Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Vote today

Gentle readers, if there is an election where you live, please vote today. Locally I know we have the AAPS Millage. There are also elections in Saline, Chelsea, and Milan. These elections will have low turnout, so you vote is extra important. Please vote if you are able. There is also same day voter registration in the State now. So even if you are not yet registered to vote locally, you could be by the end of the day.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Ann Arbor City Council Preview: November 4th 2019

Gentle readers, tonight is the first #a2council meeting of November. Here's the agenda.

The fun starts off with a moderate 16 item consent agenda. CA-1 is approval of street closings for Kindlefest, Dec. 6th. CA-2 brings a new property into the Greenbelt in partnership with the county and the township. CA-3 is the appropriation of money from the parkland preservation millage to purchase a wetland near Traver Creek.

There is one public hearing tonight. PH-1/B-1 would amend the zoning ordinance to allow for increased floor area ratio (FAR) and increased heights Commercial and Downtown zoned areas for new buildings that incorporate subsidized/affordable housing units. Given that the state greatly limits the ways municipalities can coerce the construction of affordable units, this change to the zoning code seems like a great idea. Thought given the current makeup of council, I would not be surprised if there is heated debate about this ordinance tonight.

This brings us to the final spicy meatball of the evening: DC-5 Resolution in Support of Creating a Plan to Achieve Ann Arbor Community-Wide Climate Neutrality by 2035. Given that this is just a resolution to create a future plan, it will probably not be too controversial. Still I would be surprised if members of council did not take this opportunity to make big statements about climate change.

Gentle readers, what agenda items are you most interested in? Make sure you tune in to the action tonight 7:00 on CTN and follow along with the #a2council hashtag on twitter.

Opinion: vote yes on the AAPS millage tomorrow

Gentle readers, tomorrow there is an election for those of you living in the AAPS district. You will be asked if the district should float a millage for a 30-year billion dollar bond. Here is more information about the specifics.

Here's my tl;dr: I am for the AAPS millage. Public schools are a public good, and it makes sense to do what we can to support the schools in our community.

In the last two decades, public schools in Michigan have gone from middle of the pack nationally to below 45th. At a state level, we have a broken system for funding public schools. This millage will not fix that. However, it will help to insulate AAPS against the budgetary reality at the state level (I think Michigan is the only state that has not increased school funding in the last 10 years). There are some folks saying we need to fix school funding at the state level rather than put this local bandaid on the budget. There is no way we will have a shot at fixing the school funding until the state legislature is not gerrymandered. So that means waiting until at least 2022 before we can even have a plan put forward at the state level. There is the possibility of a voter initiated petition drive, but I am unaware of any group working on this currently. A petition drive would require at least a year of work and likely millions of dollars. In short, I don't think it is reasonable to wait for school funding to be fixed at the state level before we try to make sure our local schools are OK.

The billion dollar price tag seems like a lot. AAPS has 32 buildings with an average age of 62 years. The millage comes out to about one million per building per year for the life of the millage. Without the millage, I am unsure how AAPS will pay for needed upgrades and it will certainly put the schools in a worse position.

Some people are upset that last year the school board dropped ~$800k to purchase a property next to a school where a daycare was going in. They see this as an example of how the board is out of control and making wastefull decisions. I think the board was largely responding to parent pressure. Also, $800k is only 0.08% of the millage amount. One example of a small, potentially wasteful purchase is not a great reason to not support the School District. Rather, it's a reason to work harder to ensure the district makes responsible choices in the future.

The anti-millage side has a lot of the usual anti-tax suspects. Now they don't say that they are anti-tax, instead they nitpick about this millage. I think this is disingenuous. I am seeing shades of the opposition to the 2009 Washtenaw County Schools Millage here. Note: the anti-millage group has not submitted a donor list at this point so I can't say which monied interests are opposing the millage this time. In 2009, it was the county's largest landlord.

There are also some AAPS teachers opposing the millage. The AAPS Teachers Union is officially neutral on the millage. AAPS administration has been pretty shitty to the teachers, who made pay sacrifices in the recession to help balance the budget. These have not been reciprocated by the administration. Teachers are rightfully pissed. The thought is that AAPS Administration should have done more to get the teachers on board and engage them with the millage. And if it's turned down by the voters the thought is that the board and administration will need to get teachers on board for a future millage. Thus the teachers will have increased leverage in upcoming contract negotiations. From my point of view, I am unsure how putting the district on a worse financial footing will help teachers.

So, I am for the millage. The Huron Valley Labor Federation/AFL-CIO support it. AAPS will need to modernize its facilities in the coming decades. If this millage is not passed, it will mean cuts to other places and painful tradeoffs to make the needed improvements. You can look at all the immediately needed repairs as well as future building needs here.