Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel


Embed this content in your HTML

Search

Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Channel Catalog


Channel Description:

AnnArbor.com's News section covers government, crime, education, health and the environment across Washtenaw County.

older | 1 | .... | 115 | 116 | (Page 117) | 118 | 119 | .... | 183 | newer

    0 0

    Called "a gigantic community recycling project," collection for the annual AAUW Ann Arbor book sale gets under way Monday, June 24. Last year the used book sale raised more than $28,000 to provide scholarships for local women to attend college.

    The collection site this year is at the Oak Valley Centre at Ann Arbor-Saline Road and Waters Road in Pittsfield Township. Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. from June 24 until August 17, book donations will be accepted. The book sale takes place the weekend after Labor Day from Friday through Sunday, Sept. 6-8 at the Morris Lawrence Building at Washtenaw Community College.

    The AAUW organization began empowering women in 1881. The Ann Arbor branch of the AAUW continues that tradition with money raised at the book sale by offering scholarships to local high school graduates to attend Washtenaw Community College, Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan through the Center for the Education of Women and the Mary Markley Scholarships..

    The Ann Arbor branch of the AAUW has nearly 300 members and is the largest branch in Michigan. Amy Seetoo, the AAUW publicity chair for the book sale, says that there are women in their 90s still volunteering to help with the sale.

    "I think it's the dedication of our members that has given our book sale such a long history," said Seetoo. "For the next eight weeks, it's a lot of work cleaning and organizing the books."

    Seetoo says that they accept all kinds of books, and this year for the first time are including textbooks in that list.

    She says, "Romance novels are the most popular donations we get, and they are also the most popular books at the sale."

    Seetoo adds that novels in general are big sellers as are cook books. She says that a number of people "recycle" books they have previously bought at the AAUW book sale and come and buy new ones to keep the tradition going.

    Books will sell from $1-$6 on the Friday of the book sale, half price on Saturday, and $8 a bagful on Sunday. Unsold books will be donated to nonprofit organizations. For more information on the book sale, go to the AAUW web site at www.annarbor-mi.aauw.net.


    0 0

    Seven local fire departments helped put out a house fire this morning near the intersection of North Territorial Road and Huron River Drive.

    According to Ed Root of the Dexter Area Fire Department, in addition to Dexter, there were also firefighters from Scio Township, Ann Arbor Township, Putnam Township, Unadilla Township, Hamburg Township and Chelsea assisting. The house is in the 8200 block of North Territorial Road, just east of Huron River Drive.

    The call came in from the homeowner at 5:45 a.m. Saturday morning. No one was injured. Root said the fire burned the entire roof of the house. There was smoke and water damage, and the house is not livable at this time.

    Root says that the fire marshal visited the home. No cause for the fire has yet been determined.


    0 0

    Barbara-Weiss.jpg

    Barbara Weiss

    photo by Amir Gamzu | EMU

    Longtime Ypsilanti resident, musician, educator and community leader Barbara Weiss died Friday at her residence in Ypsilanti Township at the age of 85.

    Weiss taught voice and instruments in the Ypsilanti Public Schools and helped found the Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra, in which she also performed.

    She is survived by her husband, Jack Weiss, and their four children, Karen, Kristin, Kathy and Karl.

    "Barbara has always been part of the fabric of the Ypsilanti community," said family friend Ron Miller. "She was a strong advocate for Ypsilanti."

    Weiss graduated from Eastern Michigan University with a BA in music education in 1950 and a master's degree in music in 1969.

    "Music has been a big part of my life," Weiss said in a 2002 profile in The Ann Arbor News.

    Her first teaching job was in the Wayne Public Schools, where she worked from 1950-53 as a vocal and instrumental teacher. She became a string orchestra teacher in the Ypsilanti Public Schools in 1964 and remained for more than 20 years, retiring in 1985.

    Weiss told The News in 2002 she drew satisfaction from "watching the students blossom."

    She was asked to take over the Ypsilanti drum and bugle corps, and in 1978 she founded the Ypsilanti Golden Garrison Drum and Bugle Corps.

    According to the 2002 News profile, when the Ypsilanti Area Visitors and Convention Bureau wanted to lure the North American International Drum and Bugle Corps show to Ypsilanti, Weiss was asked to scope out the corps' Detroit performance. The outing was successful and for almost 20 years Weiss coordinated the hugely popular event at EMU's Rynearson Stadium until she stepped down in 1996.

    Weiss was the principal violinist in the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra from 1985-1999, and then was a founding member of the Ypsilanti Symphony Orchestra. She played viola and violin for the orchestra for several seasons and also served on its board.

    "She was ... one of the first people that I called when I put the first board of directors together," YSO founder and Music Director Adam Riccinto said. Her enthusiasm, background in the music community, and contacts helped get the fledgling orchestra going, he added. She and her husband also hosted picnics for the orchestra at their home.

    Beyond music, Weiss was a lifetime member of the Ladies Literary Club of Ypsilanti. She was a member of the Philanthropic Educational Organization, known for promoting the education of women. She was also active in the campaign to restore Pease Auditorium at EMU.

    Weiss served on the board of the Gilbert Residence retirement center, where she was also a volunteer. She also served on the board of KeyBank.

    In 1992, Weiss received the Ypsilanti Area Chamber of Commerce's Distinguished Service Award. She was the third generation in her family to do so.

    Funeral arrangements are pending at the Janowiak Funeral Home at 320 N. Washington in Ypsilanti, 734-482-6000.


    0 0

    The National Weather Service has issued a "Special Weather Statement" warning of the possibility of severe thunderstorms in areas including southern Washtenaw County.

    A line of storms southeast of Ypsilanti and west of Milan is moving east at 15 mph. "Pea size hail... winds greater than 30 mph... occasional cloud to ground lightning... brief moderate downpours... are possible with these storms," the statement reads

    The storms are expected to be near Belleville by 4:30 p.m. and Milan by 4:45 p.m.

    For full information, see the AnnArbor.com weather page.


    0 0

    The local edition of the Relay For Life, an annual walk to raise money for the American Cancer Society, is taking place this weekend at Washtenaw Community College.

    Friends, family, and cancer survivors attended Relay for Life at Washtenaw Community College on Saturday in hopes of raising $150,000. Promotions chair Julie Lubeck-Hofer says the the event raises a lot of awareness and the funding is important. Thirty-five teams are participating, which totals nearly 300 people. Funding is raised by sponsors and online donations.

    Colon cancer survivor Jim Dolan says he and his family are happy to help and do what they can.

    "This is one of the better ones," Dolan says. "We like it here." This is his seventh year participating.

    Lubeck-Hofer was impressed by new participants and support. This year she saw student organizations getting involved. Her favorite portion of Relay for Life is the luminary ceremony, in which paper bags are illuminated with candles. "Every bag has a story," she says.

    Lubeck-Hofer lost her mother, Sally, nine years ago to pancreatic cancer. "I'm able to remember her name," she says.

    The event started at 10 a.m. Saturday and will conclude with an announcement of the fundraising total Sunday morning.

    Photographer Daniel Brenner captured these images. For more information on the event, see the website.


    0 0

    mike-ignasiak-michigan-amateur.jpg

    Saline's Mike Ignasiak during the final round of the Michigan Amateur.

    Courtesy photo

    By Mark Opferman, Mlive Media Group

    MUSKEGON, MI - Traverse City’s Andrew Chapman couldn’t have picked a better time to sink his only birdie putt in the match-play finals of the Michigan Amateur.

    Chapman rolled in a 20-footer on the 18th hole at Muskegon Country Club to win 1-up against Saline’s Mike Ignasiak in Saturday’s finale that pitted former University of Michigan athletes in the 102nd annual tournament.

    “(The greens) were really slick this morning and I left some short this afternoon thinking they would still be as fast. That one I told myself to give it a chance to get there and see what happens and it went right in the middle,” he said.

    Chapman, a 33-year-old financial planner who played golf at U-M, had a 2-up lead with three holes to play. But Ignasiak, a major league pitcher in the mid-1990s who also played baseball for the Wolverines, fought back with pars to even the match going into the par-5 finishing hole.

    Ignasiak’s second shot rolled over the green while Chapman missed the green on the right side and had to chip over a bunker. His flop shot ended up just outside Ignasiak’s ball.

    From nearly the same line, Chapman putted first and made his, while Ignasiak’s bid to force extra holes slid just past the hole.

    It was a whirlwind week for Chapman, the No. 32 seed who beat Michigan Open champion and top seed Tom Werkmeister in the second round of match play. Chapman defeated Clinton Township's Brad Bastion 3 and 2 in Saturday’s semifinals.

    Ignasiak defeated Tom Gieselman 3 and 2 in the other semifinal.

    "Andrew was just a little bit better in the short game than I was. He made some great up and downs," Ignasiak said. "I tried, I didn't give up."

    Chapman was greeted coming off the 18th green by his wife, Brooke, and 7-month old twin sons, Lincoln and Graeme.

    “It means a lot. This is a huge highlight for me. I’ll have a couple hours in the car to think about it,” he said. “It seems like every match, when it ended, had a surreal feel to it this week. I played very well in spots and very sloppy in other spots, but got away with it. It’s amazing. I’m so happy that Brooke and the boys were here for it.”


    0 0

    Here's the schedule for tonight's Top of the Park, the free (donations welcome), outdoor component of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. Descriptions provided by the festival. Top of the Park takes place in the area around East Washington Street at Ingalls Mall, except as noted.

    4 p.m.: Tangle - South Ingalls Mall Tangle is a huge, messy, fun, interactive elastic weaving event created live by children and their families.

    5 p.m.: KidZone: Ann Arbor District Library - KidZone Tent
    Come to the KidZone Tent and try out this one-of-a-kind experience of dueling set to the tempo of music, and see if you can tag your way to victory! http://a2sf.org/event/kidzone-623/

    5 p.m.: Retreat: Iyengar Yoga with The Ann Arbor School of Yoga - Power Center Lawn
    Enjoy a relaxing session of Iyengar Yoga taught by The Ann Arbor School of Yoga.

    5 p.m.: Les 7 doigts de la main in "Sequence 8" - Power Center
    Through a series of awe-inspiring feats of balance, beauty and explosive physical exploits these highly-skilled artists push the boundaries of circus virtuosity with their unbelievable strength, agility, and grace.

    5 p.m.: Magdalen Fossum - Grove Stage
    Now 12 years old, Magdalen and her ukulele have continued to receive jubilant responses from audiences at festivals, theaters, and cafes throughout Michigan.

    6 p.m.: Joshua Davis - Grove Stage
    Joshua Davis’ solo material is steeped in the roots of American music—early blues, rock, country, and ragtime.

    7 p.m.: The Candy Band; Rackham Stage
    The Candy Band plays punk covers of nursery rhymes, movie themes, and other children’s favorites, plus original tunes.

    7:30 p.m.: Tangle - South Ingalls Mall
    Tangle is part spectacular visual arts installation, part performance, part playground, part dance party, and all chaos. http://a2sf.org/event/tangle-9/

    Madcat-Kane.jpg

    Madcat & Kane

    8:30 p.m.: Madcat, Kane, & Friends - Rackham Stage
    Equally at home playing blues, folk, jazz, country, and rock and roll, these festival favorites will be joined with a band of friends on Rackham Stage for what’s sure to be a special Ann Arbor evening.

    10 p.m.: Movie: "The Goonies" - Rackham Stage
    A group of kids embark on a wild adventure after finding a pirate treasure map.


    0 0

    Ann Arbor's a pretty safe place. Although it sometimes might not seem like it, crime in the city for the most part remains near historic lows, with yet another drop in violent crimes recorded last year.

    That's at least partly due to the job done by the Ann Arbor Police Department, which has remained effective despite budget cutbacks in recent years. However, Police Chief John Seto has publicly said the department could do better—take a more proactive approach—with more staff.

    Thumbnail image for party_patrol.jpg

    Police patrol South University Ave within the Ann Arbor DDA Zone.

    It's a good point, and it's encouraging to see city officials take it seriously.

    Seto spoke out on the issue last month, saying that the department does a good job of reacting to crime. But, he argued, proactive efforts like increased downtown foot patrols and more community outreach could help make a strong community even stronger. He also mentioned the concept of a cross-jurisdiction "crime strategy unit," which shows intriguing potential. Overall, his points made a lot of sense.

    The difficulty, of course, is that they would require more staff to implement. And the city's budget has been tight in recent years.

    During last month's budget deliberations, the council considered—and ultimately rejected, 6-5—a push to add three full-time employees to the police department. The problem was that the change would have been funded by cutting the 15th District Court budget, likely leading to the loss of half of the court's six probation officers.

    That would have been a pretty extreme trade-off, but the fact that it found five votes in favor shows how seriously council members are taking this. At that meeting, Mayor John Hieftje suggested the Downtown Development Authority might be able to fund three police officers dedicated to the city's core. And earlier this month the council made that a formal request, asking the DDA board to pay for three beat cops.

    Of course, it's always a good idea to have a bit of built-in skepticism when any government agency makes a plea for more staffing. In this case, however, the benefits are clear—more police downtown would likely improve the department's ability to be proactive and the public's perception of downtown safety.

    In approaching the DDA, the council found a good way to start addressing an an important concern. Here's hoping that the DDA agrees, and that the council continues to work on ways to strengthen public safety.


    0 0

    jones-faded-memories.jpg

    "Faded Memories" by Joan Painter Jones

    Matching two masters in their prime isn’t always an easy thing to do because the mediums, manners, and styles can be as crossed as they can be complementary. But Chelsea’s River Gallery’s “Joan Painter Jones-Michael Thoresen: 2D3D” catches two local talents right where we want them.

    Milan’s Jones and Ann Arbor’s Thoresen might initially seem mismatched. Yet both artists have mounted local two-artist displays in this last decade with great results. And as such, when the River Gallery suggested the possibility of this particular display, both artists found it an opportunity hard to resist.

    “Creative comrades and fellow artists,” reads the River Gallery’s gallery statement, “Thoresen and Jones exclaimed in unison ‘we always wanted to do this!’ when the River Gallery invited them to share their new work and exhibit as the headliners for summer 2013 season.”

    It’s an uncommonly appropriate opportunity for the duo, since Thoresen “is a musician as well as a painter” thereby fitting Chelsea’s current Sights and Sounds Thursday Night Festival.

    “Always a collaborator,” continues the River Gallery statement, Thoresen “banded with fellow musicians, painters and writers from the Midwest staging events in Kalamazoo, Chicago, New York and Boston. Exploring the dynamic between art and music (he) did artwork for Whittle Communications, Musician Magazine, and designed the CD cover for avant-garde Amsterdam composer, Jon Rose.” Jones, on the other hand, has a remarkable artistic malleability that’s made her one of the key artists in our region through this last couple of decades. A winner of numerous awards, her last local score was 2011’s Ann Arbor Art Center “Annual” when she won first prize for her wood, wheels, and metal “Changing Chair” assemblage.

    All this said; this exhibit is the first time we’ve had a chance to see a representative sample of Thoresen’s work since his July 2006 River Gallery “Improvisations” pairing with Brian Ferriby, the Faculty Lead for Art Foundations at Novi’s Art Institute of Michigan. And the last time Jones had a similar sampling was with her July 2010 Plymouth Township Arts & Ideas Gallery “Inner Worlds and Animals” display when she joined Ann Arborite Charles Aimone.

    With more than 20 artworks each in “2D3D,” Thoresen and Jones have plenty of room to expand in this Chelsea gallery. Easily one of the most handsome showcases in Washtenaw County, the River Gallery is a superb spot for this sort of oversized art.

    As I made mention in Thoresen’s earlier “Improvisations” exhibit, his art reflects a sophisticated post-painterly expression that bears traces of second generation abstract expression. And to this degree, Thoresen is still working within his comfort zone: Repetitive abstracted stylizing that’s placed on the foreground of his colorfield painting.

    thoresen-accidental-rain.jpg

    Michael Thoresen's "Accidental Rain."

    There is, however, a subtle evolution in his work that indicates Thoresen is actively thinking through his artistry. As he says in his artist’s statement to the exhibit, “the new paintings reflect a renewed vigor in painting itself.

    “I work in oil because I love the texture and the smell,” says Thoresen. “I do a lot of thinking first. Then I soak the canvas and sketch. Things happen spontaneously. I like squares as they do not suggest landscape or portrait. It gives me freedom. There is the natural world and the spiritual world in my work.”

    All these elements are there to be found in his “Accidental Rain.” For this painting continues his interest in colorfield exploration with its vegetative tinged background bolstering the composition while his signature geometric squares draping the bottom of the work lend a foreground patterned geometric abstraction whose arrangement interacts with his field even as it breaks up the painting’s backdrop. Indeed, there’s even an introduction of a conceptual curtain at the top of the painting representing a cloud play that’s as much theatrical as it is representational.

    Each of these elements has as much a conceptual import as they do an abstracted dimension. Yet where in the past Thoresen might have reverted to his successively overlaid vertical drips, he’s added rain drops. And this simple transition (repeated in other paintings in the exhibit) energize the composition in a way that abstraction can never accomplish.

    It’s quite stunning how much a single — in fact, simple — element can so invigorate a painting. Granted the devising of the drops themselves is uniform. There’s not much variation outside the careful articulation Thoresen pays in his attention to detail. Yet the very emotional quality we tend to bring to rain gives the work an expression that makes it a transition from his earlier more formally rigorous artwork.

    This transition in Thoresen’s art works well with Joan Painter Jones’ rough and ready assemblage. Certainly one of our region’s most intriguing talents, Jones’ neo-Dada sculpture—wall-mounted, framed, or free-standing—is, as I’ve written in the past, precisely structured.

    As I’ve mentioned, Jones is not content with merely wielding her materials; she intends to bend them to her will. And there’s plenty of this sort of energy in her contributions to “2D3D.” For as Jones tells us in her artist’s statement to the exhibit; she revels in this near anarchistic strength.

    “My work,” Jones says, “evolves from the jumble of materials I’ve picked up from roadsides; parts of things others no longer want or have discarded and things friends haven given to me. I’m captivated by old scraps of things, old wood with peeling paint, rusty metal, broken things that seem to have had a life and memories in there somewhere.

    “Usually my works just evolve, grow, until they’re finished,” Jones continues. “Then I get a feeling of what the work suggests to me. My intuitive way of working makes the work personal, and it reveals my passion of putting these things together as well.”

    It’s difficult to point at one Jones assemblage as being any more masterful than any other — it’s a concession to the uniform expertise of her aesthetic — but “Faded Memories” finds her working well within the expansive range her artistry.

    This marvelous masterwork features an array of elements whose combination might seem unwieldy in any other context. Wall-mounted, the work has three architectural stories crafted from photographs, freehand sketching, wood, fabric, floral design, and rusty nails where each found medium incrementally builds a narrative out of its many parts.

    “Faded Memories,” like many complex structures, is a makeshift. It merely took an artist of Jones’ talent to find commonalities out of what would otherwise be no more than found scraps patched together. Yet this is, of course, what memories are: Stitched reminiscences whose unity depends on our time and place.

    Jones’ masterwork is therefore exactly what its title says. For it’s the very nature of found elements to carry, as she infer in her statement, a past. And once a past — then maybe also memories. Jones’ extraordinary gift lies in bringing artful reason out of the disparate remainders she’s rescues from modest waysides.

    “Joan Painter Jones-Michael Thoresen: 2D3D” will continue through June 29 at the River Gallery, 120 S. Main St., Chelsea. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday. For information, call 734-433-0826.


    0 0

    061913_BIZ_Delivery_MRM_01A-1.JPG

    Straight 2 Your Door franchise owner Jasem Yousef poses for a photo with his vehicle in front of a scoreboard at Michigan Stadium on Wednesday morning. Yousef, a Michigan graduate, took over the Ann Arbor franchise and has expanded to East Lansing and Kalamazoo.

    Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

    Since Jasem Yousef became manager of Straight 2 Your Door in 2010, he says volume at the Ann Arbor food delivery service has quadrupled.

    Yousef, a University of Michigan alum, is now franchise owner of the Ann Arbor business and he’s hoping he can mimic Straight 2 Your Door’s success in other Michigan college towns.

    He opened an East Lansing franchise in 2012, and he’s preparing to open a franchise in Kalamazoo in August.

    “There is a lot of potential,” he said. “Especially if you spread it across three different markets.”

    Founded in 2006, Straight 2 Your Door operates in 11 cities in eight states. The business acts as a middleman between consumers and restaurants that don’t offer delivery service.

    “Ideally, restaurants give us a big enough discount on the food to allow us to sell it at face value,” Yousef explained. “For them, it’s incremental revenue they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

    By placing orders via Straight 2 Your Door, customers can get food from 37 different restaurants in the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti areas, including Bar Louie, Miki sushi, Raja Rani, Chili’s, Fleetwood Diner and Bangkok Cuisine. Straight 2 Your Door picks up the order and delivers it for a flat $3.99 delivery fee. The company advertises its maximum delivery time as 60 minutes.

    “People can order from a restaurant that’s on the other side of town. They might want Chili’s, but live in a dorm. At dinner time, with Ann Arbor traffic, it might be an hour trip for them.”

    Unlike local competitors, such as Good Guys Delivery service in Ypsilanti, Straight 2 Your Door focuses on just restaurant deliveries, not convenience or grocery store items.

    Yousef said college students — who might order sushi from Miki with chicken tenders from Max & Erma’s — are the business’ largest demographic, although the Ann Arbor franchise also delivers to U-M hospital and businesses around town.

    “We do a fair amount of business to the hospital, since people are in there working 18-hour shifts,” he said. “We’re starting to target young professionals with our marketing efforts.”

    He said the Ann Arbor franchise averages about 100 orders per day, and employs 25 delivery drivers.

    “When I became manager in 2010, I saw the (Ann Arbor) business was in disrepair,” Yousef said. “There were late orders and customer service complaints. I spent a lot of time trying to fix that. …Then, naturally, our volume grew because people were more inclined to order again.”

    The East Lansing franchise opened in June 2012 and Yousef said it was somewhat difficult to spread the word about service with students gone for the summer. Now, he said, business is steadily growing

    He plans to open the Kalamazoo franchise in August, a couple weeks before students return. He said several national chain restaurants are partnering with Straight 2 Your Door in Kalamazoo.

    “It is a lot easier to sign restaurants now,” he said. “As we’ve grown, people can go to our website and see how many locations we’re in. We have a lot of big-name restaurants, whereas before, signing a corporate chain was a really big deal.”

    Straight 2 Your Door operates from 11 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

    Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at lizzyalfs@annarbor.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lizzyalfs.


    0 0

    A common refrain heard among people in Michigan is that trains are uneconomic and a sinkhole of costs and no profit. The facts are more nuanced. Some commuter trains firms are profitable and some are loss making. In many countries, railroads are a "for profit" activity. People forget that all railroads in the U.S. were built with private risk capital. The Japanese high speed rail system (they started building it in 1962 when "Made In Japan" was a byword for cheap plastic crap) was privatized and that company was sold for $90 billion to private investors.

    What most people don't realize is that the Detroit to Chicago "higher speed" rail line, now fully funded, once in service in 2015 or 2016 will be a very profitable business earning tens of millions of dollars a year in profit based on the most recent (very reasonable) feasibility study available. Delta and Southwest earn substantial profits on their Detroit to Chicago air shuttle service and this will be a cheaper and faster way to get to Chicago.

    commuter_rail_061413_RJS_004.jpg

    A look inside the double-decker railcar is toured by visitors at the 2013 Ann Arbor MAyor's Green Fair.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    The higher-speed train plan calls for frequency of the trains to triple from 3 to 9 trains per day with 3.75 hours transit time from Detroit to Chicago and 3.25 hours from Ann Arbor to Chicago. The assumption is costs would rise to $95 million from $37.2 million and revenue would rise to $113 million from $20.2 million. I find this very realistic. Some of the costs are fixed and not truly variable. Three times the costs would be $111.6 million, but they wouldn't be that high as all costs don't triple if you triple the number of daily trains.

    The revenue improvement is also realistic because higher speed trains will shift business travelers like me from planes to trains. By the time I drive to the airport and park, go through security and wait, I've blown 90 minutes and on the other end 30-90 minutes depending upon which airport, where I am actually going and if it is rush hour or not. The elapsed time taxiing and flying is about 60 minutes, so 3 hours to 4 hours. Including the parking fees ($10 or $20 a day, but add 15 minutes to the trip if you use the $10 lot), car mileage ($25), taxi ($30) or mass transit costs ($3) on the other end and the plane ticket itself ($265 to $800 depending upon how far in advance you buy your ticket and which airline you use), air travel costs ($303 to $875) a lot more than the projected round-trip price of $90-$120. What's the advantage in air travel then?

    The key is that the higher speed rail has to be reliable and on-time +90% of the time, like the best airlines are. Then passengers would migrate en mass and adding more train cars to an already moving train is cheap, so the extra marginal revenue from those passengers will be very, very profitable.

    If it was a stock, I'd be buying it. However due to a federal law called PRIIA, the current $17 million annual loss on the line for the next two years until the higher speed trains run and the service turns profitable must be borne by the state of Michigan and the state legislature is balking at funding it. Maybe the governor should do an initial public offering to raise the money?! If he raised $50 mm privatizing the ownership of the operating route in Michigan in an IPO and in 2015 it earned $18 mm, it would be a great investment! In other words an entity that owns the land hires Amtrak to operate the higher speed rail line and pays any deficits and gets to keep any operating profit. It would still be branded Amtrak.

    It's not possible without legislation at the state and federal level, but my reason for raising it is as a thought exercise to show that it is a profitable business and a wise investment for the state to make. This profitable rail business could then fund the start-up costs of commuter shuttle trains.

    If the Canadians build out a similar service to Toronto from Detroit, as Governor Snyder is currently trying to do, the economics get better again. This would further improve ridership and the profitability of the "higher speed" rail line. Over time, we can funnel the profits from running this 110 mile per hour service into true high speed rail with speeds of 250 m.p.h. Then you would be able to go from downtown Ann Arbor to Chicago or Toronto in one hour and fifteen minutes or to downtown Detroit in under 15 minutes.

    (Stephen Lange Ranzini is president of University Bank and resident of downtown AnnArbor. He's also an occasional columnist on AnnArbor.com.)


    0 0

    More dealers on the street, more opioid prescription pills and a more casual attitude among those who try the drug have led to heroin use becoming a deadly problem in southeast Michigan.

    Police and medical officials are growing concerned — and frustrated — with the spread of one of the most dangerous drugs known. In June alone, at least 10 people in Washtenaw County have been treated for suspected heroin overdoses, and two of those people have died.

    062113_heroin.jpg

    The Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office routinely seizes heroin and then destroys it in criminal investigations. The question facing law enforcement now is how to slow the spread of the drug.

    Photos courtesy of Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office

    It’s not clear to experts what’s caused these deadly overdoses. Some officials in Michigan are warning about the return of fentanyl, a toxic chemical produced in laboratories that can be between 40 and 100 times stronger than morphine, being cut with heroin. Others speculate the heroin being sold on the streets now is simply purer than it has been in the past.

    Regardless, two things are certain: The heroin epidemic in Washtenaw County continues to affect the community. And, to this point, it’s not exactly clear how to stop its spread.

    “I think we’re at the beginning, not the end, of a trend,” said Bruce Thomson, an addiction counselor with Thomson Solutions in Ann Arbor. “We’re in for some real tough times.”

    A Pill Problem Turns To Powder

    Heroin usage across the country is on an upward trend, correlating with an increase in the usage of opioid prescription pills such as OxyContin and Vicodin, said Rich Isaacson, special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Detroit office.

    “The fastest-growing substance abuse problem in our society for the last seven or eight years is misuse of prescription drugs and opiate painkillers,” he said. “What we have seen is, as non-medical use of prescription opiate products increases, that has directly led to an increase of heroin use at the same time.”

    Many heroin users started off using prescription painkillers. However, switching to smack from pills like OxyContin and Vicodin often comes down to simple economics.

    Linda Thomson, an addiction and recovery therapist and Bruce Thomson’s wife, said people who are addicted to pain pills will quickly deplete their funds, but their need for opiates only grows. Then, they find they can get hits of heroin for a fraction of the cost.

    “The biggest thing is they get on these pain pills and those are $50 to $80 a pill on the street,” she said. “Eventually, they find out heroin is only $5, and they switch.”

    Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. David Archer, who works out of Ypsilanti Township, said the eastern part of the county is a destination for heroin addicts.

    Archer said he knows of one man, a heroin addict who had numerous contacts with deputies, who traveled from Jackson on a regular basis to Ypsilanti Township. Why? Because the heroin being sold in Ypsilanti Township is cheaper and a better product than he could find in his area.

    “That should tell people a lot. People are driving from Jackson to get heroin here because it’s cheaper and a better product,” Archer said.

    The Slippery Slope

    The more the heroin spreads, the greater the effect the drug has on the community — not only in overdoses but also in crimes against other citizens.

    The heroin addiction is a beast that constantly needs to be fed. Even if the drug has dropped to bargain-basement prices, that’s still a constant flow of cash an addict needs to be able to produce.

    Linda Thomson said that it usually starts with addicts selling their own possessions — computers, televisions, anything that people will buy. When all of that’s gone, an addict will usually turn to petty theft, mostly from family, friends and those closest to them.

    After that comes crimes such as home invasion and burglary. It comes as no surprise to police officers when they find out a crime was committed by someone trying to raise money to feed a drug addiction — indeed, it’s been said that the underlying cause of many theft crimes in Washtenaw County is heroin.

    “Anecdotally, I 100 percent believe we have seen an increase in theft crime, and will continue to see an increase, in direct correlation to opioid use,” Bruce Thomson said.

    With that kind of demand, it’s no surprise to learn there are more street-level dealers in Ypsilanti Township than in years past. The influx of street dealers has been disturbing and frustrating to deal with, Archer said.

    Time and again, law enforcement and addiction specialists point to opioid prescription painkillers as the biggest reason why heroin addiction continues to grow. What’s even more disturbing is the ease with which some people transition into heroin usage.

    The Thomsons said they’ve both had clients who simply decided heroin sounded like a good idea.

    “'I was doing such-and-such and a friend of mine suggested we try heroin’ - it is that causal for a lot of kids,” Bruce Thomson said. “’I just thought I’d try it.’ It has become a much more casual event in the life of young people.”

    Deadly Important Questions, But No Answers

    The fact that people are dying of suspected heroin overdoses doesn’t come as a surprise when usage of the deadly drug is increasing. What troubles investigators is the lack of an explanation for why heroin overdoses and deaths are increasing.

    In Washtenaw County, 10 possible heroin overdoses have been reported in June, and eight of those overdoses came in two days.

    Two of those suspected overdoses resulted in the deaths of a 27-year-old man and a 30-year-old man. Both of those cases are open pending toxicology reports.

    Media reports have circulated about a 20-fold increase in heroin overdoses in the Downriver area of southeast Michigan, possibly due to a strain of the drug with the appropriately-morbid name Black Shadow. The possibility that scares many professionals is the presence of fentanyl.

    Fentanyl is a toxic drug cooked up in laboratories that the Thomsons say can be between 40 and 100 times more powerful than morphine. For comparison’s sake, heroin is about two to four times as strong as morphine.

    “The tiniest amount of that will kill you dead,” Bruce Thomson said. “And yet, this stuff is being sold on the street.”

    A Canadian advisory warning about the spread of fentanyl stated some dealers are selling the drug as heroin or in pill form, purported to be a different type of pill. The advisory connected cases in Ontario, Quebec, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

    In Metro Detroit, police and health officials get especially nervous about the mention of fentanyl — not too long ago, the drug was responsible for about 300 overdose deaths in the area.

    However, the problem could potentially be quite the opposite.

    “In our most recent analysis, we have not found any new adulterants in the heroin we’ve seized over the last six months,” Isaacson said, allowing that something could have changed in the drug supply in the last month.

    Heroin is often mixed with additives — such as caffeine, anti-malarial medicine, laxatives, over-the-counter painkillers, lactose or dextrose — in order to decrease the potency of the drug and make it more profitable for the dealers, Bruce Thomson said. The less amount of pure heroin used means more product can be sold to addicts.

    However, if the drugs aren’t cut as heavily and more pure heroin makes its way into an addict’s hands, the result can be deadly.

    “If someone screws up and they don’t cut it sufficiently, the heroin is more pure than you’re used to and it can have an opioid effect,” Bruce Thomson said. “That’s the cutting down of bodily functions, and the key one is breathing.”

    Isaacson said the possibility of stronger and more pure heroin coming into southeast Michigan could possibly be an explanation for recent overdoses.

    “Black tar heroin is the most common type of heroin and we haven’t seen it here (in southeast Michigan) very often,” he said. “It could be an explanation, that people are coming across new heroin and that could be leading to some of these issues.”

    What frustrates investigators is that it isn’t clear yet. It’s hard to attack the spread of fentanyl, or a more pure batch of heroin, when there isn’t clear evidence of a cause.

    Saline police indicated the 27-year-old man who died in the city on June 7 overdosed after getting out of rehab. The man who died in Ypsilanti had heroin and a large amount of alcohol in his system. Toxicology screens are being done on both men, but until those are finished, there still won’t be answers in Washtenaw County.

    As with most things in life, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle — a combination of pure heroin and dangerous additives seems likely, Archer said.

    “Street dealers are trying to make more money and they cut the product that they get, or they’re getting a more potent heroin product,” he said. “I think it’s a combination of probably both.”

    Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at kylefeldscher@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.


    0 0

    Connector_map_June_2013.jpg

    This map showing possible routes for the Ann Arbor Connector was released this past week. Download a larger version.

    URS Corp.

    The vision for a high-capacity transit system in Ann Arbor — either light rail, streetcar or bus rapid transit — is taking shape with preliminary route alternatives now mapped.

    Officials behind the Ann Arbor Connector project have released documents showing a series of possible options for connecting some of the city's major activity centers.

    Connector_workshop_061813_RJS_002.jpg

    Roger Hewitt, a downtown business owner who is representing the Ann Arbor DDA on the Connector steering committee, discusses a map showing preliminary route alternatives with library board member Nancy Kaplan and City Council Member Jane Lumm during a Tuesday evening workshop at the downtown library.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    Each scenario proposes connecting the University of Michigan's North and Central campuses, while also linking to the university medical center, downtown and Briarwood Mall.

    Four partners are involved in the ongoing Connector study: the city of Ann Arbor, Downtown Development Authority, Ann Arbor Transportation Authority and U-M.

    The work being done now is aimed at determining possible routes, station locations and a service plan. The next step heading into the fall is to further evaluate costs and benefits.

    The process of closely examining different options for the Connector started late last year and is expected to culminate in early 2014 with the selection of a locally preferred alternative, said Rick Nau of URS Corp., project manager for the Connector study.

    After the study is completed, there will be a good idea of the costs, Nau said, and the project should be well positioned to receive federal funds for future implementation.

    "My assessment at this point is that in Ann Arbor we're talking about a very high level of ridership and a very high potential for travel time savings, so my belief is it would rank very high," he said.

    Nau said federal funds have been provided for systems like the proposed Ann Arbor Connector under the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts program.

    "That New Starts program provides about 50 percent of the capital costs," he said. "It's a highly competitive program. Cities all across the country compete for these dollars."

    While that would be the primary source of federal funding, Nau said, Portland's streetcar system, for example, was funded by about a dozen different sources ranging from parking revenues to tax-increment financing to state air quality mitigation funds.

    Tacoma_streetcar.jpg

    An example of a streetcar in Tacoma, Washington.

    URS Corp.

    "Most of these systems that have been built have been funded from multiple sources and pieced together over time," he said. "I can't tell you exactly how this system would be funded."

    Project officials said an elevated guideway transit system — such as a monorail — is not being recommended for further study due to significant costs, visual impacts (particularly in the historic portions of the downtown), and the fact that other modes of transit pose some advantages.

    That leaves three modes still being considered: bus rapid transit, light rail and streetcar. The study also is looking at the option of simply enhancing the existing bus system.

    The potential routes the study management team has identified for the Connector generally follow existing transportation corridors, including both roads and railroads.

    A bus rapid transit system is an upgraded bus system generally operating in a dedicated busway — essentially a separate roadway for buses.

    "That gets them out of the traffic and allows them to operate in free flow and achieve that travel time advantage," Nau said.

    Bus rapid transit uses higher-capacity vehicles — longer buses that can carry more people per each driver, Nau said, adding that's where cost efficiencies can be realized.

    San_Diego_light_rail.jpg

    An example of light rail in San Diego, California.

    URS Corp.

    "It also generally includes upgraded stations and passenger amenities, which makes it more positive for the people who are riding the system," he said.

    The other two options — streetcar and light rail — are similar systems, and they also typically come with upgraded stations and passenger amenities, Nau said.

    "These are electrified vehicles that operated on standard-gauge railroad tracks embedded into the street, or in their own separate right-of-way, and there's an overhead wire that powers them," Nau said, adding they typically operate in a dedicated right-of-way, though they can operate in mixed-flow with traffic.

    "From a transit operation standpoint, we're talking about investing in cost-effective transit solutions," Nau said. "Many communities have found that operating 40-foot buses is not necessarily the best way to address transportation issues. Some of the vehicles we're talking about can carry far more people per driver and that makes it more cost effective."

    City Council Member Jane Lumm, an Independent from the 2nd Ward, attended last Tuesday's public meeting on the Connector. She said she's still waiting for a detailed financial analysis — including projected capital and operating costs — before making up her mind.

    34th_St_Manhattan.jpg

    An example of bus rapid transit in Manhattan.

    URS Corp.

    "That's a huge unknown," she said. "And a huge piece of that is to what extent is the university going to participate in this? All these riders today, a lot of them are university students and employees, and we need the university to partner in this."

    Steve Dolen, U-M's executive director of parking and transportation services, said the university intends to contribute toward implementing the Connector. The university already has pumped more than $300,000 into the study phases.

    "We're committed to alternative transportation," Dolen said. "We subsidize our employees, faculty staff and students on AATA, and we'll find a way to contribute to the Connector somehow because our riders will be a big part of this. We still don't know how the whole thing will be funded."

    Dolen pointed out the Connector wouldn't just link the U-M campuses and medical center — it would go all the way from northeast Ann Arbor through downtown and out to Briarwood.

    "It's more than just university riders, although the big benefit to this is utilizing the university ridership to get to that FTA funding that could benefit the whole community," he said.

    Supporters of the Connector project argue better transit makes Ann Arbor a more desirable place to live and work, and can be an alternative to building more parking.

    Nau said new development and job growth in Ann Arbor will add to traffic congestion and further crowd buses, and those are issues that must be addressed one way or another.

    "The forecast growth is about 19,000 new employees in the city of Ann Arbor over the next 20 or 30 years," he said. "A lane of traffic can carry about 1,000 cars an hour, so if all those people are trying to leave Ann Arbor at the same time, that's 19 lanes of traffic."

    Connector_study_timeline_June_2013.jpg

    The timeline for the Connector study. Yellow triangles denote planned community workshops.

    URS Corp.

    He put it another way: If you stacked up 19,000 cars end to end, that's six miles of cars.

    "So the traffic you see out there today is likely to get worse if you strictly rely on cars to carry those people," he said.

    Among the goals for the Connector project are increased transit capacity between North Campus and Central Campus, and improved travel time reliability between major activity centers at U-M and elsewhere in Ann Arbor. Supporting job growth and economic vitality also are stated goals.

    Nau said the project team conducted studies that found existing bus routes that were scheduled to take 8 minutes were taking double that time.

    "Right now the community is served by bus systems operated by both AATA and by the University of Michigan, and the bus performance is negatively affected because they have to operate on the streets in traffic," he said. "It slows down their speeds. It also affects their reliability."

    He added, "By improving the reliability, we can get a lot more people to ride transit."

    Each of the preliminary routes goes past what's labeled on the map as the "potential Ann Arbor Station" in front of the university medical center on Fuller Road, where some local officials want to see future commuters coming into town via east-west rail between Ann Arbor and Detroit. None of the suggested routes go past the existing Amtrak train station on Depot Street.

    The map also shows options for having the Connector link up with a possible WALLY north-south commuter rail station on or near city-owned property at 415 W. Washington St.

    Ann Arbor resident Nancy Kaplan, who serves on the library board, questioned tying into a station on Fuller Road instead of Depot Street, which she said is closer to downtown.

    "The problem that I see (with the Fuller Road location) is if you're not doing something with the hospital, you're far from everything," she said.

    Connector_details_June_2013.jpg

    A closer look at some of the route options around downtown.

    URS Corp.

    Clark Charnetski of the Michigan Association of Railroad Passengers said he likes the yellow-colored route following the rail corridor to get between U-M's North Campus and the medical center.

    "I've always puzzled over how you can get through there without messing up the area along Fuller Road," he said. "And that's a way to do it — swing over by the VA, Huron Towers, then parallel the railroad track and cross over at some point perhaps to wind up being above the railroad tracks by the time you're behind the medical center. I think that's a good solution."

    Roger Hewitt, a downtown business owner representing the DDA on the Connector steering committee, said the advantage of an exclusive right-of-way is going to make trips on the Connector a lot quicker than today's buses that have to compete with traffic.

    "Because you're not stopping for cars, you're not stopping for left turns, you're not stopping for traffic lights — it becomes a very quick trip," he said.

    Hewitt said project officials have always looked at the Connector being built in phases, with the first phase connecting Central Campus, North Campus, the medical center and the downtown. After that, he said, it could be extended further out Plymouth Road and down to Briarwood.

    But all of the possible routes that are mapped out have some significant drawbacks as far as providing enough space for the Connector, Hewitt acknowledged.

    Connector_workshop_061813_RJS_001.jpg

    Rick Nau of URS Corp., project manager for the Connector study, gives a presentation at the downtown library. He said the project should be well positioned to receive federal funds for implementation after the study is done.

    Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com

    "What we're looking for is an exclusive right-of-way corridor and there are very limited options on where you can put those," he said. "We have a lot more options along the Plymouth Road corridor because there's a lot more space to put that right-of-way. But from the medical center, Central Campus and through downtown, it is going to be very difficult whatever we do."

    Hewitt said that's why there are so many different lines on the map — it's still unknown what might work best.

    "Going south from downtown, we've looked at the railroad line, State Street and Main Street. All of them have problems with being very narrow," he said. "State Street and Main Street also have issues with a lot of residential, which you're obviously not going to be taking up."

    He expects a high-capacity transit system like the Connector would drive denser development — buildings three to five stories tall — in what's now a relatively low-density area between State Street and the Ann Arbor Railroad. He also predicts the entire Briarwood Mall area will be redeveloped in the next 20 years as enclosed malls become obsolete.

    "Acres and acres of parking could be much better used with high-density residential and high-density retail space," he said.

    Hewitt believes the potential for development makes using either State Street or the railroad corridor more attractive than Main Street to carry riders south toward Briarwood. Whatever mode of transit is used, he said, it's unlikely the Connector would use the existing freight railroad tracks.

    "Although they could with temporal separation, meaning the trains would have to run at night and the light rail during the day," he said. "It's probably more likely that you would keep a separate rail line and then have either a separate busway or a separate light rail line next to it."

    Ryan J. Stanton covers government and politics for AnnArbor.com. Reach him at ryanstanton@annarbor.com or 734-623-2529. You also can follow him on Twitter or subscribe to AnnArbor.com's email newsletters.


    0 0

    06102013_EDU_SkylineGrad_DJ.JPG

    Ann Arbor schools Superintendent Patricia Green speaks during Skyline High School's commencement on Monday, June 10 at Eastern Michigan University.

    Daniel Brenner I AnnArbor.com file photo

    Ann Arbor Public Schools administrators knew the district was $1.3 million over budget in October, documents show — yet it was four months and another $1.2 million later before the Board of Education found out, and another month before a district-wide spending freeze was enacted.

    When former Deputy Superintendent of Operations Robert Allen presented the district's first-quarter financial report on Nov. 7, 2012, both the report and a powerpoint presentation delivered to the school board showed the district was in line with its budget for the 2012-13 academic year.

    Superintendent Patricia Green wrote in her memorandum to the board dated Nov. 2 that "the total budgeted revenues and expenditures remain unchanged for the first quarter."

    Allen-Robert.JPG

    Former Deputy Superintendent Robert Allen

    However, one week prior to this board presentation on Oct. 31, Allen informed Green in his "weekly capsule report" that AAPS had exceeded its budgeted expenditures by $1.3 million, due to the district employing 11 extra teachers.

    By the time the school board was debriefed on the budget situation on Feb. 27 in the second-quarter financial report, the number of additional staff had grown from 11 to 29 and the current-year deficit was up from $1.3 million to $2.5 million.

    AnnArbor.com obtained Allen's weekly capsule reports through a Freedom of Information Act request. Allen left the district in February to take a new job in North Carolina.

    Every Wednesday, at Green's directive, executive cabinet members must submit a report to the superintendent of their division and the work they have completed.

    Green then submits a compiled capsule report every Friday, with updates and additional information on her own tasks, to the Board of Education, summarizing the work of the district.

    Ann Arbor Budget Crisis

    Previous Coverage:

    Capsule reports from October show the 11 teachers that were over budget were:

    • Seven special education teachers, as the result of more special needs students enrolling;
    • Four FTEs originally hired using Individuals With Disabilities Education Act grant money that had to be moved back into the general fund due to the grant money ending;
    • And three teacher assistants hired to conform with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    The additional 8 FTE from October to February were due to classroom overages and teachers requesting part-time teacher assistants, Allen said in February.

    About three weeks after the second-quarter financial report — nearly five months from when the district first saw signs of trouble — Green enacted a spending freeze. Her capsule reports to the board, which were obtained by AnnArbor.com, show the first week of the freeze was March 18.

    A history of not updating

    School board members were surprised, disappointed and beyond concerned in February when the second-quarter financial report was given, showing the $2.5 million deficit.

    Trustee Andy Thomas said officials reported the district's enrollment was stable this year, "but then we somehow missed our budget in FTEs in the opposite direction … and we don't learn about this until the end of February?

    "To me this is unacceptable," he said at the Feb. 27 meeting. "This is one of the reasons we're in the financial pickle we're in. We need to do a better job of managing our expenses and managing our FTEs, and matching the number of FTEs with the number of students we have."

    District spokeswoman Liz Margolis said in an interview Friday, Green did tell trustees about the initial budget shortfall in the fall of 2012 via her capsule reports to the board.

    Vice President Christine Stead said Thursday in an interview, she was aware that a budget adjustment would need to be made second quarter because of some teacher FTEs. But a few of the staffing pieces and the exact extent of the problem trustees were not aware of until the February meeting, she said.

    The first-quarter powerpoint presented by Allen on Nov. 7 showed 7 FTE, even though he had identified 11 in his report to Green.

    Stead also explained it has long been the district's practice to not make budget adjustments after the first quarter. If officials see discrepancies in revenues or expenditures up or down from what they budgeted for, these typically are not reflected in the district's financial statements or corrected until the second quarter, she said.

    Stead does not like this process at all, she said, and has voiced her frustration about this to administration numerous times. She especially feels it is necessary for the fund equity balance to be updated to what it actually is in every financial report.

    "I hope we will change that practice because it is misleading," Stead said. "... If we know (expenditures and revenues will need to be adjusted), we should reflect them as we know them and how we know them, even if they change again later. ... I've said all along, I'd rather have surprises to the positive, than bad surprises. ... Especially since our capacity to address bad news — well, we just don't have it anymore."

    margolis-liz-binder.JPG

    AAPS Communications Director Liz Margolis

    Margolis explained the first quarter runs from July through October, so because it is so early in the school year, many things still can change. For example: enrollment is still fluctuating those few months of school; student Count Day, which determines 90 percent of the district's state funding, is the first Wednesday in October, but then the numbers must be audited; and individualized education plans (IEPs) for special needs students still are being developed, which impacts staffing for special education.

    The district did make a $1.4 million budget adjustment during the second quarter, in which it transferred money from the district's fund equity, or primary savings account, to the general fund, Margolis said.

    Improving practices

    When asked about the district waiting until March to implement a spending freeze, Margolis said aside from wanting to wait it out, knowing the situation still could change between the first and second quarter, the delay also partially was due to experience the district has had with spending freezes in the past.

    "They haven't resulted in the numbers, or been as effective as we've needed," she said.

    But when the district did implement the freeze this year, she said officials did it in a different way than before, with "very strong controls." All purchases have had to go through Green for approval first. She personally has been authorizing or denying requests in order to help control spending and to curb unnecessary purchases.

    Stead said, ideally, if you know you are going to be over budget in some areas, you want to put a degree of financial controls in place as soon as possible. But she added: "I could see how they might think they don't need to go to that level yet and might think maybe there'd be some additional revenue coming in to offset (the deficit)."

    "But I would err on the side of putting in more controls and being more aggressive on spending freezes," she said.

    Margolis said a spending freeze or a transfer to the general fund are really the primary means the district has for addressing mid-year budget deficits. Officials also try to reduce costs any place they can throughout the year, every year — deficit or not, she said.

    The majority, about 87 percent, of the general fund is for personnel costs. So Margolis said other districts have issued mid-year reductions when they have been over budget, however, it has been Ann Arbor's practice and preference not to do that due to the disruption it causes for students.

    051612_NEWS_School_Board_MRM_10-1.jpg

    Vice President Christine Stead

    The district is in the process of switching from bottom-line accounting to line-by-line accounting, a step initiated by Green. "And we all agree that is going to make a big difference in our budgeting at the beginning of year and for monitoring throughout," Margolis said.

    At the June 12 regular school board meeting, Stead requested that the board add into the 2013-14 budget $80,000 for a performance audit of the district's operations, specifically in the areas of finance, human resources and instruction, where AAPS seems to repeatedly have issues with the budget and staffing needs not aligning.

    "Why I wanted this audit done is I'm hoping we'll get some guidance and recommendations on our processes around, not just financial controls, but how we manage our budget on a daily basis" ... including best practices for financial statements, Stead said.

    "Ideally, we can and want to staff to demand, right? So I'd like to see us get some help on how we can help all of our buildings do a better job managing to a budget," she said.

    The issue of equity

    The budget bad news kept coming for AAPS well after the second quarter. In May, the district's third-quarter financial report revealed yet another $1.3 million had to be added to the current-year deficit, bringing the new total to $3.8 million.

    The Ann Arbor Public Schools' fund balance has been depleted from $12.69 million to $6.87 million this fiscal year. In the 2013-14 academic year budget approved early June 13, the school board agreed to use another $1.18 million in fund equity to balance the budget.

    Going into the next school year, AAPS will have $5.69 million in savings, just more than 3 percent of the district's $182 million in operating expenses. The recommended fund balance amount for AAPS is 15 percent of its annual operating budget.

    Margolis said right now, district officials estimate that thanks to the spending freeze, $1 million will be added back into the district's fund balance at the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30. But, she stressed, because the fiscal year is not over yet, the district has not paid all of its bills.

    It has yet to receive the final invoice from the Washtenaw Intermediate School District for transportation services; and in the third quarter, there were additional costs associated with substitute drivers that contributed to the district's $3.8 million current-year shortfall.

    Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at daniellearndt@annarbor.com.


    0 0

    The Milan Dragway hosted a special event called "Night of Thrills" on Saturday.

    The event included a variety of racing attractions. Photographer Courtney Sacco captured these images.


    0 0

    The Canadian troupe Les 7 Doigts de la main brought its spectacular circus act to the Power Center on Saturday, courtesy of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

    Photographer Daniel Brenner captured these images. The troupe presents a second show at 5 p.m. Sunday; for more information, see the preview article, and for tickets, go to the Summer Festival website.


    0 0

    The Pittsfield Township Department of Public Safety accepted a grant worth more than $160,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to update its breathing equipment.

    Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for pittsfieldbadgenew.jpg

    According to a statement released last week, the Pittsfield Township Fire Department will receive $167,228 from FEMA as a part of its Assistance to Firefighters program.

    Public Safety Director Matt Harshberger said the grant will allow the department to upgrade Self Contained Breathing Apparatuses, which the department uses when responding to fires.

    Harshberger said the devices are “critically important when responding to fires emitting harmful fumes and chemicals, or necessitating firefighters to conduct search operations in fire and smoke-filled environments to save lives.”

    The grant will allow the fire department to purchase 28 SCBAs, which will bring the department up to full compliance, according to the statement.

    Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at kylefeldscher@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.


    0 0

    Hello, summer.

    The sun and heat were out in force on the third day of summer Sunday, bringing ringing cash registers for some seasonal businesses and busy sidewalk cafes and parks as the temperatures reached into the high 80s in Ann Arbor.

    "We've been super steady, which is a pleasant change from yesterday when it was super slow," said Ayla Bradbury, a 27 year-old who was working at the Huron Hills Golf Course. The course allows children of paying adults to play for free after 3 p.m. on Sundays, she said. "We've had a lot of people out today."

    Business was booming at Stucchi's in Dexter, but the hot weather seemed to discourage people from sitting outside at the umbrella tables.

    "A lot of people sit out there in the evening when it's getting cooler," said Leda Stimac, an 18 year-old who is spending the summer working at the store after graduating from Dexter High School.

    Meanwhile, a man who answered the phone at Argo Canoe & Kayak Livery said he was too busy to talk for an interview. "There's too many people in here," he said

    The week ahead will see more of the same, with slightly above-average temperatures, a few isolated thunderstorms and muggy conditions.

    "It's more like a dog days of summer type of forecast here," said Erik Pindrock, meteorologist with AccuWeather.

    That means daily highs comfortably ensconced in the upper 80s, with a chance of hitting 90 degrees Wednesday before cooling off slightly to around 83 on Friday, Pindrock said.

    The region's average high for this time of year is 82, he said.

    Look for a mix of sunny skies and clouds with a dew point, another way to measure humidity, in the mid- to upper-60s — meaning fairly humid weather.

    "Really it looks like just about every day, there's a chance of a shower or thunderstorm," Pindrock said. "It's not really a whole day of rain, it's a mix of clouds and sun and you might get that hour every day where a storm rolls through it rains and then the sun comes back out."

    Find up-to-date weather conditions and forecasts any time at AnnArbor.com's weather page.


    0 0

    dobie-maxwell.jpg

    Dobie Maxwell

    Few comedians have the timing of Dobie Maxwell, yuckking it up this weekend at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase. He says his life is very funny - that is if you’re not him.

    Milwaukee is the city where Harley Davidson motorcycles and Maxwell were born. He said his parents rode with a biker gang and abandoned him as a baby. He was raised by his paternal grandparents, and it was his grandfather who dubbed him Mr. Lucky.

    Maxwell has been in the funny business since 1985. He also teaches comedy and was the originator of a class that was taught at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase.

    He continues his tales of woe about growing up on his latest CD, “Hard Luck Jollies.”

    Dobie Maxwell performs shows at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, June 28-29 at the Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, 314 E. Liberty St. (downstairs) in Ann Arbor. Admission is $10 (advance) or $12 (at the door). Details at 734-996-9080 or www.aacomedy.com


    0 0

    Ypsilanti firefighters extinguished a house fire caused by candles that burned down on the back porch of a home, spread to other items and caught the home on fire Sunday.

    Captain Dan Cain said firefighters responded at 2:45 p.m. Sunday to the 1100 block of Sherman Street for a working house fire. Cain said there were visible flames and smoke when firefighters arrived at the home.

    The residents attempted to put the fire out with a garden hose but were unsuccessful. They told investigators that they had left candles burning on the back porch the previous night, and Cain said those candles were what caused the blaze.

    The damage was mostly limited to the outside of the home, Cain said. The fire caused approximately $10,000 in damage.

    Firefighters were on scene for an hour and 20 minutes Sunday. Cain said he wasn’t sure if the residents were displaced by the blaze.

    The Ypsilanti Township Fire Department assisted Ypsilanti firefighters in fighting the fire, Cain said.


    View Larger Map

    Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at kylefeldscher@annarbor.com or you can follow him on Twitter.


older | 1 | .... | 115 | 116 | (Page 117) | 118 | 119 | .... | 183 | newer