By Patricia Snider, Daily Staff Reporter
Published June 5, 2011
The City of Ann Arbor approved a budget on May 31 for the 2012 fiscal year, which includes cuts to the fire and police departments and amendments to various public programs and services.
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City Council member Sabra Briere (D¬–Ward 1) said the newly approved budget deals mostly with moneys allocated to the general fund, which is primarily used to pay administrative and operational expenses such as paying the salaries of members of the police and fire departments as well as for various forms of upkeep around the city.
The approved budget will eliminate 30 fire and police department positions — most of which are currently empty — including five police officers and five fire marshals, Briere said. Retirements, however, may save positions so only two active members of the fire department and four active members of the police department will be laid off, she said.
Briere said there was also a debate within City Council over an ordinance that passed providing 1 percent in additional funding to the city’s Public Art fund, which Briere said the council viewed as “a community driver … and something that (could) increase economic competition.”
Briere added that the approved budget will likely have both positive and negative impacts on the city, including ridding the community of debt while potentially threatening the needs of its citizens.
“The city budget will benefit from this approved budget, because it’s cleared its balance and people know to some extent exactly what we’re spending money on,” Briere said. “The city may find that shrinking city government doesn’t meet all of the needs of all the people living in the city.”
City Council member Stephen Kunselman (D–Ward 3) said transferring $86,000 from the general fund balance to the human services fund helped to lessen the effects of significant cuts to the human services account that were previously made. The human services fund — which would have been reduced by 9 percent in funding — gives money to local, non-profit organizations, a service that Kunselman said is important.
“Ann Arbor is one of two cities across the state that actually provides funding for various non-profits for helping with human services,” he said.
An additional $7,000 from the general fund balance was used to allocate funds for a third primary election — where he and two other council members will be up for reelection, he said.
Kunselman added that the council — in a 6-to-5 vote — agreed to provide an additional $90,000 to the Parks & Recreation fund, specifically recreation.
Kunselman acknowledged that cuts to the police and fire departments could affect the city, adding that the cuts to these departments “are significant concerns.” However, he said the current state of the economy calls for these measures.
“We’re also in a time with our world and the economy, where it’s just not much that we can do,” he said. “We cannot borrow money to pay for staff, we have to have a balanced budget by law.”
Kunselman said the budget cuts do not represent a positive circumstance for the city of Ann Arbor, but added that a optimistic outlook on the situation is needed.
“I don’t think we can describe any of this as positive, but I think we can definitely represent ourselves as being stoic and hope for a better day in the years ahead,” he said.
The newly approved budget represents the main “priorities” of the city, which Kunselman said is generating revenue. He added that a parking agreement with the Downtown Development Authority would allow 17 percent of parking revenue generated to be allocated to city general funds.
Susan Pollay, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, wrote in an e-mail interview that the DDA said the agreement with the city is part of an effort to help the city amid a struggling economy.
Pollay added that a major issue surrounding the current financial struggles is the issue of property taxes, citing the University as an example of an entity exempt from payment of these gainful taxes.
“As an illustration, the U of M has approximately 20 percent of the property within the city limits, and since the U of M is a nonprofit it doesn't pay any taxes,” she wrote.
Pollay wrote that the approved budget for the city of Ann Arbor is directly correlated to the funds provided by the state of Michigan.
“This year, on top of all the other issues facing the city, the state of Michigan passed a budget that significantly reduced the amount of state shared revenues it will give back to the cities,” Pollay wrote.