Ann Arbor launches online budget survey, but some city officials question its value

ANN ARBOR, MI — Ann Arbor officials are asking for public input on city spending priorities as they begin budget planning for fiscal year 2021-22.

The city is encouraging residents to share their opinions via a 20-minute online survey by Nov. 24.

The survey is available in three languages:

City Council allocated $13,000 to hire the National Research Center/Polco to conduct the survey, but whether to do it was a topic of political debate amongst council members.

Council voted 8-3 last month to approve doing the survey proposed by Council Member Jane Lumm, I-2nd Ward.

Lumm said the city’s financial conditions have changed dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic and both the city and its residents face financial uncertainty, while the city is embarking on major carbon-neutrality and affordable housing initiatives expected to be funded by new taxes.

Several hundred units of affordable housing possible at these 9 Ann Arbor sites

Lumm said she hears a lot of residents say things like “fix the roads” and the survey will give officials more detail about where residents support increasing or decreasing spending.

Mayor Christopher Taylor and Council Members Julie Grand and Chip Smith opposed Lumm’s survey proposal.

Grand, D-3rd Ward, said she respects where Lumm is coming from, but she thinks the value of doing such a survey is overestimated and she doesn’t intend to legislate by survey.

The city is committed to working toward priority-based budgeting, looking at values and tradeoffs, Grand said. A survey that asks residents to “just blankly rank” where they’d like to see money spent without the full context city officials have as policymakers is a waste of money, she said.

Taylor agreed with Grand that a public opinion survey of this nature lacks sufficient context and he intends to look to other measures to make budget decisions.

Smith, D-5th Ward, called it an abdication of leadership to legislate by survey.

The survey asks residents how they would rate Ann Arbor as a place to live and how well the city is doing in areas such as managing growth and planning for the future.

It also asks residents how they’d like to see the following annual funding levels change:

  • Street Repair: $14,279,531
  • Street Maintenance: $8,402,454
  • Traffic Control: $4,823,878
  • Street Lighting: $2,373,582
  • Pedestrian Safety: $470,000
  • Police: $26,814,480
  • Fire: $16,334,642
  • 15th District Court: $3,177,060
  • Wastewater (Sewage): $25,384,525
  • Drinking Water: $23,386,855
  • Solid Waste: $18,185,924
  • Stormwater: $10,089,667
  • Parks – Maintenance & Improvements: $6,937,115
  • Parks – Recreation: $1,615,786
  • Parks – Maintenance: $2,360,319
  • Parks – Acquisition: $1,425,515
  • Construction Inspections: $4,852,934
  • Development Planning: $951,920
  • Rental Housing: $44,897
  • Affordable Housing: $1,390,939
  • Economic Development: $6,360,125
  • Human Services: $1,326,329
  • Sustainability and Climate Change: $1,861,953
  • Clerk’s Office: $1,364,458
  • Communications: $2,000,422
  • Airport: $939,160
  • Greenbelt: $915,435
  • Emergency Management: $218,279

Survey results will be provided to council in December and made available on the city’s budget process website.

City officials typically hold an annual budget retreat in December to begin planning the next fiscal year’s budget.

Five new members will be joining the 11-member council next month and will get to vote on the budget next spring.

The city administrator will present a recommended budget plan to council in April, followed by council adoption in May, for the 2021-22 fiscal year starting next July.

Amid calls to defund police, some Ann Arbor officials have said they want to rethink the city’s approach to policing and consider shifting city resources to alternatives to armed officers for certain situations.


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