Meeting Minutes 03/03/2004

Friends of Dicken Woods General Assembly

Draft Minutes for the Wednesday, March 3, 2004 meeting at Dicken Elementary School

General meeting began at 7:02 , Wednesday, March 3, 2004.

Attending were Helen & Mason Barr, Jim Boyd, Mike Champion, Felix Chmiel, Jack Eaton, Jim & Sandy Foulke, Mayor Hieftje, Kay Holsinger, Stephanie Hunter, Tom Ivacko, Naela Jenkins, Debbie Johnson, Tim Kennedy, Harvey & Rayelene Mieske, Deb Norbotten, Bob Palmer, Burt & Nan Perry, David Read, Margie Teall, Mary Unterburger, Leslie & Rich Westbury.

Tom Ivacko chaired the meeting.

Mayor John Hieftje addressed the Friends of Dicken Woods. He described municipal financing in Michigan as "broken" since the passage of Proposition and the Headlee Amendment. Ann Arbor fares better than many Michigan cities because of the revenue from people who moved into the city, but last years increases were eaten up just by health care increases. Cities face deficits across the state, he feels he became at a very difficult financial time. He specifically cited the cut in state funding, which had helped the city pay the $1,700,000 to provide fire protection to the UM. The state now pays only $390,000. Ann Arbor has actually reduced millages over the last few years, and he does not want to raise them.

28% of property taxes actually goes to the city, the rest to other governmental units. They have reduced the city workforce by 150 to help contain costs, while not providing the same services. The 'low hanging fruit" has been picked, future cost reductions will be much more difficult. City council has voted not to cut funding for the Police Department. Chief Dan Oates has done a great job.

Mayor Hieftje does think that the Fire Department has room for improvement. Fires in the city have declined since 1985. There were 240 in 1985, 82 in 2002. This has been accomplished by enforcing codes and improved construction. City Council does not like the current contract. Historically, contracts were negotiated by professionals for the FD versus the "attorney of the week" for the city. Of the fires in the city last year, 35 were put out by residents and 5 by the Police Department. 20 fires put out by the FD did not even require a fire line. There were only 9 fires that required more than 1 truck. We definitely do need the FD, but Mayor Hieftje thinks we decrease city costs by increasing mutual aid with Pittsfield and Ann Arbor Townships.

The city administration has seen significant changes. It is very difficult for the city to fire anyone, but early retirement has cut personnel. The 23 or 24 previous department heads have been consolidated into 4 service areas.

The Mayor discussed the Greenbelt and the amount of time it takes to enact the proposal. It is currently in the legal department, as their work progresses, the Greenbelt Commission will be able to operate. Scio Township has the initiative on their ballot now, too. The city hopes to make purchases by September or October.

The aging city water meters are another budgetary concern. Their expected life is 15 years, and most are now 16-17 years old. Mayor Hieftje will insist on controlling tax increases in the face of many such costs. Mayor Hieftje then solicited questions.

Jack Eaton thanked the Mayor for the Greenbelt.

Harvey Mieske asked if the cuts to the FD would increase insurance rates. Mayor Hieftje replied no. They can close Station #2. It was built in 1954, and newer stations can cover its area with no change in arrival times. Tom Ivacko asked if he had received much feedback on the budget forums. Mayor Hieftje said he had received very few emails.

Harvey also asked about an Administration Tax. Mayor Hieftje replied that lots of communities do it. Ann Arbor could add a 1% tax on residents. The city has several options to raise taxes, but City Council fears that would hurt the recruitment of quality residents. It is not a current issue, they're focusing on the budget first.

Margie Teall commented on feeling honored to work with the city administration. They've been great to her.

Mayor Hieftje stated that city council discussed an income tax for approximately 8 minutes during a full day retreat. He presented some background on strains to city financing. Michigan cities send additional revenue to Lansing over which they have no control. The state has been cutting back on money returned to cities. The federal government is not helping either. Federal funding to provide for 8 police officers has been eliminated.

Max asked about city negotiations with the UM. Mayor Hieftje commented that the UM brings a lot to the city. Ann Arbor's lifeblood is getting the best people top come here. Pfizer, the city's #1 tax payer, also needs top people. But, UM comes with a lot of freight. It is outside of the Planning Commission, and federal and state entities don't pay taxes.

Burt Perry recalls the city income tax coming up repeatedly over the years, and that Ann Arbor needs to look at other ways. Mayor Hieftje added that the tax has been defeated here twice.

Jack Eaton asked if the city lobbies the federal government for help in countering rising health care costs. Mayor Hieftje relayed Representative Debbie Stabenow's comments that everyone lobbies the federal government on health care, particularly the auto companies. The "me too" clause in union contracts has been very expensive. The city negotiates with seven unions. If any union gets a concession, they all get it. The city is trying to get rid of these clauses. The health cares costs are not sustainable.

Mayor Hieftje was asked what feedback he has received regarding DW. He said he only hears about it in the Ann Arbor News. Has not heard a word from a resident. He thinks those kind of purchases are what people like about Ann Arbor. As a former Realtor, he's well aware that people love parks.

Mike Champion asked about anonymous quotes in the Ann Arbor News that were dismissive of the DW purchase. Mayor Hieftje thinks is simply the normal expression of opinion, and is a normal right of employees.

Jim Boyd asked if the city benchmarks itself, particularly in areas of spending such as water system maintenance. Mayor Hieftje replied they do, citing Madison, WI. There have been too many water main breaks, and we need to maintain our infrastructure. We are helped in this by the good bond rating that Ann Arbor maintains. Good credit means lower rates. We are also saving money on the Broadway bridge, which should be repaired 3 months ahead of schedule.

Max asked about the status of the municipal yard on North Main and the YMCA building. Mayor Hieftje said that site and the Broadway bridge are brownfield sites in need of cleanup, especially since they are in the floodplain. The city would like to consolidate the Ann Arbor municipal yards on North Main and Washington with those of Pittsfield Twsp. They would like to close them out within 2 years. UM students are currently on development plans for both the municipal yards.

Ann Arbor spent $17,000/quarter to maintain control over the property. The mayor wants to review the strategy of using the Blake Transit Center as a hub for all buses, and the need for low income housing downtown.

The status of DW was updated by Tom Ivacko. He has spoken with Jayne Miller. The AADL has no interest in DW. He asked about possible preservation commitments including a city council resolution, or a conservation easement. Mayor Hieftje said this was new ground with no precedent. The city council would likely be open to it and he doesn't foresee a problem. We should work with Margie Teall and city council.

Tom Ivacko thanked Mayor Hieftje for coming and past accessibility.

Tom presented the minutes of the 12/08/03 meeting. Jack Eaton motioned to approve the minutes. Deb Norbotten seconded the motion. Motion carried unanimously.

Bob Palmer expressed his desire to join the Steering Committee. Jack Eaton reviewed the Bylaws for the appropriate procedure. President Erik Stalhandske approves. Jack Eaton moves that Bob Palmer become a member of the Steering Committee. Kay Holzinger seconds. All in favor.

Finances were reported by Deb Norbotten. FoDW has a balance of $42,300. Tom would like to canvas members for additional contributions. Naela will pursue pledges from local businesses. Max thinks there is no problem hitting Stadium businesses, and that they are more apt to donate goods than money. We should make our members well aware of which businesses donate. A "Thank You" in the Ann Arbor News might be appropriate.

A charitable program at The Money Source was described by Bob Palmer. They will contribute $100 to a charity of the mortgagee's choosing. The program has donated approximately $20,000 in Saline over the last ten years. He will collect FoDW literature for his supervisor and add us to their list.

The Budget Committee is currently on hold until the $50,000 is raised.

The Trails Committee have given 20-25 people trail walks to date, according to Mike Champion. The have used the city's GPS system to lay out a proposed trail network. They are working to arrange a Dicken Woods work day with the Natural Area Preservation Department. That would be a formal work day with significant help from NAP. Their botanist will inspect the property in April, identifying significant ecological features.

Circular trails are preferred by adults, according to Jason, while kids like cutthroughs. The present trails may therefore not be in the best places. The Parks Department planners will have the final say on trail location. It will be beneficial to both sides to develop a high level of trust between FoDW and the NAP.

Our next cleanup of DW is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, May 8, from 1-4.

Trail walks with Mike Champion will continue on Saturdays at 11:00 and Mondays at 4:00.

Molin Nature Area was visited by Stephanie, and she reported that Jason set up a nice trail system there.

Jack Eaton motioned to table agenda item #7, discussion of FoDW's long-term vision for DW. Naela Jenkins seconded the motion. All were in favor.

Animal Count Training of birds, frogs, etc. are being offered by the NADP for those interested.

Jack Eaton move to close the meeting. Jim Boyd seconded the motion. All were in favor.

The meeting ended at 8:46 p.m.

Minutes by Jim Boyd.