Ypsilanti City Council stares into the budget abyss

As you all know, the city of Ypsilanti has been in a perpetual budget crisis for the past half dozen years, with insolvency looming in the not so distant future the whole time. In spite of this fact, however, we’ve somehow managed to keep on going. Well, it’s looking as though the end may now be near – that we have finally reached the point where we can no longer continue on by just cutting deeper into the bone and further consolidating those few services that we still offer. Over the past several months, our City Council has been holding special “budget” sessions, during which our few remaining options have been explored. One such session took place last Tuesday night, and MM.com reader Glen S. was in attendance. What follow are his notes.

The bottom line is this: If the City’s projection come anywhere near to coming true, our budget situation is much worse than many (even many pessimists, like me) could have imagined — with the City’s balance-sheet going “negative” sometime around 2015 — and the gap continuing to grow wider each year, after that.

As you know, municipal finances are complex and can be hard to understand, but here are the primary factors with which we will have to contend…

On the revenue side:

* Property values (and taxes) have dropped considerably, and will likely continue to fall — although perhaps somewhat less steeply than in the last few years.

* So-called “statutory” revenue-sharing from Lansing will remain available — but only through a process in which Ypsilanti must “compete” with other communities (based on standards set by the Governor’s Office) to gain a share of an ever-shrinking pool of funds.

* Lansing will likely soon eliminate the personal property tax (on business equipment and inventory), perhaps without a replacement to make up for revenue that communities, like Ypsilanti, will lose.

On the expense side:

* Despite the fact that we have significantly fewer City employees than just a few years ago, and wage increases for those who remain have been relatively flat — fringe costs (mostly sky-rocketing health insurance premiums) will likely continue to rise.

* A sharp rise in the number of City employees who have retired — or are soon to retire — will soon create a pension/benefit expense “time bomb.”

* Payments on the Water Street bonds will require approximately $1.3 million per year (out of a current, total General Fund budget of approximately $12.6 million) until sometime around 2030.

The bottom line:

Essentially — if we continue on our current course — the only way to remain solvent (and likely, the only way to keep Ypsilanti from being taken over by an unelected, unaccountable “Emergency Manager”) will be to cut the City’s General Fund budget by something close to 40 percent by 2017.

(Not to make things too complicated — but it is worth noting here that some City employees (for instance, in the Department of Public Works) are paid for out of funds (from “trash” and “road repair” millages) that are separate from the City’s “General Fund” — of which, the overwhelming majority goes to pay wages and benefits for three categories of City employees: Police Officers, Firefighters, and Administrators who work in City Hall, i.e, City Clerk, Purchasing, Accounting, Assessing, Elections, etc.)

What this means is that, despite the fact that the number of General Fund City staff (as well as staff, overall) has been dropping steadily for a over a decade, current projections are that keeping the City solvent will require the additional elimination of approximately 66 percent of all General Fund positions (again, mostly Police, Fire and Administration) — a drop from 73 to 25 — by 2017.

To reiterate, by 2017, even if we were to eliminate all Administrative positions (essentially, putting a padlock on City Hall) we would still not have enough money left over to support the Police or Fire Departments at anything like current levels. (And, since Michigan cities are required by law to maintain certain functions — register deeds, supervise elections, etc. — this is not really an option, in any case.)

So, what’s next?

City Council has already held two dedicated budget meetings, during which the City Manager and Staff laid out their budget projections, along with a general outline of the cuts that would be required — if we continue along our current budget path — as referenced above, and attached.

On Tuesday, October 11, City Council will hold the third meeting in this series, during which it is expected that Council Members and the Mayor will weigh in — providing direction to the City Manager and Staff regarding how they prefer to move forward with the City’s next two-year budget cycle (which will, of course, set the stage for everything that happens going forward to 2015, and beyond).

As detailed above, we certainly have “options” on the expense side — provided we are comfortable with eventually winding down City Hall and gutting essential City services, including Police and Fire.

There are also some options on the revenue side, as well — including, potentially, instituting a “pay-to-throw” trash system, a storm water utility, a dedicated Water Street millage, and/or a City Income Tax — but it remains to be seen whether City Council (or voters) would support any of these measures.

Whatever City Council ends up recommending, what happens at the October 11 meeting may be, without exaggeration, a watershed moment in Ypsilanti’s history, and I encourage everyone who has an interest in our community’s future to attend.

Two quick things before I sign out. First, any long term solution for Ypsilanti has to involve the Water Street redevelopment project. I understand that the market for new development in Michigan is non-existent at the moment, but we cannot afford to let that enormous parcel, which sits right in the middle of our downtown, to sit vacant for another ten years. We have to articulate a vision, and start proactively working to bring it into reality. And, second, Michigan’s aging cities, like Ypsilanti, need to band together and fight for legislation in Lansing that sees revenue divided equitably between communities, and policies that stop favoring greenfield development. Developers need to leave our green resources pristine, and focus instead on remediating brownfields and revitalizing our existing cities. And, third, we need to fire every one of those men and women in Lansing who, despite the fact that we’re one of only two states losing population, feel as though now is the time to tell LGBT Michiganders that we don’t value their hard work and contributions… I could go on and on, but I think you get my drift. We can’t just cut our way out of this hole that we’re in. We need state-wide reform across the board that treats older cities fairly, and the people of Michigan with dignity.

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  1. EOS
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    What insanity. Ypsi City is going broke and it should be a surprise to no one. But to blame it on State legislatures treatment of LGBTQ persons is absurd. It is Ypsilanti’s problem and neither the State nor the County is not going to bail you out. Stop wasting time and money trying to get someone else to pay for your mistakes.

  2. EOS
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    The City of Ypsilanti is perhaps the most “welcoming” community in the State. Where has that gotten you?

  3. Burt Reynolds
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    As a 5 yr resident of the Twp, I cannot understand how after years and years both the Twp and Ypsi proper are not some of the most desireable areas in SE MI. All of the factors are present that make an area desireable and attractive:

    A: It’s a college town
    B: Quirky cute downtown
    C: Options for urban area living, and suburbia
    D: Large employers nearby
    E: Proximitry between two big (bigger) cities A2, Detroit
    F: A fucking Lake!

    I think there is only one area to blame. And it possibly rhymes with scmitty shouncil.

  4. gary
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    it’s interesting to see this post right before a post on the lack of retail downtown.

  5. Edward
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    I don’t think Mark was blaming the City’s current economic situation on the State’s same-sex jihad. I do think, however, it has to be noted. It’s certainly come up in a number of the interviews that Mark has done with individuals leaving the state for places like New York and San Francisco. I don’t know that it’s been the number one reason that anyone has left, but it has certainly been a contributing factor. As for why Ypsi hasn’t taken off as a location in which to do business, I think it has more to do with schools than anything else. People don’t trust the public schools.

  6. EOS
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Neither/Nor/Not… Is that a triple negative? My bad.

  7. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Burt it is easy to blame city council, but they didn’t make this mess, they just have to deal with it…sort of like Obama…

  8. karen
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    Cheryl Farmer had a big part to play in this mess. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous.

  9. Mr. X
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    You’re right, EOS. Being welcoming has gotten us absolutely nowhere! We should try the opposite. Let’s get some “No Gays” and “No Poor” banners made up.

  10. anonymous
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Am I reading this right?

    ……keeping the City solvent will require the additional elimination of approximately 66 percent of all General Fund positions (again, mostly Police, Fire and Administration) — a drop from 73 to 25 — by 2017.

    In five years, we could have fewer than 10 cops and 10 fire fighters?

  11. Alpha
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Word is that things are moving forward on the fitness center for the Water Street site. I believe there is a meeting about it tonight. It would, as I understand it, take roughly 1/3 of the property off the tax rolls. It could, however, jumpstart other investment.

  12. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    I just left Washtenaw Parks and Recreation’s presentation to City Council on their proposed East County Recreation Center. Essentially they want the city to give/lease the NW corner of the property so that they can build a 60,000 sqft recreation center there on Michigan Avenue, along the banks of the Huron River. The plan includes connecting the property to our existing river front parks (Waterworks, Riverside, Frog Island) the county wide Border to Border trail to the north of the city, and to Ypsilanti township’s Ford Lake parks to the south. The recreation center would be focused on kids, families, and seniors (as oppose to EMU & WCC’s rec centers, which focus on students) and would be a modern version of the current center on Washtenaw in Ann Arbor. Proposals are also included to redevelop Waterworks Park in base ball diamonds, a Soccer field and other flood-plain friendly uses. The concept presented by the county included conceptual drawing for the entire property, and the vision outside of the rec center property is largely in line with the original mixed use proposals; multi-story retail/loft spaces along Michigan Avenue with dense residential behind. The recreation center would be community focused, and include a public plaza intended to tie the facility into both downtown and the trail network.

    The obvious problem with this proposal: we surrender another 8 – 12 acres of the city to a non-taxed use. (To be fair, approximately 4 acres of that, the river bank, is set aside for park use in the City’s master plan for the area) The question is, do we gamble on loosing the income from that property in hopes of spurning development on Water Street and through out downtown?

    Well duh.

    We haven’t collected taxes on this land in 10 years, and in case no one has noticed, developers aren’t exactly knocking down our door to get at Water Street, or much anywhere else in Michigan. We can’t even fill our vacant existing buildings in downtown and vacant houses in our neighborhoods, let alone the 38 vacant acres we own on Water Street. All around the country, there are examples of recreation centers and urban trails that have helped revitalize neighborhoods and communities, many right here in Michigan. Land adjacent to parks is more valuable. Companies and individual rate the availability of recreation very high on their list of considerations when relocating. We don’t even have a parks and recreation department! This proposal gives us a fighting chance to bring people downtown. The current center sees around 1000 people a day, the Border to Border trail hundreds more. Even if not one other building is built on Water Street, that’s at least a few hundred extra visitors to downtown each day. Are you telling me that won’t help us? Oh, and County Parks and Recreation also knows that they will have to be a part of bringing infrastructure to Water Street. That means utilities and roads that developers could tap into for other projects. That’s a hell of a lot more than Burger King had to offer.

    County Parks and Recreation is gung-ho on this plan. So is Ronnie Peterson. So is David Rutledge. They want to be in process by January, and break ground within two years. This project is going to happen, somewhere, if we don’t take it, and its going to happen fast. They are attempting to hand us a huge building block for our revitalized city on a silver platter, we just need to be smart enough to take it. We need our council to act quickly and decisively to enter into this partnership and start working out the details. We need this.

    To me, this is our moment of decision. Do we go with the projections we talked about above, just start cutting, shuttering city hall, gutting police and fire (I’m sure it will long have become a mixed “public safety” department by then) adding fees and taxes, and hoping that a developer swoops in to save us? Or do we gamble those 12 acres on adding a huge community amenity, building infrastructure, and hope that it begins to turn the tide and move us from a shrinking tax base to a growing one?

    I think the answer here is obvious. We already took a massive gamble and lost with Water Street. Its time to go all in and play the most aggressive hand we can. If we change our strategy, maybe we’ll change our luck.

  13. Jennifer
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    This may seem trivial given the scale of these fiscal troubles, but I’m wondering if anyone is following what’s going on with parking downtown? (See link to aa.com story below). I got a parking ticket today parked at the Ypsi transit center lot, which it turns out is now limited to 2 hours. (I have been parking there without incident since 2004). Unless I figure out another place to park to catch the bus to Ann Arbor, my commute just got a lot more complicated. The AATA park and ride lot at Arborland shut down two years ago, another bassackwards move.

    The connection between my parking ticket and this thread is complicated and points in a few directions–on the one hand, City of Ypsi is looking to find revenue where it can, understandably so; on the other, if I’m not parking downtown, I’m less likely to spend money downtown, and I can no longer spread the gospel of Ypsi as an easy commute by bus.

    I often arrive back in Ypsi alone, long after dark, and am not thrilled about making my way down to the parking lot by Materials Unlimited, which the story below says is still free. Anyone know if this is a done deal?


  14. Bonnie
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

    @Jennifer – where is it that you’re coming from, and what route are you catching?

  15. Jennifer
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    I live at Prospect and Forest. I catch the 4 0r 5 bus, to UM campus. Have been doing it 3 or 4 times a week for 8 years. And I had been wondering why, this semester, the parking lot is always empty and I don’t see any of the commuters I used to see.

  16. Posted October 4, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Jennifer – moving that lot away from the past free-for-all has been in the works for a number of years, and is not budget-motivated. There was a lot of concern by downtown businesses that the lot was primarily being used by students catching the #33 shuttle (rather than paying for parking on campus), and unavailable to downtown employees and visitors. As the article you link notes, the current two-hour parking is a temporary step en route to a combination of permit, metered, and park-and-ride spaces that’s a little less chaotic than the lot was. This plan was (if I recall) originally pitched by the Downtown Association of Ypsi (DAY) around 2006-07, but it took a while to get all the players on board.

    I know AATA is also working on securing a few other park-and-ride locations along the #4 route, but I don’t know where.

  17. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Jennifer, its a little far down, but it looks like the Kmart parking lot has become a defacto park and ride.

  18. Bonnie
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    What Murph said. Park-n-Ride is in the works (in that specific lot, even).

    St John the Baptist, the Catholic church on Cross & Ballard/Hamilton-ish- they used to offer parking passes during the week. Perhaps check to see if they still do?

  19. One Third Frank
    Posted October 4, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    Water Street needs to be dealt with, for sure. But when you’re looking for land that could generate revenue but ain’t, look at EMU. Glad to have it, but it takes up 1/3 of our taxable land and pays no tax.

    Any discussion of the city’s revenue shortfall that doesn’t mention EMU is missing the woolly mammoth in the living room.

  20. S.
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    At what point do we get serious about merging with the Township? Isn’t there a movement afoot at the state level to prod us in that direction?

  21. Walt
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Andrew said:

    All around the country, there are examples of recreation centers and urban trails that have helped revitalize neighborhoods and communities, many right here in Michigan.

    Andrews, do you have examples of places where this has happened. I’m especially interested in those in Michigan.

  22. wetdolphinmissile
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    I agree with Andrew…I want to see the center on water street. To have this destination in walking distance to my home would be amazing and to have green space around the center and along the river sounds wonderful. Can we have trees planted too?

  23. Schreiber by Proxy
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    October 5, 2011

    Dear Ypsilanti Neighbors:

    The city of Ypsilanti’s general fund reserves will be depleted by 2015 unless drastic actions are taken. On Tuesday, October 11, City Council will chart a course to keep Ypsilanti solvent. I urge you to attend this pivotal meeting.

    Final Ypsilanti Financial Goal Setting Meeting
    October 11, 6 p.m., Ypsilanti City Council Chambers

    Discussion of expenditure and revenue options.
    Selection of a long-term financial policy that will eliminate the projected deficit.

    Interested citizens are welcome to attend. The meeting information packet can be downloaded from the Ypsilanti city Web site.

    The information packets from the previous August 23 and September 27 financial goal-setting meetings are also available online. Ypsilanti’s financial background and budget projections, options for City Council, and what constitute the powers of a state-appointed emergency manager were discussed at these meetings. As I made clear in the September 2011 Mayor Update, expenditure cuts alone will not balance the budget.

    Falling Property Tax Revenues
    Declining property values are projected to reduce general fund property tax revenues from $6.7 million in 2010 to $4.4 million in 2017. This 35 percent revenue decline affects funding for police and fire services as well as administrative functions at city hall. For example, if employee reductions were made to balance the general fund budget, at least 48 current employees (including police officers and firefighters) would be cut, leaving less than 25 employees in 2017. This is an untenable reduction.

    Continuing Water Street Debt Payments
    Until development on the Water Street property results in property tax revenues, Ypsilanti must pay the $1.3 million annual bond out of the general fund. Under state law, City Council or a state-appointed emergency manager does not have the power to default on this payment. State law requires these payments to be made before all other payments−including police and fire services.

    Increasing Revenue
    City Council has few options to increase revenue. Under state laws, major revenues for cities come from four sources: property taxes, state shared revenue, fees for services, and income taxes. The Ypsilanti general fund millage rate is at the 20 mill maximum allowed by the state constitution. State shared revenue is being decreased by the state, and fees must be no higher than the cost of services. Ypsilanti does not currently have a city income tax, but any proposed income tax must be approved by voters. In 2007, Ypsilanti voters rejected an income tax proposal by two to one.

    A dedicated property tax levy to pay the Water Street bond would ease the burden on the general fund and provide more funding for police, fire, and other services. The levy can be proposed by City Council or a state-appointed emergency manager, but it must be approved by voters. Even if a Water Street bond tax levy were approved in 2013, the general fund reserves are projected to last only one additional year.

    Please note that an emergency manager does not have the power to raise taxes unilaterally. Voters must approve tax increases whether they are placed on the ballot by City Council or by an emergency manager.

    Charting a Course of Action
    On October 11, Ypsilanti City Council will determine a course of action to keep Ypsilanti solvent. The discussion will include spending cuts and tax increases to keep our city sustainable for the long-term. Ypsilanti City Council and I encourage all comments and suggestions.

    Best regards,
    Paul Schreiber

  24. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Walt, these reports will help you get started:



    Visit Detroit’s new Riverfront park, or Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. Their river fronts have become centers of new growth. In Monroe, they are in the process of turning the 1812 Battlefield of the River Raisin into a National Park. When I was a kid, that was a paper mill and its associated paper lot that burned once every 6 years. Portland has used trails and transit to help turn itself into Mecca for hipsters. In New York they’re turning abandoned piers and elevated rail lines into parks. All over the world, working green spaces into urban design has become the norm, finding ways to work density and nature together.

  25. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    I think that people don’t really grasp the scale of what Wastenaw County Parks, Rep. Rutledge and Commissioner Peterson are trying to do for Ypsilanti.

    First, look at the map of the B2B trail:

    Notice how Ypsilanti is a void on these maps, outside of Frog Island and Riverside Parks or EMU’s campus?

    Now, look at this Google Map I created, illustrating the park complex that this group is trying to create within Ypsilanti City Limits, using all land that’s already parks or city owned:

    Can you really tell me that this sort of feature isn’t worth giving up some land that has no real prospects for development?

    They are trying to use 12 acres that we have had sitting abandoned for 10 years, with no prospects of development or tax capture, and in return, give us a massive urban park from that stretches from Forrest Ave to Factory Street, connects directly to Ford Lake, EMU, WCC, St. Joe’s and the ENTIRE ANN ARBOR PARK SYSTEM via the Border 2 Border Trail, and turn that 12 acres into a major hub and destination on that system. The potential for this to attract visitors and development is off the scale!

    We’ve been hedging our bets for long enough. Its time to make a bold statement that we believe in our city. If we’re going to go down, I want to go down swinging, not cowering. City Council, this is your chance to make that statement. Get the job done.

  26. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, wrong google map link. Here is the right one:


  27. Devil's Advocate
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Don’t we already have a lot of public parks that we can’t afford to maintain? I say we sell the whole damned thing to Burger King and be done with it. (They can either choose to do one giant, 30-acre Burger King, or a series of small Burger Kings connected by canals, like in Venice.)

  28. Brainless
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Other than the loss of taxes we’re not getting anyway, why would anybody argue against the rec center? It sounds like the county is willing to greenlight this thing immediately. Who is waiting for which bureaucratic hurdle?

  29. Tom
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Does no one else find this absolutely horrifying? I was going to suggest that the word “abyss” was unnecessarily hyperbolic, but, now that I’ve read the Mayor’s note, I think, if anything, it’s not strong enough.

    Falling Property Tax Revenues

    Declining property values are projected to reduce general fund property tax revenues from $6.7 million in 2010 to $4.4 million in 2017. This 35 percent revenue decline affects funding for police and fire services as well as administrative functions at city hall. For example, if employee reductions were made to balance the general fund budget, at least 48 current employees (including police officers and firefighters) would be cut, leaving less than 25 employees in 2017. This is an untenable reduction.

  30. Posted October 5, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    At the presentation of the Rec Center concept last night, the County’s staff said they wanted this to be a “win-win-win” (I’m not sure who that third winner is supposed to be?), and it sounds like they’ve done enough work to get to at least 1/3 of that.

    Considering that last night was the first real look Council had at any of this, I thought they were asking a lot of the right questions to get to the 2/3 point. I heard them asking the County Parks staff about,

    * Making sure the building design and site design were consistent with downtown and supported a pedestrian-oriented, urban format to future development on the rest of the site.
    * Laying out the site in a compact fashion that maximized the remaining, develop-able area on Water Street
    * Creating membership and program pricing structures that ensured all members of the community would be able to access the rec center.
    * The potential for employment opportunities for community members, whether during construction, or as full-time or seasonal staff.

    The City Council has to do their due diligence to make sure there aren’t any hidden downsides — even if they liked everything they saw last night, it would be negligent for them to leap without looking. It sounded like there were a few things the County was presenting as necessary, and a lot of room to adjust details to make it work for everyone. Some concerns won’t be addressable until the County gets into an actual design process, which it sounded like they weren’t even planning to start until sometime next year, but Council has to make sure the city’s interests are on the table at the beginning of that process.

  31. anonymous
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Where did the idea that this new Rec Center needed to be 1/3 of the available Water Street land come from? I’m curious why, from the start, people have been saying that it would be 1/3 of the available land. Why not 1/4?

    The whole parcel is 38 acres. One-third of that is a little shy of 13 acres. Is that what a modern facility calls for? How big is the footprint of the new WCC facility, or the current Washtenaw County facility on Washtenaw? Are they anywhere near that large?

    And would the employees of this new county facility also be charged with keeping up the public space along the river?

  32. Posted October 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    @Tom, the city’s budget situation is pretty terrifying, yes. (And, really, so is every other city’s in Michigan.) The City Manager and City Council are planning for a worst-case, but very possible, scenario. There’s a lot that could happen to improve that bleak forecast — any taxable development on Water Street, stabilized property values, the State backing off from eliminating PPT — but none of it can be relied on.

    This pessimistic budget planning has been the City’s standard practice for years, and that’s what has bought us 5 years from where we are now. Most years in the past decade, the city has seen a surplus relative to what was budgeted, and has socked some away in reserves. Now that our rainy day has turned to sleet, we’ve got those reserves to slow our descent a bit and give us more time to find solutions (or for external forces to change). Unfortunately, there’s only so much slowing that can provide, but it’s something. _(If it’s unclear, I am NOT in the camp that believes the city is or has been “mismanaged”.)_

  33. Glen S.
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the Recreation Center proposal:

    I’m thrilled that the WCPRC is considering building a new recreation center in the City of Ypsilanti, and I’m confident we’ll be able to find a way to develop this project in a way that meets the WCPRC’s stated goals, while at the same time, looking out for the long-term best interests of the community. That said, I’m glad our City Council members aren’t just rushing to accept this initial proposal, and that they are asking some tough questions about the plan and its potential impacts — including associated infrastructure needs and costs, and the true potential of the project to spur additional residential and commercial development.

    For example, I don’t understand why there isn’t more discussion about the possibility of siting the new project at Waterworks Park. I understand that Waterworks Park is on a floodplain, and that the site presents some engineering issues related to it being the former location of the City’s water plant — but if some creative modifications *could* make it feasible, it seems that putting the new facility there would still fulfill the WCPRC’s stated goal of making the new rec center a focal point of the the Huron River corridor parkway (which is a GREAT idea, by the way).

    Furthermore, a new recreation center at Waterworks Park (property that is already off the tax rolls) would provide plenty of room for parking, soccer fields, etc, and would still be close to downtown, etc. — but would have the added benefit of preserving Water Street’s full 38 acres for potential (taxable) development more in keeping with our overall goal of encouraging denser, more walkable projects adjacent to downtown.

  34. Glen S.
    Posted October 5, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    On the City Budget “Abyss”:

    The projections highlighted in the comments above definitely trend toward the “worst case scenario” scenario. However, given the continuing, fundamental weakness in the economy — and the current political landscape in Lansing and Washington — it only makes sense to “hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

    On the other hand, these projections are so dire that (even if our real results end up being, let’s say, 15, 20, or even 25 percent better than predicted) we would still be required to make devastating and unacceptable cuts to core City services, including Police and Fire protection, etc., in order to remain solvent over the next several years — or else be prepared to raise taxes to keep the City solvent, and out of the hands of an unelected, unaccountable “Emergency Manager.”

    Whether you agree with the “worst”- or “middle”-case scenario, it is clear that Ypsilanti will soon face an existential threat that will require all of us to carefully consider what we truly value as a community, and what we’re actually willing to do to preserve it.

    At this point, it is clear that neither Washington nor Lansing is going to help us … so the question we soon will face is this: Are we, as a community, willing to bite the bullet and do whatever is necessary to make our community more financially stable, independent, and sustainable, in the long term?

  35. Andrew Jason Clock
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 12:27 am | Permalink


    As you mention, there are massive obstacles to the idea of locating, well, anything that’s not essentially a open field in Water Works Park. First, there is the fact that its on the flood plane, and some sort of major earth moving project would be required to overcome that. Second, most of the city’s sewer lines intersect under it, so they would have to be relocated. So we’re talking tacking millions of dollars onto the project before building can start. That’s why County Parks and Rec envisioned putting soccer and baseball fields in Waterworks as part of their proposal for the overall site, the prospect of building on it is completely unrealistic. There’s also the fact that locating it there would take it out of downtown, which is a big part of the overall plan, putting an attraction downtown.

    For the 1ooth time. Water Street is off of the tax rolls and has been since the city purchased it. The one and only proposal other than this in recent memory was Burger King, and that was soundly rejected by everyone. How long do you suggest we wait for this new, mythical developer to arrive and help save us from sinking into Water Street? Another 10 years? Twenty? Who is going to want to be first into that pit? Who is going to foot the bill to build the infrastructure? What is going to bring them to Ypsilanti, out of all the vacant lots in Michigan? Unless you’ve got that developer in your back pocket and plan to present him and his plan to us, I don’t want to hear about taxable value of that land. It does not exist.

    This Recreation Center is conceived as a destination and gathering place, connected to the entire county via its major traffic artery, its major non-motorized trail, and easily accessible from I-94 and the AATA. A place that will bring people to downtown, something that makes us attractive to new businesses and residents that will increase our tax revenue. Is that boost a sure thing? No. But I can tell you one thing for certain, leaving that vacant lot there will continue to have a negative impact on the city.

    To be sure, we need to make it very clear to the county that about the only thing we bring to the table is the land itself. We can’t build the roads, we can’t run the utilities. But from what I’ve heard, the county is pretty aware of that. Ronnie Peterson and David Rutledge were there for a reason, and the presenter mentioned specifically how those gentlemen wanted to see this project move quickly, and made it clear they would do all they could to support it. They are aware that we are in dire straights in Ypsilanti, and I believe this is the play they have to try to help us. We have to be smart enough to act on it. So yes, we should ask questions, but we should also be very clear we want be a part of it. We shouldn’t, for instance, fail to support a grant application for the one major missing piece of the Border 2 Border trail that would connect all our our existing parks to this site, knowing full well what the county had in mind the whole time. Nice pool they want to build into that rec center….

    I’m sorry Glen, but I believe that the original dream of Water Street is long dead. If we want to have any chance to salvage the thing and turn it, along with our city’s tax revenues, into something positive, then we need to take a bold action, and I think this is our chance. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you favor bold moves on the federal level to shore up our nation, create jobs, and rebuild our infrastructure. Don’t you see the similarities in this project?

  36. Glen S.
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 5:50 am | Permalink


    If building the recreation center in the northwest corner of the Water Street site (the prime spot, nearest downtown, the river, and Michigan Ave.) ends up being the *only* way the WCPRC would consider moving forward, then of course I would support it — since I agree that having something is better than nothing, and since it would probably facilitate getting some infrastructure (roads, water, sewer) into the site. All I’m saying is that, before we rush into accepting the very first plan that’s been presented, we need to do some due diligence to make sure that we’ve considered all the possibilities.

    For example, if Waterworks Park is indeed a non-starter, I might also ask why we wouldn’t at least consider building the new recreation center at the far East end of property, nearest Park Street. The site could very easily be integrated into the B2B trail, etc. (via a short “spur”), and would avoid having a very large parking lot sitting on prime riverfront acreage. Most importantly, it seems to me that having a major new recreation center anchoring the Water Street property at one end — and the river, and downtown, at the other end — might make the property in-between that much more appealing.

    I don’t know whether the Water Street dream is “long dead” or not … but I do know that one of the primary drivers of Ypsilanti’s persistent, structural budget decline is the fact that more than 1/3 of all property in the city is non-taxable (including EMU, public property and parks, churches, non-profits, etc.) — an extraordinary ratio that puts us at a tremendous disadvantage relative to most other Michigan communities.

    That’s why, before we agree to take another significant (and potentially, someday, prime) parcel off the tax rolls indefinitely, I’d want be fairly certain that all of the costs and benefits of this proposal have been carefully considered.

  37. Brainless
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    If the city defaults on the Water Street loan and the state takes us over, does that liability come off our books?

  38. Posted October 6, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    Because the city of Ypsilanti pledged its full faith and credit, the city is bound by law to pay off the Water Street debt. City council or an emergency manager must pay the Water Street loan.

    Paul Schreiber

  39. James Madison
    Posted October 6, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Municipal socialist utopian schemes, totally ignoring the real estate market, were what induced the city officials of a decade ago to pursue the Water Street project. Public money by the millions was spent with not one dollar of private capital ever pledged! The original scheme was pure fantasy, poorly planned, and it has failed and failed utterly, and the city is much the worse for the experience. If the county can now step in and create something useable on some of this empty of no taxable value, then all Ypsilanti residents should count our lucky stars. A recreation center would be terrific for everybody, a real attraction!

    Work out the details carefully, of course; to be a success, there must be real collaboration, and that involves detailed discussions. It does not involve holding out for the long hoped for fantasy of some developer at this late date coming in to make the original fantasy a reality.

    The recreation center belongs on the river — that is a plus, an asset, a feature that would make it more of an attraction and destination than further east, along Park.

  40. Glen S.
    Posted October 11, 2011 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Just a reminder that Ypsilanti City Council will hold its third, and final, special budget session tonight at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

    The purpose of this meeting will be to discuss and consider a number of proposals aimed at heading off a significant General Fund deficit that is projected to develop by 2015 — and continue growing, thereafter.

    Among the ideas that will be discussed are a City Income Tax, a special Water Street millage, and/or additional deep cuts to City staff — including police and fire.

    Additional information — including the full presentation (with charts and graphs) that City Council will consider tonight — is available here:


  41. Lynne
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I just skimmed the comments but have lots of thoughts. Not all related.

    1. I want that county rec center. Seriously. Please don’t let this opportunity slip by.

    2. I am not very happy about the AATA lot not being free all day because, like Jennifer, I live on the east side and the bus service out that way isnt so great. It was nice to be able to just drive and park. Now I go to the Kmart lot or just drive to Ann Arbor since I’ve found a secret free parking space there. One thing I would LOVE would be an option to pay some reasonable annual fee for a permit at the AATA lot. Maybe a hundred bucks? If enough people were paying for parking there, it might help a little.

    3. I don’t like the idea of an income tax. I also don’t like the idea of cutting the police and fire services even more than they already are. I am, however, more than willing to have my property taxes raised. I wont like it but I get it. I’ll even work hard to try to convince my neighbors that it is necessary.

  42. Pete Murdock
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    The City is working out an arrangement with AATA for a portion of the No Washington lot to be used for Park and Ride. The agreement is scheduled for action at next Tuesday’s Council meeting. The Park and Ride will be administered by AATA and information about it can be obtained from Chris White at AATA (734) 996-0400) or email cwhite@theride.org for the details.

  43. Lynne
    Posted October 12, 2011 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    That is great news for us east side bus commuters, Pete!

4 Trackbacks

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  2. […] our discussion of a few days ago about Ypsilanti’s dire financial circumstances, I thought that I’d share this op-ed from today’s AnnArbor.com, in which our Mayor lays […]

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  4. […] of further delaying the perfect storm of fiscal armageddon gathering on the horizon as we face escalating legacy costs (mainly in the form of municipal retiree health benefits), decreasing tax revenues (resulting in […]

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