Video: Ypsilanti City Council September 2, 2008

September 4, 2008 by  
Filed under Breaking News, Video

(September 4, 2008) City Council meeting went well past 11pm as a number of issues were before the council.

Brian Robb (Dem, Ward 3) surprised Mayor Paul Schreiber (Dem) by asking for a reconsideration of the ordinance waiving inspection fees and forgiving PILOT payments that have remained unpaid by the Ypsilanti Housing Commission since 2005. Schreiber had told Robb in an email last week that Robb could not bring the matter back up for reconsideration.

After Robb asked for the reconsideration, City Attorney Karl Barr told the Mayor the issue could be brought back up by Robb.

At issue is the forgiveness of nearly $25,000 in past due fees for unpaid inspections by City officials. The agreement approved last month, also waived any future fees for inspections and no longer holds the Housing Commission responsible for following City Ordinances when it comes to rental inspections. It also forgave nearly $18,000 in past due Payment in Lieu of Taxes payments the YHC agreed to pay back in 2004.

YHC had been holding back those payments since they agreed to the PILOT nearly 4 years ago. Later in the meeting, Schreiber said that while he was on Chair of the Housing Commission, he did not approve the withholding of PILOT payments. It is unclear who authorized YHC Director Walter Norris to withhold PILOT payments in violation of the agreement with the City.

There was a active discussion by all members of council who had questions about what they had actually approved at the previous meeting.

Robb’s motion survived two attempts to table the matter by Trudy Swanson (Dem, Ward 1). Swanson has been a staunch defender of the Ypsilanti Housing Commission and it’s director Walter Norris. Swanson has frequently said the Housing Commission doesn’t have the money needed to make needed repairs to comply with City inspections.

Swanson was able to table the motion on a third attempt.

Robb said after the meeting the issue was not about the money owed by the Housing Commission. It is about providing safe housing for the residents. Robb pointed to a 43 page report prepared by the City that listed numerous code and safety violations. Less than 15% of all units at the Housing Commission have current Certificates of Compliance from the City Building Inspectors.

Robb said, “We have an obligation to insure safe housing for all residents in the City. This resolution put forth by the Mayor to exempt the Housing Commission from any penalties from failing City rental inspections creates a second class of citizens for the residents of Public Housing. The City is saying it is OK for the most vulnerable in our community to live in substandard housing.”

“I want all residents to live in quality housing that has passed the City inspections for safe housing”, said Robb “Any new agreement with the Housing Commission should insure that the Ypsilanti Housing Commission have a plan to bring their properties up to minimum standards. An 87% failure rate is not acceptable.”

A number of other topics were discussed including implementing new fines and fees for residents that rake leaves into the margin or street. After a 35 minute debate, the Council tabled the motion. Council had previously said that they intended to stop leaf pickup next year as a cost cutting measure.

Next was the controversial agreement with Adams outdoor to install a new double-sided LED flashing billboard on city property at I-94 and South Huron St. City Council approved the ordinance to enter into a long term agreement with Adams Outdoor. Despite objections by Steve Pierce, representing the Historic Southside Neighborhood, the measure passed unanimously. Pierce said that Schreiber had gone back on his promise nearly a year ago to have representatives from EMU, Convention and Visitors Bureau and City staff come to a neighborhood meeting to discuss their plan.

Swanson and Lois Richardson (Dem, Ward 1) both apologized for not meeting with neighbors from the Historic Southside and pointed out that EMU and city staff had me with the other two neighborhood associations that border the sign.

Then Council voted to approve a rate increase of 3.5% for sewage services. Larry Thomas, Director of Ypsilanti Communities Utilities Authority, said that they were not asking for a rate increase for water service. Thomas also said the 80% water surcharge that pays for a variety of debts and bonds including the water main work that was done during the road rebuilding would be reduced by 2%.

The beloved Freighthouse was also on the agenda. The Friends of the Freighthouse were asking the city to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the repair and operation of the Freighthouse. No one on Council asked why the group that is responsible for the sustainability of a publicly owned building, is not bound by the Open Meetings or Freedom of Information Act. The council unanimously approved the MOU and as such, gave up any public oversight of how public money is spent and how the public building is maintained or used.

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