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Issues Of The Environment: Millage Funding For Washtenaw’s NAPP Programs May Move To Endowment

Dec 6, 2017

Arbor Woods Preserve
Credit Washtenaw County / ewashtenaw.org

Preserving natural parks has been a part of Washtenaw County's environmental mission, and a tax millage has made that possible.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair speaks to James D’Amour, Executive Committee Vice Chair for the Sierra Club of Huron Valley's Michigan Chapter, about how the funding model for the program could change. 


Overview

   ·  In the year 2000, Washtenaw County voters passed a millage for Washtenaw County Natural Area Parks and Preservation.  That tax levy was renewed in 2010.  The millage has allowed the county to preserve and protect 3438 acres in 17 years.  NAPP and their partners (the Ann Arbor Greenbelt, Scio Township, Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy) have created a system of high quality nature areas throughout the county, and enabled parks to created in regions where development was likely.

   ·  At its Sept. 21, 2017 working session, the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners discussed a proposal to direct $15M from that millage to establish an “endowment fund” over the next three years.  It would pay for operations, maintenance, and monitoring of acquired parks and conservations easements that were acquired under the millage.

   ·  The Sierra Club of Huron Valley, Michigan Chapter objects to such a large diversion of funds.  Instead, they suggest a smaller portion (equal to the annual operating budget) be set aside each year for three years.  The group says NAPP has a substantial list of properties that it has prioritized for future purchase, and the concern is that such a decrease in present funding will require fewer properties to be protected in the long run.

Natural Areas Preservation Program (NAPP)

Total Land Protected (2001-present): 3438 acres 

Washtenaw County’s Natural Areas Preservation Program (NAPP) purchases unique natural areas to ensure their preservation for the benefit of all County residents plants, animals and people!  The Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission manages the program, identifying and caring for lands with special ecological, recreational, and educational benefits.  The NAPP nature preserves are open to the public from dawn until dusk daily.

The program goal is to identify lands which, through long-term preservation, will:

  • Protect and preserve the natural, ecological diversity/heritage of Washtenaw County
  • Complement the existing network of publicly and privately protected lands
  • Maximize the public benefit

Program Origin

NAPP was established in 2000 by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners through the passage of Natural Areas Ordinance No. 128.  The ordinance provides procedures and standards for purchase and protection of natural areas by the County.  In 2010, voters chose to renew the County-wide, ¼ mill tax that funds the program.  Funding will continue through the end of the year 2020. 

Acquisition Process

The process begins when landowners nominate their property to the program.  Properties recommended by the Natural Areas Technical Advisory Committee (NATAC) or the Agricultural Lands Preservation Advisory Committee (ALPAC) are reviewed by the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission and the Local Unit of Government where the land is located.  If the Commission decides to proceed with the acquisition, the landowner will be made an offer at fair market value, as established by a certified appraiser.

Lands purchased with NAPP funds are owned and maintained by the Washtenaw County Parks & Recreation Commission.  WCPARC also partners with other land preservation organizations to find creative ways to protect and preserve natural areas.  For example, in 2003 we partnered with The Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy (SMLC) to add 64 acres to their LeFurge Woods Nature Preserve.  NAPP funds purchased a conservation easement on the 64 acres and SMLC owns and maintains the land.  If you're interested in the details of all land transactions to date, take a look at the NAPP acquisition history

Partners:

Ann Arbor Greenbelt

Scio Township

SMLC

Superior Township

The Nature Conservancy

Ann Arbor Greenbelt

Scio Township

Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy

Superior Township

The Nature Conservancy

Sierra Club Opposes Redirection of County Parks Millage

[Ann Arbor]: The Sierra Club, Huron Valley Group announced its concern regarding a proposal aired by the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners to redirect $15 million from the Natural Area Parks and Preservation millage passed by voters in 2000 and renewed in 2010.

The $15M is to establish an “endowment fund” over the next three years to pay for operations, maintenance, and monitoring of acquired parks and conservations easements acquired under the millage in the past 16 years.  "We certainly support robust stewardship of our parks and natural areas, as well as looking after our easements acquired by the citizens of Washtenaw County,” remarked James D’Amour, Vice-Chair of the Sierra Club Huron Valley Group; however, we do not support the establishment of a $15 Million endowment from the NAPP millage proceeds as proposed at the Sept. 21, 2017 Working Session.

“We believe diverting $15 Million from the NAPP millage proceeds over such a short time period would deprive the program of funds for land acquisition and conservation easements.  While well meaning, this is the wrong approach.

“Stewardship of the NAPP preserves has been ongoing and funded by the NAPP millage.  The annual revenue from the millage is about $3.5 M and stewardship allocation is currently about $600K.  Park staff are concerned about continued stewardship funding if the current millage were not renewed in 2020.  However, funding a $15Mendowment now would essentially consume all current millage proceeds (and more), depriving the NAPP program of funds for land acquisition or conservation easements (CEs).  There are a number of excellent properties being considered for the NAPP program, and it would be a substantial loss of trust and momentum for the program to divert this amount of funding entirely for stewardship the next few years.

“This is breaking a promise to the people of Washtenaw County.”  “We suggest this as a possible alternative...

“Long-term stewardship of NAPP properties is essential and is an appropriate concern. Washtenaw County has strongly supported the NAPP millage in the past, and we would suggest that a renewal of the millage consider, in part, funding a long-term stewardship .plan. Pending renewal/revision of the millage, a short-term stewardship fund might be considered, e.g., a 3-year buffer fund to set aside an additional $600K annually to build a $1.8M fund to be used if needed if a millage renewal is delayed.

“We urge the County to move in a more appropriate direction suggested here. (Source: letter from Sierra Club HV to WCC, provided by James D’Amour)

Letter from Sierra Club HV to Commissioner Andy LaBarre

“Dear Commissioner LaBarre:

The Sierra Club, Huron Valley Group is a 3,700 member organization representing individuals throughout Washtenaw, Monroe, and Lenawee Counties dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the wonders of the natural environment of the land for future generations.   The Huron Valley Group has had a long- standing involvement with the county Natural Areas Preservation Program (NAPP).  We played a key role in getting the proposal on the ballot and in supporting the original millage and the renewal.  We did so because we recognized the value of preserving the county’s unique natural features, open space, and agricultural lands in the face of urban sprawl and development pressures.  While we agree on the essential need for stewardship of the many preserves and conservation easements established by NAPP, we do not support the establishment of a $15 Million endowment from the NAPP millage proceeds as proposed at the Sept. 21st Working Session.

Stewardship of the NAPP preserves has been ongoing and funded by the NAPP millage.  The annual revenue from the millage is about $3.5 M and stewardship allocation is currently about $600K.

Park staff are concerned about continued stewardship funding when the current millage expires in 2020. However, funding a $15M endowment now would essentially consume all current millage proceeds (and more), depriving the NAPP program of funds for land acquisition or conservation easements (CEs). There are a number of excellent properties being considered for the NAPP program, and it would be a substantial loss of trust and momentum for the program to divert this amount of funding entirely for stewardship the next few years. Long-term stewardship of NAPP properties is essential and is an appropriate concern. There are many invasives to control, as well at trails to maintain and CEs to monitor. Washtenaw County has strongly supported the NAPP millage in the past, and we would suggest that a renewal of the millage consider, in part, funding a long-term stewardship plan. Pending renewal/revision of the millage, a short-term stewardship fund might be considered, e.g., a 3-year buffer fund to set aside an additional $600K annually to build a $1.8M fund to be used if needed if a millage renewal is delayed.

We thank you for considering our comments.

Sincerely,

Nancy Shiffler, Chair, Executive Committee

James D’Amour, Vice Chair, Executive Committee Sierra Club, Huron Valley Group, Michigan Chapter (Source: letter from Sierra Club HV to WCC, provided by James D’Amour)" 

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu