Friday, July 1, 2016


Thursday evening the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber and Ann Arbor Area League of Women Voters held a public forum on the Water Street Debt Millage Proposal. The proposal is asking for 2.3 mills to pay down the debt incurred by the Water Street Redevelopment Project in Ypsilanti. The event was held in a conference room inside the Eastern Michigan University Student Union in Ypsilanti.

For those of you not privy to the Water Street debacle, here is a brief history. Water Street basically consists of 38 acres of land, well actually, a brownfield of land, off of Michigan Ave just East of downtown Ypsilanti. The project to redevelop the land began in 1999 at a cost of $30 million. Unfortunately, since that time developers have backed out of negotiations beginning with Biltmore Properties in 2004. Hence, the city has been saddled with the Water Street debt ever since as it remains mostly empty. The city now owes roughly $14 million in Water Street debt.
Like many folks in Ypsilanti, I have found myself feeling down right befuddled by the Water Street debt debacle and I certainly don't pretend to be an expert on the issue. When I heard that a forum was taking place at my alma mater, EMU, I was thrilled. I figured that a public forum featuring pro and con arguments as far as the millage would surely sway me one way or the other in deciding how to vote on August 2. How did I feel after the forum ended? Well, I felt just as befuddled as I did before I walked into to the forum, only in a more educated kind of way. Hmmm.

I'll be more specific. Both sides presented strong arguments. Steve Pierce, who is very active in Ypsilanti, and ran for mayor in 2006, was a featured speaker arguing to vote NO on the proposed millage. He made some very good arguments. Current Ypsilanti Mayor, Amanda Edmonds spoke in favor of the millage. She also made very good arguments.

As for the vote NO on the millage side here are some key points made by Steve Pierce. He stated that the millage proposal is unwise, unkind, and unnecessary. He does not want to see the burden of the Water Street debt placed on taxpayers. I think the best way to sum up his argument is that property tax revenues are improving so why not try to manage the debt instead of tacking on additional expenses. This is my layman's take on the gist of arguments made against the proposal by Steve Pierce.

On the other side of the coin here is Mayor Amanda Edmonds' argument for voting yes on the proposal. Edmonds argued that without passing the millage the city may have to makes cuts as far as city services. Edmonds and others in favor of the millage view the proposal as a way to stabilize an economy without making drastic cuts to the city. She sees parallels between other urban communities like Flint and Detroit that are burdening citizens with deep cuts. On the pro millage side the sentiment is that in passing the millage the city will not have to make fire and police cuts and the city budget may be balanced.

What I hear from residents who are against the millage is that they are frustrated that they may have to pay for what they see as poor decisions made by the city back in 1999 when the redevelopment project was initiated. I get that. On the flip side, those who are in favor of the millage want to see the city move forward without the specter of having to make cuts in city services. I get that, also.

As for me, I'm still scratching my head on this one. Both sides made strong arguments. It is also clear that both sides have the best interests in mind for Ypsilanti. I'm going to have to sleep on this one a bit longer.

Jeff Brown
Purple Walrus Press.
Steve Pierce and Amanda Edmonds debate at Water Street Millage Forum. Photo Purple Walrus Press.


  1. The sooner it is paid off, the sooner we can move past it, property taxes revenues are improving, sure, but putting this issue to rest once and for all will make the community even more attractive.

  2. "He does not want to see the burden of the Water Street debt placed on tax payers."

    This position is not really accurate. The debt is already being paid by the taxpayers of Ypsilanti -- it's just that currently it is coming out of the general fund, where it competes with other functions (primarily the police and fire departments, as the largest pieces of the budget). As a "general obligation bond", the city is legally required to give the bond payments first dibs -- it can't choose to fund other services without first making the bond payments.

    The dedicated millage would move most of the payment out of the general fund, so that it would no longer pre-empt those other priorities.

    It would be more accurate to say that Mr. Pierce and the "no" camp want to see the bond payments come from money already being paid by the taxpayers, rather than raising their tax rates further to cover the payments.

    1. Murph- Thank you for the comment. I appreciate it.

  3. The vote NO campaign also does not have a plan to pay off the debt and continue to provide the same level of services Ypsi currently offers. So that begs the question: Do they propose reducing current services to pay off the debt? If so, which ones: police, fire, parks, street repairs, ordinance/code enforcement, inspections, etc.? The NO side's lack of plan seems more frighting that the YES millage plan that will pay off the debt and disappear in a few short years. Steve Pierce is all over SeeClickFix begging the city to fix things. A service like that will end if Steve gets his way. I'm voting YES because I want the city to get past this issue and focus on the future, not the past. I'm thinking long term, not short term.

    1. I don't really have a problem with that. We as citizens do not have access to all the information required to make an alternate plan. We don't even know the name(s) of the bond holders.

      That said, a likely scenario is that, once the minimum city savings is breached, the city will start to consider asking for a reduction in the principle.

  4. The soonest it can be repaid is approximately 17 years. During that time Ypsilanti will remain uncompetitive with it neighbors due to one of the highest tax rates in the state. We need to move our taxes down to get in the game. Plus, who ever succeeded by paying 14 million dollars for an3 million dollar property? People who will vote yes are the same people who just pay the minimum on their credit card.