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Thursday, August 31, 2017

Skyscrapers on Ann Arbor Stories

The Glazier Building, Ann Arbor's first skyscraper, was built in 1906.

Ann Arbor's Tallest Building, the 26-story Tower Plaza, turns 50 this year. You can celebrate Tower Plaza's golden jubilee by listening to today's Ann Arbor Stories. There are some great stories in today's episode including the shady financing of Ann Arbor's first skyscraper, the Glazier Building as well as the drama surrounding the approval of Tower Plaza. But my favorite part is about a proposed skyscraper that never was, the 30-story Leaning Tower of Pizza.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Parkridge Fest and Heritage Fest this weekend for

Gentle readers, it's a big weekend in Ypsilanti and you should stop by and check things out. Tomorrow is the Parkridge Summer Festival from 11 am to 6 pm. I'm ashamed to admit, but I have never been to one yet, but I hear they are great. I mean, it's hard to go wrong with free music and free food.

Ypsilanti Heritage Fest starts today and runs through Sunday in Riverside Park. So why not make a weekend of it and checkout all the cool events in Ypsi?

Friday, August 18, 2017

Initial thoughts on an Ann Arbor income tax

City Staff will make a presentation about a local income tax to a special session of Ann Arbor City Council on Monday, September 11th. My understanding is that idea behind the income tax is two-fold. First, the U of M owns a lot of property in Ann Arbor and does not pay property taxes. So, every time the U buys a new property, it shifts the tax burden onto the remaining property owners in the city. Second, lots of folks commute into Ann Arbor to work. These people use some city services, but don't pay for them because they don't pay property taxes in the city. As per state law, the income tax would be 1% for Ann Arbor residents and 0.5% for people who work in Ann Arbor but don't live there. It would also reduce the city's operating millage, which is 6 mils. This would broaden the city's tax base and reduce the tax burden on property owners.

In some discussions of the proposed city income tax, it's framed as a way to make U of M (or at least its employees) contribute a fair share to the city's fiscal health. It's also framed as a way to make high income folks who work in the city contribute to the city's well-being. Here's my fear about the proposed income tax: it would shift the tax burden from property owners onto workers. I worry specifically about: 1) people who rent in Ann Arbor and work in Ann Arbor; and 2) people who cannot afford to live in Ann Arbor but commute to there for work. It seems immoral to me to shift the tax burden from property owners in Ann Arbor to people who work in Ann Arbor. This assumes that by and large, people who own property in Ann Arbor are generally wealthier than those who rent in Ann Arbor and those who cannot afford to live in Ann Arbor but still work there. If the income tax passes, it will result in a reduction of the city's 6 mil operating millage. Do you think any any landlords would reduce any of their tenants' rent if their property taxes go down? How would one justify this tax to a low wage worker who commutes into Ann Arbor?

I'll admit that this is a pretty hot take and I have not done due diligence. I'm interested in hearing what you think about an income tax in Ann Arbor, gentle reader. Does the ability to tax high income individuals who live outside of the city outweigh the taxes on low wage workers and renters? Perhaps some of my concerns could be ameliorated if workers earning under say $50k were exempt from the income tax.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Voter turnout up across all wards in Ann Arbor City Council primary

Gentle readers, the last odd year #a2council primary has come and gone. Voter turnout was up across all 4 of the wards that had contested primaries last week. The Fighting Fifth maintains its position as the Ann Arbor ward with the highest turnout. Interestingly, this pattern of higher turnout runs against the pattern of lower turnout in the May 2017 election. You can check out all of the data for yourself on the Washtenaw County Election's website.

Ward 1:

2015: 6.05%
2017: 9.94%

Ward 3:

2015: 10.61%
2017: 12.17%

Ward 4:

2015: 10.08%
2017: 11.50%

Ward 5:

2015: 14.09%
2017: 17.00%

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Water Street millage passes in Ypsilanti

With 64% of voters in favor, the Water Street millage passed today. A total of 1544 voters voted in favor, while 867 were opposed. This means the city will be able to pay off the debt on the Water Street property more quickly.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Please vote tomorrow

Gentle readers, as you know, we take local elections very seriously here. This is especially true for the August primary, which in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor usually decides who will win the general election for the city council and mayoral races. Tomorrow there are important races in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor.
In Ypsilanti voters will be deciding whether to adopt a 2.3 mil millage to retire the debt owned on the Water Street Property. This would cost someone who owns a house values at $100,000 an additional $115 per year in property taxes. WEMU has a good piece on the Water Street Millage here. Full disclosure: I support the millage and was interviewed for the WEMU story.
In Ann Arbor there are contested races in Wards 1, 3, 4, and 5. Here's an earlier Damn Arbor article looking at the campaign finance data for the election.
The August primary usually has tragically low voter turnout. That means if you do vote, your vote counts for even more, relatively. So please, take time to vote tomorrow.
Personally I am really interested to see what the turnout numbers will be tomorrow. I'm interested in seeing how tomorrow's voter turnout will compare to past odd-year primaries. For last May's school funding millage, the voter turnout was lower than previous odd-year, May elections. I am interested in whether the interest in politics at the national level will trickle down to the local level resulting in increased voter turnout in tomorrow's elections in comparison to similar odd-year elections.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Ann Arbor Stories remembers the Ann Arbor Zoo

From 1929 to 1963 U of M had a very small zoo on the corner of Geddes and Washtenaw. I remember my dad telling me about it when I was a kid. There was a fondness in those memories, but also some sadness as the zoo was quite small. Though University briefly flirted with expanding the zoo to a 40 acre zoological garden, those plans never came to fruition. Ultimately, the U of M's small zoo was disbanded. You can hear all about it on toady's Ann Arbor Stories.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Whittaker the Turkey gets obituary in The Atlantic

Whittaker the Turkey died doing what he loved: standing in the middle of the road. Atlantic writer, Julie Beck, became fascinated by Whittaker while home visiting her family this winter. She has a touching obituary for our region's most famous galliform. If you were a fan of Whittaker, you will want to check the article out. I never knew there was so much Whittaker fan art.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Election 2017: campaign finance edition

July pre-election campaign statements are in! I'm still digesting the information, but here's a glance at the numbers. The hyper

Ward 1

Anne Bannister - Donations: $6,675; In-kind donations: $365; Expenditures: $2,969.55; Campaign Finance Filing

Jason Frenzel - Donations: $11,217; In-kind donations: $400; Expenditures: $4,886.12; Campaign Finance Filing

Total donations: $17,892; Total expenditures: $7,855.67

Ward 3
Zach Ackerman - Donations: $12,698; In-kind donations: $0; Expenditures: $9,046.50; Campaign Finance Filing

Steve Kunselman - Donations: $6,119; In-kind donations: $0; Expenditures: $4,303.50; Campaign Finance Filing

Total donations: $18,817; Total expenditures: $4,303.50

Ward 4
Jack Eaton - Donations: $5,805; In-kind donations: $197; Expenditures: $3,891.65; Campaign Finance Filing

Jaime Magiera - Donations: $4,280; In-kind donations: $0; Expenditures: $1,043; Campaign Finance Filing

Total donations: $10,085; Total expenditures: $4,935.38

Ward 5
David Silkworth - Donations: $9,949; In-kind donations: $1,248.07; Expenditures: $3,730.37; Campaign Finance Filing

Chip Smith - Donations: $11,510; In-kind donations: $1,329.65; Expenditures: $6926.94; Campaign Finance Filing

Total donations: $21,459; Total expenditures: $10,657

Assorted observations: while the campaign to represent the Fighting Fifth has received the most donations, the candidates in the race to represent Ward 3 have outspent those running for the Ward 5 seat by almost $4,000. Ward 4 appears to be the least expensive ward to run in. The combined expenditures in that race were just more than a third of those for the most expensive race. In total across wards, there have been $69,253 in donations and $37,751 in expenditures. I don't have the data on hand at the moment, but it would be interesting to track the change in donation volume and expenditure over time. I imagine there is general upward trend.

If I had more time, I think a really interesting next step would be to enter all the donations into a more user friendly format and do a more in-depth analysis. Specifically, I'd like to do a clustering analysis across candidates to analyze the networks of donors who are donating to multiple candidates. Also, I'd love to do something like the Chronicle did in 2014 where they looked at the geographic distribution of donations in each race.

In closing gentle readers, I encourage you to look at the campaign finance filings for each candidate. It's an important part of being an informed voter. It's really wonderful that the County Clerk puts this information online in such a timely manner.