While the City of Ann Arbor has laid off police officers and eliminated positions from the fire department this year, it is sitting on $1.5 million that it has set aside for public art. The city has raised $2.7 million for public art since 2009, but has only spent $1.1 million on two art projects, according to a city official and public documents received in a Freedom of Information Act request.

The city set up its “public arts” fund in 2007, with the City Council agreeing to take 1 percent of the money that went into capital improvement projects that were $100,000 or larger and set it aside for art. Most capital projects involve streets, sewers and water.

Aaron Seagraves, the city’s public art administrator, said there are several projects planned. For example, the city wants to put $150,000 of art in its Ann Arbor Justice Center police and courts building.

“Art is in the eye of the beholder, but crime statistics are not,” said Michael LaFaive, director of the Mackinac Center's Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative.

LaFaive said the residents would be better served if money for sewers were actually spent on sewer construction and not diverted for public art, and that it would be better to have “people donate money to arts instead of having it extracted from them.”

Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje didn’t return an email seeking comment. But AnnArbor.com reported that the mayor wants to do more with public art.

Ed Jacques, spokesman for the Police Officers Association of Michigan, said he was reluctant to say much on the topic because the city is negotiating a contract with Ann Arbor’s police union.

“The most important service that a community or municipality can provide is security and safety for its residents,” Jacques said. “That has to be the No. 1 issue.”

According to AnnArbor.com, the city eliminated 20 positions in the police and fire departments for the 2011-12 fiscal year. Seven police department employees were laid off.

~~~~~

See also:

The Art of the Ann Arbor City Budget

Cheap housing could be Michigan Art's best friend

Jackson Considers Cutting Cops While City-Owned Pools Swim in Red Ink