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Elizabeth Nelson's City Council Blog

I write a City Council newsletter with my summary of agenda items coming before City Council. Sign up to receive it first via email, or read it here later on this blog.

Additional Thoughts (Feb 19, 2022) - ARPA Funding Priorities and the Arts

The following was originally published in my February 19, 2022 Newsletter in the "Additional Thoughts" section.


This week, the City closed its online survey regarding use of the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. I previously wrote about the public engagement sessions and the public survey here:

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/american-rescue-plan-public-engagement-sessions-jan-12-20-2022

https://www.a2elnel.com/post/american-rescue-plan-survey-open-until-feb-14-2022


The results of the public survey are here:

https://www.opentownhall.com/portals/116/Issue_11557/survey_responses


Ryan Stanton from MLive wrote about the survey results here:

https://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/2022/02/see-how-ann-arborites-rank-spending-options-for-24m-federal-stimulus.html


From the MLive article: over 2500 survey responses allocated on average the following amounts to thirteen projects:

1. Solar on city facilities — 15.4% or $3.7 million

2. Galvanized water line replacements — 11.7% or $2.8 million

3. Property acquisition for affordable housing — 11% or $2.6 million

4. Gallup Park bridge replacement and road/trail improvements — 9.2% or $2.2 million

5. Vision Zero implementation — 7.7% or $1.8 million

6. Human services funding — 7% or $1.7 million

7. Unarmed crisis response program — 6.8% or $1.6 million

8. Housing for homeless — 5.6% or $1.3 million

9. Universal basic income program — 5.1% or $1.2 million

10. Miller-Catherine bikeway — 3.9% or $936,000

11. City clerk election center — 3.9% or $936,000

12. Net-zero fire station — 3.8% or $912,000

13. Public safety data platform — 2% or $480,000


In the last month, City Council has received a great deal of feedback from the local arts and creative community. They have a concern: the ARPA spending recommendations do not currently include any financial support for the local artists and creatives who make up our vibrant cultural community, residents who have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. If we hope to see Ann Arbor continue to thrive as a regional center for creative culture, advocates tell us that we must intentionally support artists in our community.


I had an excellent conversation this week with Deb Polich, who is the director of Creative Washtenaw and happens to also be married to Russ Collins, director of the Michigan Theater. Ms. Polich educated me about support that is already available and what is still desperately needed. For example, some entities (such as the Michigan Theater) were eligible for and received Shuttered Venue Operating Grants. Likewise, The State of Michigan funds specific work and programs through the Michigan Arts and Culture Council (MACC). What is still needed: local funding to support the survival of artists who make Ann Arbor a unique and vibrant community for residents and tourists alike.


The concerns raised by Creative Washtenaw highlight how and why the City should have led a more transparent process of engagement with community leaders prior to formulating any list of proposals for use of ARPA funds. Serious community conversation should have been the starting point for proposals about the use of these ARPA funds, rather than an afterthought.


Sadly, this process almost certainly would have happened very differently if a majority of Council had not targeted a City Administrator with many years of experience working and collaborating with our local community leaders. The abrupt removal of Tom Crawford marked the beginning of a process that has been less than transparent and not at all collaborative. After his removal, a temporary Acting City Administrator recommended that the City finalize ARPA spending proposals in a matter of weeks, without even the limited public engagement that has happened in the last two months (thankfully, this timeline was extended by Council). Ultimately, a process that should have been more open and inclusive was rushed to exclude both community leaders and most elected Council Members.


I am optimistic about ongoing conversations about the use of these ARPA funds. I encourage everyone to continue to reach out to City Council with any concerns or perspectives you might have. If you would like to learn more about the specific funding request from Creative Washtenaw, you can find it here:

https://creativewashtenaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/ARPA-Funding-Proposal-Investing-in-Ann-Arbors-Arts-Creative-Industries.pdf