Washtenaw County board mulls changes to countywide transit authority agreement
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
After the Ann Arbor City Council and Ypsilanti City Council signed off on the agreement, and the Ann Arbor Transit Authority approved it, the county board felt it was necessary to address the issue before making a decision at its July 11 meeting, said Commissioner Yousef Rabhi.
The countywide authority is a part of AATA’s five-year plan to expand transportation services in the county - increasing access to public transit, extending operating hours and upping service frequency.
A positive vote by the county board will start the process to create the transit authority - including the drafting of ballot language to be drafted so a 0.5 mill tax can be put before voters of the county.
The county’s approval doesn’t force any community to participate, automatically create an authority or offer the county’s full faith and credit, said AATA CEO Michael Ford.
Rabhi, the chairman of the working sessions, said before the meeting he hoped the board could come to a consensus on changes in the agreement that Ford could hash out with the three other parties in the weeks before the July 11 meeting.
However, the board’s recommendation to Ford was somewhat muddied at the meeting Thursday night.
Rabhi conducted a straw poll of Commissioners Dan Smith, Wesley Prater, Alicia Ping, Felicia Brabec and Conan Smith on a number of changes to the agreement brought up during a three-hour long discussion, but the results were underwhelming.
Commissioners Rolland Sizemore Jr. and Leah Gunn had left the meeting before the poll. Commissioners Rob Turner, Ronnie Peterson and Barbara Levin Bergman were absent.
Ann Arbor City Council members Sabra Briere and Jane Lumm attended the meeting to listen to the county board’s discussion.
The board agreed on certain changes that needed to be made in the agreement, and couldn’t come to a consensus on others.
Most commissioners agreed that:
- Board members of the new transit authority should be residents of the jurisdiction they’re appointed to represent
- The transit authority board should not have the authority to remove a member - it should be up to the municipalities they represent
- If one of the four parties drops out, the county should be able to dissolve the authority
Most of the changes were introduced by Commissioner Dan Smith, who came prepared with a draft of changes to the four-party agreement. Many of his recommendations stemmed from concerns about regulating the power of the new authority.
“We’re creating a brand new government entity with the ability to tax,” said Dan Smith.
Commissioner Prater expressed some similar concerns.
“There’s absolutely no oversight by any responsibe party,” Prater said. “In the public sector I’ve never seen a set of articles of incorporation like these.”
The city of Ann Arbor has more leverage in many aspects of the four-party agreement, which the commissioners debated at length.
Ford explained that because Ann Arbor has a lot of existing transit assets, it is surrendering to the new authority, it's granted special provisions in the agreement.
Commissioners were also concerned that AATA currently provides express services to Canton and Chelsea, though the two municipalities don’t pay for the service. The new transit authority would require them to pay, Ford said.
Commissioner Rabhi told Ford that it was his responsibility to negotiate the board’s expressed concerns in the agreement with the other three parties in the agreement. Should the agreement come back to the county board in July with no changes made, the commissioners could have difficulty passing it, he said.
“Normally I wouldn’t ask you to consider that,” said Conan Smith to Ford. “But I do think these points raised by Dan are particularly weighty issues that warrant a conversation with those units of government.”