For the first time in 14-years, Ann Arbor will soon have a new Mayor. Whom voters elect will help determine the direction of the city's spending priorities.
The question becomes, do Ann Arbor voters want to live in a city with a more progressive vision and willingness to invest in that future? Or, should the tax dollars primarily be invested in providing basic services.
During outgoing Mayor John Hieftje's tenure the city has undergone plenty of changes: City Hall has been expanded and an underground parking structure built. Environmental efforts are creating a greenbelt around the city, among other things.
Hieftje says the city weathered the economic downturn with a more progressive agenda. He says "We're one of those few cities that made it through the recession without an increase in taxes. Our millage today is lower than it was in 2000. I'll argue that point with anybody, but the facts speak for themselves. Ann Arbor city government is incredibly efficient."
Ultimately, city policy and spending practices are evaluated by voters. Dan Schrauban chooses to live in Ann Arbor because the City offers more than basic services. He says "We've even been debating whether we should stay in the area and I guess it's part of the reason we're still here is just because of that type of thing. Basically serving everybody, the expansion of the market, even the types of businesses that have been encouraged or seem to want to come to town."
But some believe city spending priorities have led to painful cuts in essential services, including reductions in police and fire and elimination of loose leaf collection in the fall. Third ward resident John Bruger says trash and recycling pick-ups are great but the streets need a lot of work. He thinks some city funds could have been more wisely spent. "I could say some of the artwork is kind of a waste of money. That's not a city's job, that's a museum's job."
It should be noted, City Council has now eliminated the "Percent for Art" program.Stephen Kunselman is among the four council representatives seeking to become Mayor. He represents Ann Arbor's Third Ward. Kunselman has long advocated a return to city policy focused on funding basic and essential services. "While I love the idea of Commuter rail I shouldn't be spending money on that now, when I've got citizens on south seventh street complaining about the speeding that takes place on that street. that's a basic priority right there."
Sally Hart Petersen represents the 2nd ward. Peterson differs with Kunselman's viewpoint and has made economic development a priority in her campaign. She says "For these so called other things, or more aspirational things, I don't really see them as being above and beyond basic city services. Transportation, affordable housing, those to me are basic city services." As an example, Petersen is particularly interested in working with the University of Michigan on a proposed connector service that would link Plymouth Road, through downtown and the campus area out to Briarwood Mall.
There are still two other candidates to consider in this Democratic primary race. First ward council representative Sabra Briere thinks a more progressive vision has its place, but believes many promises remain unfulfilled. She says "It's not lets get this great idea on the table, ok lets move on to the next great idea. It's alright, we've got this great idea, let's push it forward, lets put the process in place to push it forward."
The fourth and final candidate in the Democratic primary race for Mayor is Christopher Taylor. Taylor says the common vision for the city is for everyday services to be done well, but residents want and deserve more. He says "Balance is obviously the key to governance, we've have so many needs and our resources do not meet those needs. What we need to do is be opportunistic determine where we can get the most bang for the buck and then move forward." Among Taylor's priorities would be a focus on affordable housing, leading the fight against climate change, and public transportation.
Ultimately voters will decide which candidate they think has the best balance of funding core services and investing in the city's future.
— Andrew Cluley is the Ann Arbor beat reporter, and anchor for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him firstname.lastname@example.org.