Almost ALL Washtenaw County Townships/Cities Opt OUT of $500M Dollar Regional Transit Plan
by P.D. Lesko
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje doesn’t have a good track record of getting other politicos to jump on board his transit schemes. The WALLY commuter train was supposed to run between Washtenaw and Livingston counties and be funded by local, state and federal money. Livingston County politicos gave Hieftje the brush off, refusing to entertain the idea that their county residents would be taxed to pay for a train that would run between Howell and Ann Arbor.
AATA continues to spend money on the WALLY, despite the fact that Livingston County’s elected officials want nothing to do with a commuter train whose miniscule ridership would never support the operating costs.
Next came the “regionalization” of transit in Washtenaw County. All of Hieftje’s cronies boarded that Titanic-of-a-plan. The Ann Arbor Ecology Center, the beneficiary of multiple multi-million dollar no bid contracts thanks to the largesse of Hieftje and his Hive Mind on City Council, has been spewing out emails about the environmentalism of regional transit, even as the Ecology Center pretends that the Pall/Gelman plume of 1,4 dioxane is not creeping toward the city’s water supply nestled behind Barton Dam. The Ecology Center is all about expanding transit these days.
Using the $6 million dollars in dedicated millage money forked over each year by Ann Arbor residents, Hieftje and his transit cronies (AATA Board members, the majority of whom do not live in Ann Arbor, have expertise in transit, or even ride the bus regularly) cooked up a scheme to transfer AATA assets to a county-wide entity which would oversee a $500 million dollar expansion of transit within Washtenaw County and run the newly created transit authority. There is speculation among local politicos that Hieftje would, somehow, end up as head of the new authority, with access, finally, to a six-figure salary, a public pension and health care benefits for life.
In March 2012, Hieftje and his Hive Mind on City Council obligated Ann Arbor to participate in the hair-brained plan, despite protests from Ann Arbor residents, as well as Council members who objected to the transfer of the city’s millage, the transfer of AATA assets, the overall cost of the pie-in-the-sky plan, lack of public input, and skimpy financing details, among other issues. These people were conveniently labeled “obstructionist” and “anti-transit” by political opponents used to getting what they want by name-calling and bullying.
Turns out, the politicos recently elected to Ann Arbor City Council—who ran in support of local transit money being used to, well, fund local transit—were prescient and listening to their neighbors’ concerns. Ward 2 Council member-elect Sally Hart Petersen gave the heave-ho to regional transit Sugar Daddy Tony Derezinski and Ward 1 Council member elect Sumi Kailasapathy has, likewise, been frank in her desire to see Ann Arbor allocate local transit money to fund excellent local transit. Their opponents tried to paint the two women as “anti-transit” and even “anti-Democratic” (because as we all know, “real” Democrats support regional transit), but voters in Wards 1 and 2 were not swayed by the simplistic rhetoric.
Ward 5 Council candidate Vivienne Armentrout recently lost her bid to sit on the Ann Arbor City Council because, frankly, having her on the City Council terrified John Hieftje. Hieftje detests having to answer intelligent, informed questions. So, the Borg Queen backed a politically inexperienced drone—the husband of a woman who oversees the GetDowntown program, funded with city tax dollars, as well as by AATA. While Armentrout questioned the support a $500 million dollar regional transit boondoggle had among politicos in the county’s cities and townships, Chuck Warpehoski, with the help of thousands of dollars in donations from the Hive Mind and their real estate and developer friends, told voters that the regionalization of transit is the future our city and county need to move forward into the Great Green Cloud. Warpehoski claimed transportation was all about social justice and equality—cue finger symbols and incense.
Sixty days after the August primary election, there emerged a problem. A big problem. A huge, painful, embarrassing pimple on the arse of Hieftje’s plan to regionalize transit in Washtenaw County: to date 15 of the county’s 23 eligible cities, townships and municipalities presented with the opportunity to participate in the “regionalization” of transit in Washtenaw County have decided not to participate. This leaves Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti Township and Saline (and those city’s taxpayers) as the only participants committed to funding Hieftje’s proposed $500,000,000 regional transit plan, some $8,064 per household, a hefty increase of the $400-$600 per year Ann Arbor taxpayers currently pay to fund AATA and local transit.
There is an excellent possibility that in November, when the newly elected City Council members Petersen and Kailasapathy have the chance to revisit Ann Arbor’s participation in the transit scheme, there will be the votes necessary to force Hieftje to watch his own city opt out of his own flawed, unpopular plan to regionalize transit by ”repurposing” millage money from Ann Arbor taxpayers.
The map, below, comes from Vivienne Armentrout’s blog, it shows, in simple, pink detail, that the majority of the county municipalities, cities and townships want nothing to do with Hieftje’s regional transit boondoggle. As a comment in response to the news that only Ann Arbor, Saline and Ypsilanti Township are signed on to fund the transit plan and participate in it, “After all the time and money spent on planning this, it would seem that the transit planners failed to consult with the affected communities to find out whether anyone else was interested in going forward with the plan. Epic fail.”
This is an updated list of municipalities whose governing bodies have voted to opt out of the transit plan, with date of the decision following:
Lodi Twp (Oct. 2)
Sylvan Twp (Oct. 2)
Sharon Twp (Oct. 4)
Lima Twp (Oct.
Saline Twp (Oct.
Lyndon Twp (Oct. 9)
Salem Twp (Oct. 9)
Augusta Twp (Oct. 10)
York Twp (Oct. 11)
Bridgewater Twp (Oct. 11)
Ann Arbor Twp (Oct. 15)
Superior Township (Oct. 15)
Webster Twp (Oct. 16)
Dexter Twp (Oct. 16)
Manchester Twp (Oct. 16)
Pittsfield Township is preparing to opt out, and Milan is expected to opt out later in October, when elected officials there meet to discuss their proposed participation. Scio Township officials, Armentrout reported, were not talking about whether they intended to join the majority of the county’s other townships and bow out. It is, perhaps, a rather delicious political embarrassment for Governor Rick Snyder, who is trying desperately to sell regional transit on the state-wide level by creating an authority that would link Washtenaw, Oakland and Wayne counties, that Superior Township opted out on October 15th. Snyder lives in Superior Township, and is driven back and forth to Lansing to work each day.
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