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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.

Thoughts on the Climate Action Millage Proposal

On this week's Council agenda, item DC-3 would approve a ballot question for a Climate Action Millage (1.0 for twenty years). Agenda item DC-4 would approve a resolution of intent on how to spend it.


DC-3 Resolution to Order Election and to Determine Ballot Question for Charter Amendment for a Community Climate Action Millage (7 Votes Required)

https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5342576&GUID=81B314AE-8E5F-4483-9774-92948C1BA38B


DC-4 Resolution of Intent on the Use and Administration of the Community Climate Action Millage

https://a2gov.legistar.com/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=5342581&GUID=AF5DCA29-9778-4BB6-B64D-C46A0056744C



BACKGROUND

Mayor Taylor first introduced the idea of a Climate Action Millage at the July 6, 2021 Council Meeting. This idea prompted a good bit of communication to Council and a lot of discussion online. I was surprised by some of the reaction I saw. I can’t help but compare it to what I heard in reaction to the proposal for last year’s Affordable Housing Millage.


When I cosponsored the Affordable Housing Millage, many people reached out to me with concerns about the cost of it. They argued that the cost of the millage would cause problems for people who currently have housing but are less-than-secure in it. The cost of any millage impacts both homeowners and renters (presumably landlords pass on the cost). I cosponsored the Affordable Housing Millage because I was enthusiastic about plans to subsidize housing units for people who do not already have housing. I was excited about what could be built on City property that I had helped designate for the purpose of developing affordable housing.


Response to the proposed Climate Action Millage was very different. After Mayor Taylor’s announcement, I heard from residents who pointed out where and how they had personally invested in climate action, the money they had spent installing solar panels and/or geothermal systems, and their deep commitment to the issue. They opposed the idea of a millage not because they lacked interest in climate action (or didn’t believe in science) but because they did not believe that the Mayor’s proposal for a local tax was likely to result in any meaningful results. Their argument: this proposal for a tax is unlikely to achieve anything like what needs to happen to address this issue.


RESOLUTION OF INTENT

The Resolution of Intent for Use of this millage includes a list. Briefly, that list is:

  • composting, sustainable food, and material recovery/reuse programs

  • community education, bulk discount and other subsidies for renewable energy (solar and geothermal). Design and construction of renewable energy installations on public property.

  • energy/water efficiency and weatherization programs (at least 40% directed to low income residents)

  • efforts to foster neighborhood community and resilience centers, heat and flood monitoring and management systems.

  • protected bike lanes, crosswalk infrastructure, and neighborhood walking paths

  • energy waste reduction and efficiency programs, educational forums and rental housing weatherization.

  • electrified transit and EV chargers at locations around the city, education programs around electrification.

I understand that some local climate action leaders may publicly oppose this millage, for reasons similar to that initial reaction from residents: meaningful climate action is not the bike lanes, weatherization and resilience centers proposed in this resolution of intent. Again, this is not a difference of opinion between people who believe in science and people who do not. It is not a difference of opinion between people who care about climate action and people who do not. Some advocates for climate action wonder: what will this really achieve? And is this really the best that Ann Arbor can do?


COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Council and staff have been reluctant to explore alternative ideas, even from advocates. Municipal power is a recent example of this. On September 7, 2021, I brought a resolution to Council asking for meaningful consideration of sustainable municipal power and specifically whether or not a feasibility study should be funded. This was not an issue I had previously been involved in, but I was sympathetic to concerns raised by advocates: the topic of this feasibility study had been delayed at the commission level for months. I do not claim any expertise on this issue, but I appreciate the expertise of others. I respect the opinion of Ann Arbor leaders like State Representative Yousef Rabhi and State Senator Jeff Irwin, who endorse the idea.


A few weeks after Council passed a resolution asking the Energy Commission to consider and discuss a feasibility study for a sustainable public municipal utility, the Office of Sustainability and Innovations announced a different plan for sustainable power: a Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU). The SEU supports microgrids and community solar, while DTE service would continue. Residents would have the option to sign a service contract with the SEU to supplement their service from DTE. It is worth noting that unlike municipal power, the SEU plan was entirely new, and had never previously been discussed by any commission or at Council.


MOVING FORWARD

Since the Affordable Housing millage passed, people - some of whom supported that millage - have asked me about how the money will be spent moving forward. It is important to me and others that the millage money subsidize affordable housing directly and effectively. We look ahead to a process of partnering with developers but some worry about how this process might potentially subsidize profit margins instead of additional housing.


I believe we should be asking similar questions about how this climate action millage will directly and effectively fund the goals we aim to achieve. Advocates differ on what best strategies might be. In order for our community to embrace this question in any meaningful way, I believe that the resolution of intent must be subject to more conversation, at a minimum within our boards and commissions. I will support putting this millage on the ballot because I agree that resources must be invested in this work and I believe in the public’s right to decide these questions. However, I am going to ask that the Resolution of Intent (DC-4) be postponed, so that it can be reviewed and discussed at the Energy and Environmental Commissions.