Keep Ypsi Rollin’… and the case against it

A few days ago, I posted something here written by my friend Richard “Murph” Murphy on the subject of the Ypsilanti ballot initiative to raise taxes in support of public transportation. Murph, Ypsilanti’s former city planner, is an enthusiastic supporter of the charter amendment that we will be voting on this Tuesday, as are community leaders like Mayor Paul Schreiber, and City Councilman Pete Murdock, both of whom have joined him in leaving comments here, urging their fellow citizens to vote yes on the initiative. There are, however, several in the community who do not agree that a new millage is called for. Murph, in a comment left after his initial post, called one of these individuals out by name. Here’s his note, directed at local business owner Karen Maurer, who has come out on record against the public transit millage, as well as the other proposed millages on Tuesday’s ballot, followed by her response:

I will also note that I’m pretty disappointed in Karen Maurer’s leading role in the “No” PAC. With high-end downtown lofts becoming more and more substantial a part of Maurer Management’s business, I would hope they’d recognize the role that good transit service plays in helping attract the residents who fill those lofts. (Not to mention the fact that Maurer Management has received tax abatements on all of the loft projects anyways, minimizing the impact on those properties.) Many of the other landlords backing the PAC primarily rent to EMU students, and so have a more captive audience (and one with shorter memories), but Maurer’s lofts rely on attracting residents who could be anywhere.

I admire the dedication that Eric and Karen Maurer have shown to downtown, and appreciate the impact they’ve made in bringing new residents to Michigan Avenue. But if they’re going to continue their success, and if we’re going to keep attracting residents and business to Ypsilanti when they have choices elsewhere, we need to maintain the amenities like transit (and libraries, incidentally) that these residents would like. It’s shortsighted to kill the goose laying the golden eggs just because you don’t want to pay for goose food.

I would encourage anyone who is a tenant of Maurer Management (or any of the other landlords involved, for that matter) to express their disappointment with the “NO parks, libraries, or transit” stance that they’ve come up with.

And, here, as promised, is Karen’s response:

Murph, thank you for all your help to us when you were the Ypsilanti City Planner. You have been invaluable to our efforts in rehabilitating buildings Downtown.

For the past few years the economy in Michigan has been in terrible shape, the worst I have ever experienced. This past year alone I have had 6 evictions, commercial tenants on the verge of collapse, bankers fining me on a yearly basis because the buildings we own do not meet the debt service ratio, increases in water bills, gas bills, attorney fees and reduced rents. In year 2009 we had 7 small business in one commercial property close their doors because they had to file bankruptcy or go out of business. This past month alone I received two emails from two different tenants who vacated the premises and moved out of the State, one to Texas and one to Virginia, even though they signed a lease. The state of the economy in Michigan is no laughing matter, and we are very affected by circumstances beyond our control.

Maurer Management has still continued to rehabilitate the Mack & Mack Building and begin rehabilitation on the Mellencamp Building. We are committed to the restoration of our Downtown and to the betterment of the City of Ypsilanti and I have personally given every effort to make the City a better place by serving on numerous boards and committees.

I am supportive of the bus, library and parks but I do not know how I can continue to pay the current bills that I have and then even more. Helping on the NO campaign was not an easy decision. My obligations have to be focused on paying the current bills that I have and I am behind like everyone else. That being said I do think that the bus millage will pass so all of this will be over on Tuesday and hopefully we can all continue to work together to make Ypsilanti a better place.

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  1. Paul Schreiber
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    Although I don’t agree with Karen on the transit charter amendment, she and husband Eric have helped renovate and revitalize Ypsilanti. Their properties have been on the historic home tour multiple times. I look forward to seeing the Mellencamp apartments on the home tour in the near future.

    Paul Schreiber

  2. Lisa
    Posted October 31, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    Wow, that was a civil discourse between people who disagree. I might even call it “sane”.

  3. Posted October 31, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    I blame that damn Jon Stewart.

  4. SOE
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    People renovating high end lofts downtown don’t want to look out their windows, or walk to their hip cafes and have to deal with poor, downtrodden roustabouts waiting at the terminal to catch a bus to their low wage job, government paid tuition classes, or catching a ride to the local grocer to cash in their WIC. That’s the real problem. They are the same jerks who spoke up at the “Ypsitucky” council meetings last year. They sucked then, and they suck now, no matter how many apartments they fix up. Sorry, just my opinion. You can crucify me now.

  5. Lorie Thom
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I also don’t agree with Karen but understand her position and appreciate the effort she and Eric have put into Ypsilanti.

    I would like to note that businesses have come and gone in Ypsilanti for a very very long time. What Karen reports is not something new or out of step with the past in Ypsilanti or the current economic situation in Michigan generally.

    That said, my household in Ypsilanti depends on a business in Ypsilanti that depends on public transportation in Ypsilanti to bring clients/customers to it. No bus in Ypsi, no biz in Ypsi. I would argue that we are far from the only ones.

    I believe it is vital for Ypsilanti to remain connected to Ann Arbor and its larger economic base so we can continue the progress are making.

  6. notoneofthecoolkids
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Ms. Maurer wrote:
    …”bankers fining me on a yearly basis because the buildings we own do not meet the debt service ratio…”

    I ask – if your banks are fining you, then why in the hell did you go out and buy another building?
    I don’t feel a bit sorry for you. Don’t go buy a building (or 30 buildings) and then moan that you carry toooooo much debt!
    I am so freaking sick of hearing landowners/landlords in this town, (Beal, your buddy is one) moaning about how much they have done for Ypsi , and then in the next breath you moan that your debt ratio is to high and that you are sick of all the evictions, lease skippers, and city taxes.
    I have an idea for you Ms. Maurer. How about you take all your empty apartments and force your hourly min. wage workers to live in them and make it “part of their pay”! That way they won’t need public transportation to get to work because they live right at their jobs! Matter of fact, open a company store, and they never will have to leave your properties.

    I will not kiss your ass like the mayor does in his letter posted above. I do no begrudge you your successes, but I will never thank any person for buying anything or starting any business in my town. We are a City not a High School, the city officials need to stop acting like cheerleaders for only the “cool kids.”

  7. Edward
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    Ypsilanti, like it or not, is going to have landlords. There are people with money, who are going to see the opportunity present in undervalued properties, assume the risk, and buy them in hopes that they can find tenants. It happens. The previous generation had Kircher. We have the Maurers. All things being equal, I’d rather have the Maurers. With that said, however, I do appreciate where Mr. Cool Kid is coming from. It’s hard to hear successful people bemoaning their hardships. Still, though, I’m glad that they’re here. And I’m glad they’re willing to stand up and say what they think, even when, as Karen notes, it’s pretty much a sure thing that this will pass. Civil discourse is a good thing.

  8. Ted
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Can we call the Mellencamp Building the Johnny Cougar Building, at least for the first few years?

  9. Ted
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    On a serious note, how much is this millage likely to increase the taxes of the average household per year?

  10. Sylvia
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    notoneofthecoolkids, you obviously have a problem with business people who are successful and who see a future in making their success Ypsis success.
    I, for one, appreciate the Mauers and all they have done for downtown to help raise the quailty of life for people living and working in the area. Without them, NO ONE would of done the job that these risk takers have done. Downtown has been in a mess for the last 50 years.
    Thank you Mauers for risking all that you have and your family assets on making Ypsi a better place. I hope you are successful because if you are, we all are.

  11. Oliva
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Ted, from

    “Residents whose homes have a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $97.89 more annually.” –

    May potential win out over parsimony tomorrow–here and across this vast country.

  12. Kim
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    So, we pay a hundred bucks, and then, if we want to take the bus, we still have to pay, right?

  13. Oliva
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    A lot of homes here don’t have a taxable value of $100,000 . . . but they can again someday (especially with the help of fortifying essential services plus amenities that make life much better).

  14. Hubcap
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I join those who both applaud the work of the Maurers, and sympathize with them for the hardships their business faces in this extraordinarily bad economy. Nonetheless I don’t think it would be unfair of them to give back, in the form of the bus millage, a small portion of the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tax credits that they may have received for buying and rehabbing their investment properties.

    By the way, their “Stop Taxation” PAC implies that the Natural Areas proposal is a “New Tax”; it is NOT. It is a renewal of a very modest .2409 mils, which (unless my hasty calculation is way off) will cost me about $11 per year.

  15. dragon
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    “If you could only be as hard working and sensitive as we are, for just five minutes, the unbridgeable gap between us would make you weep with gratitude that you avoid the weight of our enormous range of choices!”

  16. Posted November 1, 2010 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    I hadn’t seen Karen’s response yet, Mark – thanks for popping it up to the top.

    I do want to repeat and be very clear that I admire the hard work that the Maurers have put into downtown over the past several years, and don’t wish them anything but success. Both with the work that they’ve put into the buildings themselves and, as Karen notes, service on the DDA, the 2020 Task Force, etc, they’ve been good citizens and a great force for the improvement of downtown over the 5 years I’ve been here. They remain on my short list of recommendations for when people ask, “I’m thinking of moving to Ypsi – where should I look for an apartment?”

    But again, the problem is that most of those inquiries also have transit service as a requirement. When friends ask me, “Hey, I’m thinking of moving from Ann Arbor (or Chicago) to Ypsi – I need a decent apartment with a good landlord within a couple blocks of the bus station,” well, it gets a lot harder to recommend any landlord at all without the transit side of the equation.

    Whether personal friends, work acquaintances, or random people on online forums asking, “Hey, I’m moving to Ann Arbor – where should I live?” I make the Ypsi pitch to somebody probably once a month. Considering the realities of our regional economy, though, most of these people work in Ann Arbor – and most of them specifically want to know that they can get there by bus. (The “moving from Chicago” example was a faculty couple, others are grad students, or work in downtown A2.) Were it not for transit service, Ypsi wouldn’t even be an option for these people. (As I’ve noted before, my own household is one of those that would never have looked at Ypsilanti if we couldn’t get back and forth by AATA.)

    I certainly understand the tax concerns – my own monthly mortgage bill is no picnic, but of course I also spent a fewyears catching the concerns of every person buying a building or starting a business in Ypsilanti, so I feel like I have a decent sample. I understand that taxes are a concern to residents and businesses and developers – but I also know, both from that experience and the personal lobbying of people to move to town, that we’ll never get them here without a certain quality of life and quality of place. If they’re not willing to consider coming here in the first place, then they never even get to the point of considering the taxes.

    All that is why I say that transit is a critical piece of economic development for Ypsilanti. Again, I’m better at essays than soundbites, but hopefully this is an audience that can appreciate that.

  17. Candace
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    …“Residents whose homes have a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $97.89 more annually.” –…

    There are very few homes in Ypsi that have a taxable value of $100K. I would know; I’m the Chair for the Tax Board of Review and see what everyone’s values are and also HOW much all of our property taxes have lowered in the last 3 years – due to the bad economy.

    For me – who lives in an 1800 square foot historical house in College Heights the transportation millage will cost me about $67/year.

    I’m OK with that as, literally, within one block of my house 5 people take the bus every day to go to work in downtown Ann Arbor.

    If we didn’t have that bus we wouldn’t have these great neighbors who live in Ypsi and pay their tax bills.

  18. Andy C
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Once again Proposal A is NOT a new tax OR an increase. Proposal A will renew the current 0.25-mill levy at the same rate. It cost the average home owner less than $24 a year.

    Typical “taxed enough already” misinformation bullshit.

    More info here.

  19. Posted November 1, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    To the specific question of “how much will this cost?” –

    According to the City Assessor, the median home in the City of Ypsilanti has a taxable value of $50,200, meaning the charter amendment would cost about $48 annually right now. That taxable value has been on a downward trend recently, and is expected to continue next year, meaning that it would actually most likely be less than that by the time it actually appears on your taxes.

    In fact, as some have pointed out, the City’s forecast of taxable value means that most of us can expect to pay less in taxes next year even with this.

  20. whatsupwithMI
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    What I appreciate about Ypsi is that for a city of historically blue-collar workers, the people here have (also historically) cared enough about this city to vote for money that is applied to the public good.

    This means I pay a little more for my property taxes but I can *see* the effect of the monies.

    The Mauers and others have chosen *here* in part for location, but in part for the positive effects this local attitude has preserved. Else, they would develop in Taylor, Romulus, or Flint.

    I work for a company that is saving a huge amount of money in federal, state, local, tax breaks, as well as outright cash GIFTS from the city of AA. They are passing nothing along and the workers may as well be working in India (with USA / AA cost of living).

    I am happy that the Mauers see what we locally care about and have for years supported with our diminishing personal revenues, are willing to use the huge incentives available and are working within this little 4.x square miles, and I hope they continue to have a sense of perspective about this quite small % out of pocket.

  21. Posted November 1, 2010 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Candace also said the following online today. (I asked her if I could reprint it here, and she said yes.)

    So, how is it OK with the landlords for ME to pay THEIR kids school taxes but they can’t pay for others to be able to take the bus in and out of town?

    Do you know what happens 2 towns when you take away public transportation; it turns into Flint (no offense anyone; it’s a realistic example).

    So, my disappointment remains at these few landlords who are happy to take my money but not happy to share their own.

  22. Posted November 1, 2010 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

    No one has mentioned light rail which is coming to Ypsilanti. Bus transportation to and from the train service is more than an amenity, it is a necessity to the train. I would also like to suggest that bus service is necessary for young people who cannot drive to get to various parts of the city and township. To the library for instance, to businesses that surround their properties, and to our parks and festivals. Bus transportation does more than get folks to and from Ann Arbor.

    I also agree with Candace above. The landlords want the benefit of taxation when it benefits them and their families directly, insist on tax breaks when they want them, and yet don’t want to fulfill the responsibility we all have to our neighbors, the less fortunate and society at large. I find this especially odd when it relates directly to something that in the long run will help put money into their pockets.

  23. Information Please
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    How much will it cost?

    Here’s an example on a real home in the City of Ypsilanti:

    Tax valuation of $55,500, so that assumes a market value of $111,000:

    Summer 2008 and Winter 2009 taxes $3522.
    Summer 2009 and Winter 2010 taxes $3420.
    Tax savings due to decrease in taxable value $102.
    Annual cost of proposed library millage on this home $17.
    Annual cost of transportation millage $54.
    Total cost of both millages $71 per year.
    Which would leave a savings of $31 over the previous year’s taxes.
    If the homeowner choses to approve the Natural Spaces County Levy for $14 per year, she/he would still be paying $17 less in property taxes.

    You do this calculation for your own property by accessing the online tax records for most of the local jurisdictions in this area at:

  24. gary
    Posted November 1, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Until I saw this thread I had no idea how tough it was for rich people like the Maurers. Between all the gas bills, attorney costs, and homes tours, it sounds like they are spread thin.

    I will be voting NO on all taxes with the hope that rich people like Erik and Karen will be able to save enough money to buy another building.

    Thank you Erik and Karen! You make Ypsilanti great.

  25. NO Entitlements!
    Posted November 2, 2010 at 7:00 am | Permalink

    My problem with all this taxing is that the users are not paying enough for their own use of these wonderful services! I walk into the library and see a room full of people on computers…. for FREE!! Free to them if they aren’t a homeowner, but on using these services because of MY tax dollars. I worked and paid for my computer and internet service. I pay for a car and the gas and maintenance to keep it going. How much do the “poor” contribute for the advantages that we working people are giving them! Tooooo much for free!!!! People need to WORK for these privileges. They are exactly that… privileges, not rights!

  26. NO Entitlements!
    Posted November 2, 2010 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    In addition, why is that AATA buses are so BIG, yet have so many empty seats on a continual basis! We have a bus stop in our front yard that feeds EMU, yet there are only a handful of people that get on and off the buses that stop all day long. Why don’t we see standing room only availability, or lines to get on the buses and the libraries like we do in the check-out lines at all the grocery stores and the Secretary of State offices? We, the tax payers don’t have the money to throw at the bus service if it is not going to be better managed and utilized. The buses run TOO frequently and they aren’t full enough! And the libraries… let computer users pay for some of the services being provided for them. If you aren’t a homeowner, you pay NOTHING! There needs to be more creative ways for users to pay for at least some of these services, and less burden on the taxpaying homeowners. Don’t get me wrong, we support these services! But tax paying homeowners currently bear too much of the burden.

  27. Hubcap
    Posted November 2, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Those who claim that the buses are running around all day mostly empty obviously have not observed the No.4 or the No.5 bus at rush hour: they’re standing room only. When I leave work on the U-M campus at 5:00, I walk downtown to the bus platform to board, instead of boarding on campus–that’s the only way I will not have to stand for most of the trip back home to Ypsi.

    By the way, how do you know that library users (who don’t own homes) are NOT paying their fair share of taxes? If they rent a room or apartment don’t they pay taxes indirectly through their rent money?

  28. murph
    Posted November 2, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    For anyone paying attention to local results, in addition to the Senate, we have the Charter Amendment for Public Transit winning at about 75% “yes”.

  29. Senator Che Guevara
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Note that the Maurer’s campaign contributions this year went to Rick Snyder as well as to the Washtenaw County Republican Committee.

  30. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    NO Entitlements! sees the boogy man in the poorest people of Ypsi, take a look at the haves in this country before pointing your finger. We subsidize the very rich w/ our tax dollars all the time. And it looks like it will continue now…those soon to expire tax cuts for the rich are suddenly looking more likely to continue, so how will we balance the budget…on the backs of the least amongst us.

  31. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I understand the Greffs (Corner Brewery ) also were for Mr. Snider…

  32. Peter Larson
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Actually renters pay more than home owners as for income properties are taxed at a significantly higher rate than main doniciles. This is often my criticism when people try to say that undocumented workers don’t pay taxes. If you live anywhere you pay.

  33. Oliva
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Murph–not only for reporting some of the best news of the night but also for standing out in the cold all that time presenting the case to voters, not to mention all the work leading up to the vote (along with others–thanks to them too). It sure was nice hearing people’s responses when you asked them to vote yes–cordial all the way around and so positive.

  34. Ingrid
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I want to thank Ypsidixit for starting it all!

  35. kjc
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    NO Entitlements:

    *My* problem is that you’re a dumbass.

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