The question of consolidating Township and City services

We’ve talked here before about the possibility of, if not merging the City and the Township, at least consolidating services, in hopes of reducing redundancy and saving money. Unfortunately, every time we bring it up, people go insane. I hate to make blanket statements, but, judging from the conversations we’ve had here in the past, my sense is that City and Township people just have very different ideas as to what it means to be a member of civil society. Township people – at least the ones who leave comments here – would, as they’ve told us here on several occasions, rather spend their money buying guns than paying for cops. And, the last thing these folks want to do, it’s been my experience, is enter into an arrangement where they might be asked to contribute toward the providing of services that others may benefit from more than they do themselves. Again, I hate to generalize based upon a handful of conversations, but I really do get the sense that a lot of the conflicts between our two communities come down to where we stand on having our tax dollars expended for the perceived greater good, with one group generally opting for it, and the other generally opting against. In spite of this, though, it would seem that the harsh realities of the Michigan economy may be bringing us together. Anyway, as we haven’t discussed it in a while, I thought that we’d give it another shot. Here, to get the ball rolling, is a comment left yesterday by someone calling himself Elvis Costello, followed by a response from Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber.

Elvis Costello:

Once again, I ask, why not consolidate services? Get the WCSD for a cheaper rate than police and contract Ypsi Township for Fire services, or merge them as they did in other communities. It’s not a perfect solution, but you should be able to close a building, move YPD/ WCSD to the MSP post and reduce command staff and administrative staff positions, putting more “feet on the street”. Waterford just contracted to provide fire services to Pontiac (after an EFM), and the Pontiac firefighters were offered positions there. If reductions are needed, they can be negotiated with early out agreements or through attrition, also one chief would be needed, one fire marshal, etc… I’m sure other consolidated services, short of merger or Ypsi City giving up it’s charter, could be found; building, assessing, treasurer, etc… I know that the Township would not take on the Water Street debt, but the City would not take on Seaver Farm Bond liabilities either. The old resentments about who screwed who over in the past needs to stop, and an Ypsi Area solution needs to be found. Like it or not, both communities are joined at the hip and the failure of the city will spill over to the Township… BTW, I was born in the City, at Beyer,spent much of my teen years in the city (at the Masonic Temple, and my first job was at a store on Michigan Avenue and Washington) and lived most of my life in the Township.

I have no dog in the fight these days, but would like to see the communities thrive.

Paul Schreiber:

I appreciate Elvis Cosetllo’s comments. The Washtenaw County Sheriff Department is a fine organization, but it is approximately the same cost as the Ypsilanti Police Department. The YPD has the added benefit of reporting locally to the Ypsilanti city manager.

The city of Ypsilanti is moving slowly toward a regional fire department by implementing a box alarm system with Ann Arbor, Pittsfield Township, and Ypsilanti Township. We must continue to move toward the regional system. It’s good for everyone.

Along with the YCUA, the library board, the Urban County, and the Washtenaw Corridor Improvement Study (Reimagine Washtenaw), Ypsilanti city will continue to collaboarate with Ypsilanti Township.
I also would like to see all of Washtenaw County thrive.

So, what else can we do to bring the City and Township together? I’d much rather do it now, on our owns terms, than put it off until a later date, when it’s mandated by the state. And, the way we’re going in the State, that won’t be too far off.

I should add that I know there are a lot of good people in the Township, many of whom I consider friends, that don’t ascribe to the “every man for himself” worldview that’s so often put forward by Township residents here on this site. Hopefully, one day, these people start speaking up, running for office, and looking for ways for our two communities to constructively work together. I know that my generalizations won’t help get us there, but, just like the rest of you, I get frustrated. I just wish that we could get beyond all the bullshit (mine included) and start to find ways to better integrate our visions for the future… And, for what it’s worth, I think I need to get out and talk with more people in the Township. I’m afraid that my opinions are, to a great extent, being influenced by a small, vocal minority that spends their time on blogs like this one, and I don’t think that’s either healthy or productive.

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20 Comments

  1. EOS
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 4:56 am | Permalink

    The State cannot mandate that the Township consolidate services with the City or assume the City’s financial liabilities. The difference between the City and the Township is that the Township makes choices that enable them to live within their budget, while the City continues to make excuses as to why they need to raise taxes. The Township utilizes the regional sheriff patrols, while the City has the most expensive police force in the county. The people in the City think that the Township should raise their taxes to help pay for city services, while the people in the Township understand that limiting the growth of government is a necessity for economic survival and for the benefit of the residents. If the City wants to contract services from the Township, they need to be willing to pay the full cost of those services. The Township is not a charitable entity that can be used by the city to supplement their huge appetites. Bottom line – learn to live within your means.

  2. dirtgrain
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    “. . . the people in the Township . . .” I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. Who appointed you Lorax? And when did the Township become a Libertarian haven?

  3. Edward
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    I think EOS said it best in another thread, where he said that he didn’t want to pay for a fire department that existed largely to put out the fires of people (read “poor people”) who hadn’t invested in fire alarms, appliances that didn’t have frayed wires, etc. In short, he doesn’t want his tax dollars to pay for neighborhood policing in black neighborhoods, fire services for the poor, or public schools that don’t directly serve his family. He has no vision as to what it means to be a part of a functional society in which people work together, invest in the future and prosper.

  4. Posted January 16, 2012 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    You mean there is more than one person in the Township? I always thought EOS was the only one.

  5. j
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    @eos
    The Township is just as screwed as the city. Revenue from property taxes has collapsed ~40% in the past 2 years. An increase in 2012 State Shared Revenues are making up the difference this year, but that won’t last. You’re not getting bailed out by new development either.

    Long term the township is in much worse condition. Way too much of its housing and retail stock is shitty construction with a very short lifespan. There just isn’t the investment capital to rebuild all of Ypsi Township every 20 years.

  6. Posted January 16, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I agree with you that a broad generalization splitting the 75,000 residents of the Ypsilantis into philosophical camps based on municipal boundaries is probably not a great way to approach the question of consolidation.

    It’s history more than philosophy: a decade ago, the city’s water & sewer infrastructure was 50-100 years old, compared to the Township’s 0-50 years old. So it’s simple engineering, not belief, that’s responsible for the surcharge on our water bills — aging, failing pipes don’t belong to any political party.

    Beyond that, it’s a demonstration that Michigan’s conception of local governance has some fundamental flaws to it. As in so many other cases around the state, the creation of our friendly local Charter Township was based in a belief that communities can be run like the GM bankruptcy: put all the liabilities in one bucket called “Old Ypsi” in order to give “New Ypsi” a fresh start and a clean ledger. The problem is that the “liabilities” of a community aren’t just some financial fiction somewhere that can be made to go away over time — they’re school buildings and parks, roads and utility infrastructure, churches, universities, and county buildings.

    In our case, as across the state, the older city is stuck with a disproportionate share of tax-exempt land uses and infrastructure, which the newer township surrounding it utilizes: the majority of Ypsi Public Schools’ property is within the City, even though the city is only a third of the district. Many of the churches in the city draw most of their congregations from the townships — and keep buying additional city land, removing it from the tax rolls, to build parking lots to serve their commuting township congregants. Township residents use city roads to travel through the city: according to SEMCOG data, more than half of the mileage that happens within the city limits doesn’t have an endpoint in the city — it’s just through traffic. (I-94 is excluded from that.) The recent drama over Grove Road is a great example of that: the Township telling the City that the City must repave Grove…because Township residents need to drive on it. University students keep city housing stock occupied, to be sure, but they do the same for Township housing — only the City has the burden of a tax-exempt campus balancing out the benefits of hosting the campus community.

    Meanwhile, the primary asset balancing a community’s liabilities is developable land — under Headlee and Proposal A, a community that is not continually building new tax base is mathematically destined for budgetary starvation. This asset is found in abundance in the Township, while the City has to go to significant lengths to create it (e.g. Water Street).

    I say all this to point out that it is not some irreconcilable difference, some fundamental clash of philosophies, some nefarious plot — it’s simply the unintended consequences of a past century’s public policy decisions at the state level playing out on the ground, and it’s happening all over the state.

    In that context, “How do ‘us and them’ work together despite our irreconcilable differences?” isn’t a terribly productive, or accurate, way to approach this. “How do ‘we all’ work together to meet our mutual interests [safe neighborhoods, good schools, healthy local economy, attractive parks & cultural amenities] in a fiscally sustainable way?” is probably better. …And it’s probably something that will need support (statutory and financial) from the State to get over transition costs and other obstacles.

  7. Posted January 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    As to the Sheriff’s department vs. Ypsilanti Police Department, some quick math:

    The County charges $151k / year per “police service unit”. Ypsi has 36 officers = $5.4 million.

    The city’s current police dept. costs, excluding vehicles and police station utilities, are in the range of $4.7 million.

    There are probably some ways the cost of contracting with the Sheriff could be brought down, but a 15% cost gap is pretty sizable — it’s hardly the “no-brainer” cost savings some have presented it as. (I had thought so myself, actually, until someone worked through the above math with me earlier this year.)

  8. Dan
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    There are very few people in the township that want or see the need to take on the city. While the city is the exact opposite. To me, it screams of the residents of the city realizing that they are already over taxed like crazy, and hoping, wishing, praying that the township come in and help them out by spreading their tax burden out. The township is not in the business of bailing out the city.

    As mark pointed out, there ARE philosophical differences in the people who live in both entities. People that bought homes in the area were almost certain to look at the tax rates in both, and those that chose the twp most definitely took these tax differences into consideration. For me specifically, it was probably the #2 criterion i considered.

    If the city got it’s shit together and stopped trying to tax the hell out of everyone to subsidize their poor decisions, you city slickers wouldnt be asking for the twp to bail you out.

  9. Glen S.
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    @ Murph

    I’ve never heard this described exactly this way before, but I think your analysis is smart and spot-on. I especially like your analogy about the City and the Township being a bit like the old and new General Motors.

    As someone above pointed out, the Township has recently suffered a hit to its taxable value that is likely (proportionally) much greater than the City’s. As each individual municipality continues to struggle with these issues, I hope that folks will begin to understand the value (and urgency) in working together to address our common problems in ways that can benefit the entire community.

  10. EOS
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    I think there are a few spots that are off. For one, the High School and Middle School are in the township, not the City. Secondly, Ypsilanti City is a destination for very few in the Township. If we want to visit a city, we go to Ann Arbor. Third, if you want to erect toll booths and charge Township residents for the privilege of driving on your roads, we can counter with the same. Problem is, we can drive around the City limits to get to our destination, whereas City residents can’t go anywhere outside the city limits without driving through the Township. Fourth, the cost of policing is so high in the city because of the quantity of police services that are desired by officials for a mere 3.5 sq. mi. of land. (You want more than you can afford.) And lastly, you have no basis for claiming that the township is responsible for pulling the City out of debt any more than any other governmental entity. Why not guilt trip the City of Ann Arbor – they’ve got more wealth, or Birmingham, or Traverse City for that matter.

    Ypsilanti City budget problems are not a shared responsibility of the Township. We are a separate and distinct governmental unit.

  11. Dan
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    @ j

    The twp’s property tax revenue is ~17 million, while state shared revenue is ~3.5 mill. If your math were correct, a 40% decrease in property tax in 2 years would mean that the property taxes were ~28 million 2 years ago. Thats 11 million difference. 3 times the state shared revenue that you claim is making up the difference. (in reality 2009 property taxes were a little less than 19 million.)

    and just because the houses are generally much newer in the twp, that doesnt mean they are of “shitty construction.”

  12. Anonymous Mike
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think the city is looking for the township to bail them out. I think they’re looking for a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby both communities save money and offer their people value for their tax dollars. It’s surprises me to hear so many from the Township being dismissive without even hearing what the terms of such an arrangement might be. Like Mark, I find it depressing. One hopes that not all Township voters are like those who spend their time here.

  13. Dan
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    MUTUALLY beneficial agreements are great. But as Murph and others keep insinuating, the residents of the city seem to think the twp residents are freeloading their infrastructure and demand to be paid for it. lol.

    And on a bit of a tangent, but it also surprises me that so many in the city want full incorporation with the much larger township. Your prized high tax rates to pay for services would surely be voted out, with the population of the township involved in the elections. As much as the majority here like to bash on the twp for declining tax hikes, your fate would be the same if the two entities combined fully.

  14. j
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    @dan,
    See the 2012 budget: http://ytown.org/government/supervisors-office/budget-main/2012-fiscal-year-budget
    1.8 falls to about 1.2 from 2009 to 2012.

    Although, now that I have my calculator out it’s about a 30% decrease.

  15. Dan
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    I used these numbers: http://ytown.org/government/township-departments/accounting/2010-financial-statements

    1.2 million in property taxes would average about to about $60 per household. That cant be right.

  16. Elf
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    In time, things will shift again, and it will be the Township that wants to merge. Things are fluid like that. The bottom line is that we need each other. The Township, like it or not, needs a city center. With the relocalization of American life that’s happening all around us, it will be imperative. At the same time, we’ll need the Township for scrap lumber and land in which to plan our potatoes.

  17. j
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    weird, the property tax revenue seems to be 10 times greater in the 2010 financial statements (http://ytown.org/government/township-departments/accounting/2010-financial-statements) than the 2012 budget. What am I missing?

    Anyway, I have very little interest in the city merging with the township. I think the city is bouncing along the bottom, and it’s still the place I’d rather live. But the township has just begun its fall, and it’s not yet clear how ugly (or not) it’s going to get.

    And please no sheriff. aa.com keeps running articles about their sleaze. I would rather have a bare bones but accountable YPD than the county thugs.

  18. Posted January 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Again, is there more than one person in the township? I only ever hear about one.

    Someone prove me wrong.

  19. Posted January 16, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    I don’t get all the gripping about high city property taxes. Of my $3300 annual tax bill only about $1300 goes to the city. That works out to $108 a month. For that I have police and fire protection 3 blocks from my house. My garbage and recycling picked up weekly. The snow and ice is gone from the street in front of my house within 24 hrs. of a snow. I have many pleasant parks for my pets and I to enjoy, all within easy walking distance to my house. Baseball, concerts and an occasional cricket game (an annual event on India/Pakistan Independence day) are free to enjoy on my walks. For an additional $50 a year I can swim in our pool every day all summer long. I often joke about the “country club” living that I enjoy in our city. I can stop and chat with the Mayor any day of the week. In addition there are services that I don’t use -public transportation-that I want to have available. Suburban condo fees are frequently higher than my $108 a month. Given that I can walk to almost any business I need (Meijer being about the only exception) I probably save the $108 in gas.

  20. dragon
    Posted January 16, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Day by day I struggle to maintain not only my strength but also my sanity. It’s all a blur. I have no energy to type. I don’t know what’s right or wrong anymore. The morale of the men is low, a civil war in Maynardville. Half the posters with the Toothless Squirrel Fuckers, half are Emotionally Hidden Hipster Queefs. There’s a lot of suspicion and hate. I can’t believe we’re fighting each other, when we should be fighting the Elite Snobgobblers from Ann Arbor.

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  1. […] this week, in a conversation about whether or not the City and Township should consolidate services, there was a great comment left by our former City Planner, Richard Murphy, which I felt that I […]

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