Is EMU buying more property in the city?

October 31, 2002 by  
Filed under News

I hope that Eastern Michigan University is not contemplating purchasing the Ave Maria property now that Ave Maria has announced it is moving to Florida. Instead, I hope that Ave Maria would consider selling the property to someone that will put it back on the tax roles rather than selling to EMU. Unfortunately I think it is already too late and I suspect that Ave Maria and Mr. Monaghan have already cooked up a deal behind the scenes and EMU will scarf up the property when it becomes available.

With the current downturn in the economy, reduced funding from the state, proposed double digit tuition hikes for next year, and the ever growing grumblings over the extravagance of the President’s multi-million dollar house, EMU can ill afford to be acquiring more property in the city. According to recent articles in the Ann Arbor News, the EMU presidents house is bigger and more expensive then the Governor’s mansion. Moreover, Ypsilanti cannot afford to have more property kept off the tax roles.

I ask President Kirkpatrick and the EMU Board of Regents to pledge to the community that they will stop acquiring property in the city until EMU and the community can come up with a way that is fair for both groups to compensate the community for the tax loss. Just because EMU acquires the property does not mean that the city will not incur expenses related to those properties. There is road maintenance, drains, leaf pickup, street cleaning, trash, police, fire and a host of other city services that still must be paid for. Yet each property owner pays a bigger chunk of money for these services every time EMU buys another property in the city.

EMU should commit to a strategy of payment in lieu of taxes (Pilot) for any new property acquired in the city. I am not suggesting a Pilot for existing properties, only new property that EMU acquires.

Secondly, EMU needs to fund from their own budget the lost revenue from the state for fire protection services. The city is obligated by law to provide fire protection services for all of EMU. Yet EMU does not pay their fair share of the costs to run the city’s fire department. So the burden of fire protection for EMU falls on the shoulders of the taxpayers of Ypsilanti which is unfair. Ypsilanti is even required to provide fire service for the presidents’ new multi-million dollar house, yet there have been no inspections of that property to make sure it meets current local and national fire and building codes.

No income is coming from EMU to help pay for fire protection service for the presidents house, however, if the there is a fire, you can be sure EMU will be calling the City of Ypsilanti to put it out.

If EMU and the State are not willing to pay for fire service, then EMU should have to build their own fire department. EMU already has their own police department; maybe it is time for EMU to have their own fire department. Perhaps when EMU sees the millions of dollars it will cost to build their own department, EMU will decide it is cheaper to pay the several hundred thousand dollars per year it costs to provide fire service for the entire campus. It is not fair to the citizens of Ypsilanti to bear the additional burden of providing fire service simply because the University is located in our city.

I want EMU as part of this vibrant and growing community. But I want them as an equal partner not one that constantly takes advantage of the residents of the city. EMU is just like the neighbor that is always coming over to borrow the lawn mower and brings it back dirty and with no gas. Then the neighbor gets mad when you ask them to pay for some of the gas. EMU should be the neighbor that brings the lawn mower back cleaner then when they borrowed it.

Sometimes it appears that EMU doesn’t see just how important the city is to their success. EMU wants the city to come out and support their football team so they can preserve the Division 1 status. Perhaps the community would be more supportive of EMU if the university would support the men and women in the Ypsilanti Fire Department by EMU paying their fair share of the bill.

The City of Ypsilanti is the first thing that parents see when they visit EMU. If the city doesn’t survive, neither will EMU. No parent will want to send their kid to a community with run down houses, rampant crime, poor streets, and weeds in the park. Yet we don’t have these sorts of problems because of the excellent work done by all the city departments and employees.

The city is cracking down on delinquent landlords, we are spending millions of dollars to fix our roads, we have the lowest crime in years, far lower then many of our neighboring cities, we have two great downtown destinations, and we have an outstanding park system. Yet the city does it with fewer and fewer dollars each time a property is taken off the tax rolls by EMU and because EMU will not pay for fire services.

It costs money to provide these city services and everyone that uses them should pay their fair share. EMU should be covering some of those costs, especially the costs that directly benefit them, such as fire protection service.

EMU is the largest property owner in the city so they will have the greatest impact, positive or negative, on a visitor’s first impression to the community. It will be very difficult to recruit students and parents to EMU, if EMU is not a partner in the success of the city and pays for some of the city services they use.

We have already made important first steps with numerous EMU-City joint committees, but we need to do more. The first thing EMU can do is to pledge to not buy any more property in the city until we can come up with a way to make up for the lost tax revenue through a Pilot program. This small step of pledging to not buy any more property won’t cost EMU a penny and yet it will pay huge dividends for the city. Then EMU should commit that by this time next year, they will come up with a way to pay for their portion of fire protection services for the EMU campus.

EMU needs to get on board now and become an equal partner with the city. If they don’t, EMU and many other state universities risk citizens from all over the state banding together to pass laws that will require the university to follow all local building codes and inspections for all new construction, to reimburse communities for lost taxes when they acquire land, to fully collect taxes from revenue and assets from non-university related functions, to implement income taxes for non-resident university staff, and to mandate full reimbursement for fire, parking, police, and other city services used by the university.

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