No Action Taken on Troy Transit Center
Transit center discussion dominates marathon Troy City Council meeting; Troy Mayor explains her reason for altering the oath of office for herself and new council members.
Troy City Council ended its Monday meeting just before the stroke of midnight without taking any action to alter the fate of an $8.4 million transit center that is slated to be built with funding from the Federal Railroad Administration.
Council heard comments from the public both for and against the design and construction of the Troy Multi-Modal Transit Facility before entering a study session intended to give the new council members and the mayor an update on the project, which has been in the works for more than a decade.
The transit center project would replace the current Amtrak station located in Birmingham. The new facility would allow for connections to other modes of transportation, including a SMART bus terminal and potential connections with future light rail and commuter trains. The current station consists of a platform and small shelter.
Troy City Council on Sept. 12 approved a contract with the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to proceed with the design and construction phase of the transit center. Under the contract agreement, MDOT would provide about $8.4 million for the project, with that money coming from the Federal Railroad Administration.
However, newly-elected Mayor Janice Daniels, a strong Tea Party supporter, said she would like to hear viewpoints opposing the transit center. Incoming councilmembers Doug Tietz and Dave Henderson also indicated they are opposed to the transit center project.
"My biggest problem is spending money that we don't have," Daniels said Monday following the public comment section of the meeting. "I would think it would be more responsible to repair the economy. ... I'm not opposed to public transportation, I'm opposed to debt spending."
Council members are now considering whether to allow the project to proceed or to introduce a motion to rescind the contract and halt the project before the design phase of the project starts. City administrators indicated during a study session on the issue Monday that the city has spent more than $400,000 on the project in the past decade.
Troy City Manager John Szerlag asked City Council to make a decision by Dec. 19 so the project could either move forward or be scrapped. If the contract were rescinded, the federal funds would be reallocated and provided to another railroad project, most likely in another state.
The governing body rejected the idea of holding a town hall style meeting and decided instead to allow those opposed and in favor of the transit center to speak during the public comment portion of the council's meetings.
"I was elected to stand up for some values," Daniels said during the study session, "and I need those values to have an opportunity to be presented in a public forum without opposition. ... We don't stop the pro-transit center program from going forward and from being given airtime, and funds or meetings."
Szerlag – who said the city management isn't for or against the project, but rather works at the discretion of the city council – suggested any meeting that restricted viewpoints from the public would likely be viewed negatively.
"I'm just saying that if there is a call to the public, it's not going to look well if you have a call to the public and don't invite all views," Szerlag said. "But it's up to you."
Council discusses, revokes some tax abatements
While the transit center project was the main focus during most of Monday's meeting, council also took action on several tax abatements.
"This is an example of why tax abatements don't work," Councilman Tietz said prior to voting to revoke a tax incentive to Faurecia Automotive Seating. "They just shopped around and got a better deal, and that's why I'll be opposing tax abatements for businesses."
Faurecia, which has since relocated out of the city, was granted an abatement in 2008 under an agreement with the city that the business would spend about $1.1 million in capital improvements that would result in the addition of 47 new jobs in Troy. Faurecia instead spent $253,219 and received about $3,700 in tax exemptions. Council approved Monday to revoke the tax exemption for failing to meet the agreement, with all council members voting in favor of the motion.
Council members voted against revoking a tax exemption for ProMetal, 2341 Alger, which also failed to meet its agreement with the city. The business agreed in 2008 to spend about $3.8 million in improvements and add three jobs. The business spent about $2.7 million, but filled three new positions.
"This is a small job shop here in Troy," city assessor Nino Licari told council members. "It was a major undertaking here in Troy. ... They did buy a considerable amount of equipment, but they didn't spend the $3.4 million."
Licari said the business has received about $40,000 in tax exemptions through the agreement and would be required to pay those funds, should the council decide to revoke the tax abatement.
Council voted 6-1 against revoking the abatement with the majority of council members indicating concern that revoking the abatement would hurt the business, and that it had made an effort to meet its obligation during a challenging economic period. Councilman Tietz voted for revoking the abatement.
Council also approved a tax exemption agreement with Sulzer Metco, 1972 Meijer, which the previous city council had approved. The agreement hadn't been finalized because the State of Michigan lost the paperwork during the processing period and has since required the city to re-approve the process, Licari said.
The abatement was approved by a vote of 6-1 with all in favor except Tietz, who said he voted against the measure because he wasn't "going to allow the mistakes of yesterday" go forward today.
"If you're not receiving tax subsides in the city of Troy, I'm sorry, and I hope you stay here," Tietz said.
Council changes Oath of Office
Daniels took time during the meeting to respond to concerns made during the public comment section of the meeting about her decision to change the oath of office during last week's swearing-in ceremony.
Daniels, who had the reference to the Troy city charter removed from the oath of office for herself and new council members for the Nov. 14 swearing-in ceremony, said she called the charter a "whimsical" document that it's subject to the whims of city council.
Troy resident Linda Kajma, who caught the changes during the Nov. 14 meeting, said she was concerned if the change will be used to "skirt around some issues later."
Bill Mathewson, general counsel for the Michigan Municipal League, told the Detroit Free Press that Daniels' wording is acceptable under state law.
Daniels said her oath and that of the other council members and mayor pro tem binds them all to the constitution of the United States and the state constitution, and in turn to the city of Troy.
"I didn't encourage any council members not to take the oath of the city charter. ... They are free to take another oath that includes the city charter," Daniels said Monday. "Please don't take it wrong, that I don't respect the charter and the people of this city. I really do."