Ann Arbor's Democratic Mayoral Primary is now just over a week away. The 4 city council members running for the post continue to walk neighborhoods looking for votes. One of the key's to the election may turn out to be what residents want from the city in these neighborhoods.
Each part of town may have its own unique issues, but even residents like Tom Turner who are satisfied overall with their neighborhood think there's one problem area, "Probably the most generalizable thing is the roads. But no, fortunately in our neighborhood I think things are very good."
Rob Stone agrees with most of the community that roads are an issue and he wants to see more done with all of the city's basic infrastructure. Stone believes the city is doing a good job in another area, "I'm not so worried about police or fire protection in the city of Ann Arbor. I think that the crime statistics speak for themselves as far as going down and down. That doesn't make much sense if you happen to be a victim of a crime, but it still is really a very minimal problem at this time."
Not everyone agrees with Stone. Many want the city to do more with traffic enforcement and traffic calming measures to ensure safety in neighborhoods.
What are the four city council members running for mayor offering neighborhoods?
Christopher Taylor is 1 of 2 third ward council members running for mayor. He believes finding a way to address roads is crucial to creating clean, safe, and inviting neighborhoods. He says, "If the state won't do the right thing, and if the county won't help out, I think we in Ann Arbor, we know that our roads don't meet our aspirations. Our roads need to be better and that's a flat out fact. We also know roads cost, and so we need to have a real conversation internally about whether we're going to take care of ourselves and I'm delighted to move that conversation forward."
Taylor also thinks boosting traffic safety and having code enforcement be more pro-active in known problem areas will help neighborhoods. However he doesn't believe in pitting the downtown against neighborhoods.
Stephen Kunselman is the third ward's other mayoral candidate. He at least partly blames spending on downtown projects like the underground parking structure and public art for the condition of Ann Arbor's neighborhoods. Kunselman says the city can't squander funds, "The next year or two in terms of addressing the needs of our infrastructure, particularly our roads. That's all the focus is going to be. Making sure we're not spending money and using that money we can save within the fiscal year, and direct it towards roads."
Kunselman believes a greater focus on basic services like roads and police will lead to incremental changes benefiting neighborhoods.
Two other city council members are vying to replace John Hieftje as Ann Arbor's mayor. Sally Hart Petersen says we have a more vibrant downtown but still have crumbling infrastructure, bad roads, and leaf pick-up has been eliminated. According to the second ward council representative city officials know what's needed, but lack the money to make it happen. That's why she wants a greater focus on economic and job growth to deal with neighborhood issues, "Address the revenue problem that the city has. We have cut and cut and cut. We have tightened our belts so much, there's no more fat to cut from the budget. So we need to grow the revenue side and having that economic strategy would provide the wherewithal with which we can do our part to fix the potholes."
First Ward Council member Sabra Briere says roads obviously need work, but pose a challenge because the amount that can be done at one time is limited without shutting down the entire city. Briere disputes claims that the city spends little on the neighborhoods in favor of downtown projects. She just thinks council spends more time before spending money downtown, "We don't have a fight about spending money in the neighborhoods. If a neighborhood wants traffic calming, if the streets deteriorate, if the plumbing is bad, it's the council members responsibility to push this through. Certainly I've done it."
Briere would also like to see the city try to address the problem older residents have when they try to downsize their home, but can't afford the un-capped taxes on a new property.
For resident Melvin Parson the challenge the next mayor will face is addressing neighborhood issues and bringing everyone along at the same time. He says he's looking for, "New ideas, ideas that move our city forward in an inclusive sort of way, in a diverse sort of way."
Voters get to decide next week which candidate has the best plans to strengthen Ann Arbor's neighborhoods.