed.

    (If you’d rather post this on your blog, that’s cool, just put a link here when it’s ready.)

  32. rodneyn
    Posted October 12, 2007 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    What cuts should we approve?

    Cut City Hall staff down to a City Manager, a City Clerk, and a City Finance Director; plus two clerks. Keep one city planner, or better yet hire a consultant to provide any necessary planning services to the City.

    Close down the DDA operations, except for servicing the debt. Shut down the West Cross streetscape improvement project.

    Replace the current city attorney (Mr. Barr), and renegotiate or put out for bid all other city contracts.

    Move the remaining City Hall staff members into the former DDA offices or other offices owned by the City (fire hall or public works). Close City Hall and put it up for rent or sale (it’s a true white elephant anyway). If that’s not feasible, consolidate the remaining staff on to one floor and rent out the remaining floors of the building.

    I read somewhere the claim that City administration has been cut 30%. This is ludicrous. City administration hasn’t been cut. We still have an Asst. City Manager, with a much higher salary than our last one. We still have a remarkable collection of city planners, as many as we’ve ever had. We still have a full complement of DDA staff, and a fine collection of clerks.

    Hundreds of thousands of dollars could be saved with little public pain by eliminating non-Charter and non-public safety employees. We have the revenue from existing sources to live within our means, if we choose to do so. The sooner we get beyond the income tax nonsense, the sooner we can do what’s right to get the Ypsi ship of state righted and refloated again.

  33. Posted October 12, 2007 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    Actually, “scalliwags” was just a lame attempt at humor, as was the comment about Ypsitopia.

    At this point, I find the “debate about a debate” be be little more than amusing.

    If the pro-tax folks have been out canvassing, then they know what most of the rest of us know — that this vote is going down in flames. The comments above about the need to “inform” people is utterly ridiculous. This debate’s been going on for years now, and we are three weeks out from the election. If people are saying they “need more info” to the pro-tax folks, then they are really just finding a polite way to end the conversation without disclosing that they intend to vote no.

  34. DW
    Posted October 12, 2007 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    I’ve come to this damn site at least 10 times today to see if Brian had answered the question put to him by OEC about what cuts he expects, assuming the tax does not pass. I have sincerely not made up my mind yet on how I will vote, and the answer to this question would help me quite a bit.

  35. egpenet
    Posted October 12, 2007 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    OEC –

    The third floor of the RAC (at the moment) is nowhere. But you miss the point, which is to prioritize the spending.

    Another point is to take this opportunity to get city government out of some activities which could/should be in the hands of private business and/or charities … like public housing, for instance.

  36. Glen S.
    Posted October 12, 2007 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    DW – Perhaps it is easier to spin doomsday scenarios about how Ypsilanti will fall apart if we pass a modest income tax than to actually develop an alternative plan and then have to defend it to Ypsilanti voters.

  37. egpenet
    Posted October 12, 2007 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    OEC, et.al. –

    While you’re waiting for BR to respond, you can go to the City website and view the 239 page 2006-2007 fiscal year budget. Get out your red pencil and practice coming up with enough cuts to cover the deficit.

    Later, you can compare lists and priorities.

  38. rodneyn
    Posted October 12, 2007 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    That’s right, I forgot about the Housing Commission.

    More cuts:

    Privatize the Housing Commission entirely – re-inventing our 1960’s vision of public housing would go a long way to improving the lives and increasing the independence of our poorest residents.

    Drop the AATA subsidy. I know that’s a scary thing to do, but perhaps our illustrious former Mayor can take a moment to for a Friends of the Bus group to raise private funding – along the lines of our other successful “friends” groups. You know, Friends of Rutherford Pool, Friends of the Freighthouse, Friends of Chickens, etc.

    Make the deal to merge the city and township fire departments.

    Between my two lists, I guesstimate that there is more than $1 Million in annual savings. It’s not pretty, but it would work.

  39. egpenet
    Posted October 12, 2007 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    Bus fare … ride the bus, pay the bus … drive your car, pay Al Gore.

    I gladly pay the USPS .41 to take a letter from my house to any house in the United States. Why does it cost humongously more money to get to Ann Arbor on a bus? Beats me. OK. Legacy costs … gotta give the driver a condo in Florida for retirement.

    Man, I wish I was the City Manager of Saline. I quit. Gimme money! And they did!
    It grows on trees there. Last time I drove to Saline, it took me 20 minutes to get from State Street to downtown. What a crock.

  40. mark
    Posted October 13, 2007 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Brian, I’m also waiting to see what you’re recommending in the way of cuts. I understand that you might want to post it on your own site instead of here. If that’s the case, just let me know when it goes up, and I’ll link to it from here.

    And thanks, everyone else, for contributing to the conversation.

  41. Posted October 13, 2007 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    egpenet:

    Bus fare … ride the bus, pay the bus

    There are no North American transit systems that have 100% farebox recovery rates (that is, how much of total costs are covered by fares). Not even Toronto or NYC, which have farebox recovery rates of ~45-50%.

    AATA service can’t be supported through fares alone – nor should it be expected to be, when you take into account the positive externalities of bus service. Even non-riders benefit from AATA, so non-riders should pay. There’s no good way to send them a bill, so a tax-backed government subsidy is the economically best option available. If you try to cover costs with fares alone, you’re asking bus riders to pay for the benefits that non-riders are enjoying, in addition to the benefits that the riders enjoy, making it too expensive for the riders, and, in general, underproviding the service: 100% farebox recovery is an economically inefficient idea.

    (And, if you want to claim that drivers pay their own costs, so why shouldn’t AATA riders, I’d invite you to put that thought on hold while you pull out your latest property tax bill and glance at the line about major street resurfacing…)

    I’m not trying to say that the exact amount we currently pay for the exact service that we currently get is exactly where we should be, mind you. But I’ve seen you state a couple of times before that bus riders should pay for bus service, imagining that this is the economically optimal method, and had to respond to that. Sorry – it’s just a personal hang-up that goes with the degree in transportation planning…

  42. egpenet
    Posted October 13, 2007 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    We (Ypsilanti) have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make real changes to promote growth and development, and to secure the future vitality of this city.

    Business as usual … meaning, oops the ground is too polluted to build apartments … or oops, there are hidden vaults under thee proposed parking lot … or HUD says it has to be so … or we have to use debt on top of debt to finance and attract talented personnel … or, oops, “Our bus company just can’t make it on fares, so we demand subsidies from the cities we serve” …

    Murph, as Cheech would say, “I love’ya, man!” But are you saying that the Rocket, which brings people into the city and provides a public benefit, should get a subsidy? Are you saying that the city should grant a subsidy to WEMU because they are “public” radio?

    I DO owe to the director, staff and tenants of Ypsilanti Public Housing, an apology for the tone and the rant I made on another of these threads. Given the system of public housing in the USA and HUD’s heavy handed ways of controlling the destinies of its supplicants … I promise to do my homework. I have reviewed theee Tenant’s Manual, the latest budget figures and STILL for the life of me cannot figure out the Section 8 formula.

    On top of that, I visited all of the YHC sites in the city on a drive-thru, and came away more convinced than ever that we have created a system that literally traps people (women and children, and gthe aged poor) in poverty.

    I look at the Annual Report of the smiling staff and look at the photos at Parkridge and the images I saw today and I simply cannot add them up.

    Again, I can also see the changes Mr. Norris and the board have made … but why are we in the business of providing housing, especially poorly built, sub-standard housing. I look at the inspection reports and … I was a single parent at one time raising two kids on a freelance writer’s income … why are these children living like this?

    Rewind THAT tape … the answer is that that’s how we treat folks when they fall through the cracks. Oh. We lock up the guys and give money to the ladies who get pregnant.

    I’m walking my dog down to the Riverside Park the othwer day and meeet a bunch of guys “hangin” on the steps. Chit-chat. Yah, I got off the tether the other day, but gotta go back to D’troit for a job at McD’s and the “B” and the kid are here … gotta do what I gotta do fo’me. She be coo.”

    Another baby without a Dad. If he moves in, out she goes! HUD rules!

    Murph, “Love’ya,man!”

    The whole systeem is stacked against the city, you and me, the folks at YHC and Ypsilanti. And what does Jennifer do ? She raises taxes! She beat the city to the trough! And what did Bernacki do last week in DC? He printed more money and inflated the dollar!

    If I go to the Ypsi Coin Shop I have to pay over $1 US to buy a freekin’ Loonie! That’s nuts! All they have up there is moose and squirrels.

    We have a chance to work with the townaships and the city of Ann Arbor and the Country to really change things around hereee … but, no. Let’s just throw more money at the problem.

    I was a terrible corporate employee … I ALWAYS questioned why things were the way they were (BAD Catholic, for the same reasons). As a freeelancer, I was dynamite, because I could be the anarchist that I am, get away with it, and get PAID for innovation.

    The State has screwed it all up. No saviour in Lansing. The income tax will not affect me heree becausee I am 63 and don’t pay income taxes.

    But whether its AATA fares or YHC or Water Street … I love and support Ypsilanti. And it is for all of the above and for these reasons as well that I say STOP!

    We call it Depot Town because people go there to get on and get off. I want a well-run and superbly-tuned government at the local level. The city gets a lot of money and spends every single penny it gets … not always wisely. We supported YUCA increases and we bit the bullet on streets. We are not selfish people and we will invest in the city. But the (brownfield) screw-ups are intolerable. The “vault” issues pissed off the business people. And the curbs, YHC fire, etc. opened up cans and cans of worms.

    On top of all that … there is a lot of sour grapes in town. Everybody is piling on. My own “rants” offend many, including his honor.

    Back to square onee … we cannot go on borrowing against the future. There is no future in Lansing … other than more taxes. If Hillary or any other Democrat gets elected in November 2008, there will be more Feederal taxes! Batta bing, batta boom!

    The mayor’s forecast of less than a cup of coffee, goes well beyond the governor’s less than a cup of coffee and a donut, and now become a total package of a medium pizza a day! Two cups of coffee, one donut and a medium pepperoni pizza/day … that’s $8-10 a day x 365 … geee, sweet, onlu another $3600/4000 a year for the average American family. Pffff! Nothing! Easy!

    Parkridge, here we come. What’s that formula?

  43. Ol' E Cross
    Posted October 13, 2007 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    Ed,

    Besides moose and squirrels, they’ve got government health care and tax rates that would make Granholm blush … yet, the looney beats the buck.

  44. Glen S.
    Posted October 14, 2007 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    While we’re waiting to hear from BrianR about what he proposes in the way of cuts, I thought it might be worthwhile to review what he proposed two years ago, on his blog: http://www.east-cross.com/

    Regionalization
    September 28th, 2005

    If you are a fan of all-things-Ypsi or if just like seeing people yell at City officials, then tomorrow’s third Town Hall Meeting is the place for you.

    In an effort to get better informed about the City’s financial future, there will be a meeting in room 107 of the Towner Center to discuss how we can save money by collaborating with the County. Of all the Town Hall meetings, this one seems to be the most ethereal. When Washtenaw County says Ypsilanti’s financial crisis is not their fault, they mean it. Working closely with the County to save money is a good idea, but it’s not going to be our road to solvency. It probably doesn’t deserve a two hour meeting to itself, but we hope to thoroughly explore all of our options. Realistically, there should be a single question asked to the panel of experts:

    What services do the County and City both provide that are a duplication of efforts and offer the potential for efficiency and cost-savings? Payroll? Assessing? Economic Development? Etc?

    After that question is asked and answered, we can turn the floor over to Lee Tooson and Tyrone Wilson, and they can call Mayor Farmer and City Manager Ed Koryzno racists for the remainder of the meeting.

    I’ve been to both of the Town Halls and can say with certainty that there hasn’t been a single decent idea. Some guy did come close to suggesting something though. He said budgets and staffing of both the Fire and Police departments should be untouched, DPW staffing should be reduced by 3%, and the rest of City Staff should be cut by 20%.

    Okay. I’m game. Let’s see if this guy’s suggestion makes any sense.

    I preface this state by saying the information I am using comes from City officials or the City’s web site. If it’s not correct, take it up with them, not me.

    The City’s budget is $13.511M
    The Fire Department’s budget is $2.237M
    The Police Department’s budget is $4.479M
    The DPW employs 26.75 people. The spreadsheet of City employee salaries that
    was distributed after the last meeting conveniently omits those of the DPW, but their entire bugest is $1.416M. In order to flesh out this guy’s scenario, we’ll assume a straight 3% cut in their budget (or $42K) bringing their new number down to $1.374M.

    Summing those three departments, we get $8.09M.

    Knowing the looming budget shortfall is $2.5M, we need to hack that amount (or 46%) out of the remaining $5.5M in budget.

    Okay. So this guy’s plan wasn’t very good, but at least he tried. More importantly, he didn’t call anyone a racist in doing so.

    Let’s try a more realistic look at cutting salary.

    As luck would have it, Ypsilanti’s current head of the DDA is leaving to continue her magic with parking lots in Chelsea. Counting Social Security and workers compensation payments by the City plus fringe benefits associated with the position, the savings comes to $69,077.

    Understanding that it’s fashionable to pick on the Planning Department, we’ll continue our cutting there. If we get rid of the two planning interns, we save an additional $29K a year. Taking the axe to two more members of said Planning Department, we can save an additional $106,642 bringing our total from the department to $204,719. That would still leave a Director and one Planner. I understand that it’s not an ideal situation and people would have to work harder, but the City would still have two capable employees with which to conduct business.

    The Building and Ordinance Inspection Department employs six people. We could eliminate ordinance enforcement and save $47,419. It’s not a popular move, but if we consider that the type of ordinances the City has been trying to enforce lately are going to cost us more in legal fees, it’s a reasonable cut. More importantly, the Fire Department should be cross-trained to enforce ordinances by now meaning the current position is a
    duplication of efforts. The City could also get rid of the single meanest employee in all of City Hall by reducing the number of secretaries from two to one thus saving $49,034. For the sake of argument we’ll use that number, but I would guess that being part of AFSCME, the secretary with the least seniority would get the axe and the mean secretary would just get a job somewhere else in the building. Regardless, we just saved $96,453 from the Building Department bringing our running total to $301,172.

    If we cut the City Manager’s office by one, we could save $70,583. That’s one of the more difficult cuts in my opinion, but that position is probably more of a luxury for a City on the verge of receivership. The running total is up to $371,755 or just 15% of the goal of $2.5M.

    As a gesture of good faith, the Mayor and City Council could forego their salaries and save $40,695. It’s not a lot of money, but they could show us they feel our pain. We’re up to $412,450 in savings now.

    The City’s Assessor is supposed to retire next year (a savings of $72,769). If we can have the County do our assessing and appraising, we could save an additional $42,824. Admittedly, we’d have to pay the County a fee for those services, but until the question of “how much” can be answered tomorrow, let’s assume zero for the time being. That brings the running total to a whopping $528,043.

    Sticking with the idea of farming services out to the County, let’s have them do our payroll for us. We’ll keep the same assumptions we used for assessing and realize a savings of $42,829. The new total becomes $570,872.

    I’m willing to try and make the argument that the positions I’ve recommended to be cut won’t impact the overall quality of living much. No doubt it’s going to impact it some, but you have to admit these cuts are on the low-risk side of the equation.

    Two additional options that have been floated around are eliminating the DDA (saving $125K) and eliminating the subsidy to the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority (saving $180K). The grand total is now $875,872. That’s not bad for a half an hour lunch. If I hadn’t brought such a large sandwich, I probably could have looked at the finer details like office supplies and the like, but I’m only willing to cut so much and a hot pastrami sandwich isn’t one of those cuts.

    So what does this tell us other than we’re screwed? I guess it says that we need a combination of cuts and revenue increases. Up to now, no one has been willing to seriously look at a combination of both. I hope when the State appoints the emergency financial manager to oversee Ypsilanti’s receivership, he or she is really nice person.

    I hope to see you all tomorrow.

  45. Posted October 14, 2007 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Egpenet,

    I’m not saying we should sit and be complacent with the way things are, or the way things have always been done. I’m saying we have limited leverage on certain things.

    Continuing on a theme, we can’t just cut bus subsidies, then wave our hands and make AATA magically work differently, because American public transit systems just don’t work that way. Either we have to come up with an alternate way of paying AATA, or live with the solution they come up with (which will likely entail cutting Ypsi service, which, as the KYR group so devotedly pointed out last year, would be disastrous for a lot of residents). Remember that Ypsi has absolutely zero decision-making power in AATA – its board is completely appointed by the Mayor of Ann Arbor.

    I’m perfectly fine with saying, “We need to get out of the general fund transit subsidizing business.” Clearly, it’s not a stable way to run a decent regional transit service. My only hangup is “what comes next?” and when do we put that together?

  46. egpenet
    Posted October 14, 2007 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    We’d better start now.

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