ANN ARBOR, MICHIGAN – a nice place to live. The trees outnumber the citizens, the buildings, the cars, probably even the 409,000 parking tickets dealt out by the city last year. 109,252 people stretch across 27.4 square-miles of what Money magazine designated as the 46th best place to live in the United States in 1990. [1] Over 2000 acres of parkland, including baseball and softball diamonds, soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, ice skating rinks, swimming pools and hiking and biking trails, tatoo this seat of Washtenaw County. Two nationally accredited Class A public high schools nurture over 3600 kids while over 36,000 students from all over the world harvest knowledge from Ann Arbor's largest landowner, the University of Michigan. The list goes on: Easy access to two world-class hospitals. Twenty-five minutes from an international airport. Just an hour from Detroit and Lansing .... Ann Arbor is a really nice place to live.

Yet, as with most local governments, Ann Arbor City Council is on defense, jockeying infrastructure decay, budget squeezing and demand for better services. Currently, wood beams shoulder splitting concrete in four of the seven city parking structures. Repairs estimated by Walker Parking Consultants/Engineers, Inc. of Kalamazoo, Michigan range from $6 million – the sum of short-term alternatives – to $19 million – the sum of long-term alternatives. Unsuitable parking at the Maynard structure, in part, has downtown's largest retailer, Jacobson's, threatening to relocate to the City's perimeter. Efforts to locate funds for improving parking facilities, including construction of a new structure, has activists for Ann Arbor's homeless citizens – population estimated to reach as high as 1,500 within the next year [2] – demonstrating on City streets and at City Council meetings insisting: "House people not cars."

In addition to decaying infrastructure, Ann Arbor is feeling tightening budget constraints. In June, the U of M approved a plan to form its own police force and parking bureau, possibly diverting $1.1 million in revenue from the City's $110 million operating budget. Also in June, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) tagged Ann Arbor with a $108,000 fine for landfill overfill violations and required the City to install a special cap over 330,000 cubic yards of excess trash; clean up the soil, sediment and groundwater contamination; and control erosion. Since the DNR has not yet determined the exact specifications of the cap, the cost of compliance is unknown. However, the City had budgeted $8.3 million from a $28.2 million environmental bond issue passed in April to remove the overfill and construct a standard cap. While the City awaits DNR approval for expansion of the landfill, which could take at least two years, much of the City's trash is being dumped in the private Browning-Ferris Industries' Arbor Hill Landfill in Salem Township.

Attacking the fiscal year 1990 $9 million solid waste fund's $1.7 million deficit, City Council had been considering a plan to implement, on November 1, 1990, a $1­per-bag fee for weekly residential trash pick-up beyond one bag per household. Intense citizen outrage forced the Council to put the plan on review. The Council recently approved a resolution to hire a consultant to conduct a feasibility study regarding a user-fee schedule.

The introduction to Ann Arbor's 1990-91 budget, "The Budget Message," signed by Ann Arbor's City Administrator Del Borgsdorf, records the City's current position: "The immediate fiscal crisis has been met, leaving the City with a series of complex financial challenges as this budget is submitted and reviewed. Infrastructure challenges far exceed available resources." [3]

The message continues, quoting a Planning Commission resolution stating that commission's view on solving the problem:

"Be it further resolved that alternative sources of revenue be explored in order to undertake necessary public improvement projects and maintenance of facilities in future years. The Planning Commission concludes: (1) That the City's infrastructure has deteriorated and will experience further serious deterioration over the next decade unless additional revenues from sources such as recreation fees, utility rates, street improvement millages, parking rates, City income tax, etc. are effectuated, and (2) that dedicated reserve funds be created to provide a systematic replacement of essential facilities as needed, otherwise closing of certain facilities may be necessary." [4]

Major issues of concern enumerated in the message include solid waste, utilities, parking, housing, education and development.