A little while ago, in an exchange with Jill Morey, the director of the Ypsilanti District Library, the subject came up of what would likely happen to the downtown library building, should an Emergency Financial Manager be appointed to takeover the City of Ypsilanti, and charged with liquidating our communal assets. Thankfully, we were told that, as the library is separate from the City, and owns its own building, we would not be in jeopardy of losing the historic structure. (The YDL board, I suppose, could still choose to sell the building at some point in the future, in an effort to downsize and save money, but it wouldn’t be at the behest of the EFM.) As we’ve mentioned here in the past, though, there are likely other community assets that aren’t so well protected. And it’s a subject that was brought up once again, yesterday, in our thread about the increasingly dirty fight being waged over the city income tax. Here’s the comment, which was left by reader named Mark.
“Property values are so low because Ypsilanti schools suck so much. The people who can afford to send their children to private schools do. Fixing the schools really help fix this financial problem.”
I agree with Walt. Ypsi schools do many things well, but have always been under financial threat as a result of the way in which the state school aid formula works. When the Water Street development was proposed, the future demographics of the school district were well known. We knew then, that unless the future City population of school-age children grew, our local school district would become unsustainable. (The City of Ypsilanti School District will have an EFM within two years. Nothing about the City’s “mismanagement” will have anything to do with that event.) This was the primary motivation for many of us who supported the Water Street development – ie. a townhouse development full of young families raising children, repopulating the school district. The intent was to help stabilize the school district, thus eliminating the problem that Walt identified.
Water Street is a failure — and, as predicted, the school district is in dire straits. Despite the school closings and constant cuts, we once again see that you cannot cut your way to prosperity. The redevelopment of much of Ypsi’s public housing will bring new families into the district, but the damage is done, and the rehabilitated units won’t be on the market soon enough to alter the district’s current trajectory.
One view of the short term future – two tax increases, a failed school district, and declining property values, provide new incentives for people to not buy homes in Ypsi. Only poor people will be moving into the City, while anyone with any resources moves away. BUT, because of the tax increases, bond holders get paid and we have an adequate public safety department to keep the poor folks in line, and put out the fires in the tenements of our absentee landlords (and our pensioners get paid at least for the next 5 years).
An alternative view (held by many who opposed Water Street and the last income tax proposal) – Ypsi would become Ann Arbor’s Brooklyn, a “Cool City”, a low cost haven for creative and enterprising folks. This vision does not need a functioning public school district – charter and private schools fill the void (so its failure is relatively unimportant). Nor does this vision need many of the services that growing families need or desire (drive to the township to participate in little league or soccer, let the county provide a rec center etc).
I see both of these visions as essentially the same. The only difference will be, what part of town you live in.
As a 25 year home owner of the city I have a different vision. One built around concepts like “Friends of Rutherford pool” and “Friends of the Freighthouse”, “Project Grow”, our neighborhood associations, etc. Our elected officials (in the time remaining before the imposition of emergency measures, whether that is an EFM or measures they take “democratically”) should be doing everything they can to empower the active citizenry. Assets that are likely to be sold off to satisfy debtors under emergency circumstances, that ownership should be transferred to our community non-profit organizations. Perhaps the formation of a community “non-profit corporation” in which living within the city limits makes you an automatic member–could become umbrella an organization that we could begin transfer our assets.
While the entire comment is worthy of discussion, I’d like, at least for the time being, to focus on that last paragraph, and ask our elected leaders in the audience one more time if we’ve done everything in our power to protect our public parks, publicly owned buildings, and other significant assets, from the threats which will surely arise over the next year, if the tax initiatives on the May ballot do not pass.
I know that the possibility of an Emergency Financial Manager being imposed on our community is still some time off, but that’s no reason that we shouldn’t start planning now. I know that much work has likely already been done, but I suspect there’s still a great deal that we could do to further empower the citizenry, and put assets in the hands of responsible individuals.
update: Richard Murphy came through with a list of Ypsi’s property assets.
Pontiac’s Emergency Manager was pursuing sale of the city’s city hall, police and fire stations, golf course, cemeteries, parking lots, library, and landfill. I’m not sure how many of those have actually been offered for sale yet.
In Ypsi, the City owns city hall, police & fire, and public works yard; the various parks, the Freighthouse, Senior Center, Parkridge Community Center, and the pool; the old landfill (where the LED billboard is, off the freeway exit); Water Street; a property at the end of Railroad Street; a sliver along South Grove, just south of the public housing there; a few scraps in the industrial park (unbuildable–Paint Creek runs through them); the property at Superior Road & Huron River Drive (an old YCUA pump station site, has been on the market for a few years); and a small lot on East Michigan (also on the market for a few years). I believe the Riverside Arts Center is in the name of the DDA, so also owned by the City indirectly, and I think all of the housing commission’s properties are technically owned by the city. Might be a few vacant residential lots at this point that the County foreclosed on for unpaid taxes and didn’t sell at auction.
[note: I slightly edited the punctuation in Mark's comment, making it more consistent with the rest of the punctuation on the front page. His original comment, however, remains untouched. So, just follow the link back, if you want to see it in it's original form.]