Although the fire department layoffs proposed for 2010-11 had drawn little public comment from City Council members, several expressed concern about the potentially accelerated schedule Monday.
Council Member Stephen Rapundalo and Mayor John Hieftje both asked for information about how the reductions would affect response time and public safety. Hieftje pressed for identifying another option.
In fact, other initiatives could make a difference.
Ann Arbor continues to talk with neighboring communities about a regional approach to fire services. Those talks could yield results that would influence the budget by year's end, Fraser said.
It's also possible than more city police officers than expected will take an early-retirement offer, he said. That would reduce costs. Some 16 to 18 officers are eligible, but fewer were expected to leave the department.
Other changes in the police department occupied a good deal of the council's time Monday.
Downtown beat cops
Police Chief Barnett Jones fielded questions about the elimination of downtown beat cops and half a dozen community-standards officers, responsible for parking and other code enforcement.
"We got spoiled but times have changed," Jones said of the once 190-member department that allowed dedicated downtown officers. The police department now has 148 sworn officers.
"The changes we're making let us keep our patrol exactly as it is. Those are the priorities: patrol, dispatch and detectives," he said. "What I need to do is keep our level of strength up on the street and in investigation."
While the arrangement downtown will be different, there should be no net loss of police presence, Jones said. "Instead of six officers the downtown business people will see many others."
All patrol officers are to spend on hour out of their cars on foot, or on a bike, every shift, he said. Many of those hours will be spent in the downtown.
In addition, patrol officers will write more tickets for parking violations.
Numerous council members wondered whether the sworn officers would issue as many citations as the civilian community-standards officers. The budget anticipates $2.1 million in revenue, unchanged from this year.
Jones assured city officials that the patrol officers would do the work.
Council members also appeared skeptical about a still-evolving plan to install parking meters that would be operated outside the Downtown Development Authority parking system.
Maps of the proposed new metered streets have not been available to the News or, as of Monday, to City Council members. A presentation Monday showed locations streets near the University of Michigan hospitals as well as west of downtown around YMCA and north of downtown around Depot Street.
The DDA's plan has been to steer drivers into parking structures in town or into park-and-ride lots outside the central business district, said Council Member Sandi Smith. The proposed new on-street meters seem at odds with that strategy, she said.
Council Member Carsten Hohnke noted that the targeted areas are in "near downtown" neighborhoods. "Meters suggest commercial activity nearby. We want to guard against commercial spillover."
City staffers suggested the meters could provide relief for neighborhoods clogged by commuters parking. But the goal is generating new revenue - roughly $350,000 a year. And whatever their reservations, no council members called for abandoning the idea.
Judy McGovern can be reached at 734-994-6863 or firstname.lastname@example.org.