Ypsilanti residents launch new millage campaign for Water Street debt retirement

Ypsilanti voters may again be asked to approve a 2.3-mill debt retirement millage to pay off the city's Water Street property debt, if organizers behind a new citizen-led effort can rally enough support for it this spring.

The city proposed a similar millage that was narrowly defeated last August. Now volunteers behind the recently launched Citizens for Ypsi campaign are working to get the measure back on the ballot this summer.

Citizens for Ypsi treasurer Adam Gainsley says the group wants to help stabilize Ypsilanti's finances, so the city can focus on basic services and economic growth.

"All the folks working on this campaign are invested in Ypsilanti and want to make sure our home continues to be an amazing place to live," Gainsley says. "Many of us have children that we are looking forward to raising here in Ypsi and want to make sure their future here is bright."

The millage would raise about $700,000 per year through 2031 to be put toward the city's outstanding principal of $7,840,000 still owed on the property. That money is currently withdrawn from the city's general fund, which has led to cuts in staffing, policing, programs, and services in Ypsi. The Water Street site has become a financial burden on the city as expected redevelopment interest in the property has repeatedly failed to materialize.

The group needs 848 signatures by April 13 to get the proposal on the Aug. 7 ballot. An informational kickoff event will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse.

In addition to Gainsley, who also serves on the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority's (DDA) board of directors, the group of community leaders and professionals includes John Weiss, Lisa Wozniak, Gillian Ream Gainsley, Kerri Pepperman, Elisa Guyton, Jelani Mcgadney, Dylan Goings, Jason Loren, Kate Stroud, and Jenn Wenzel. It also has the backing of Ypsilanti's city council, Washtenaw County Commissioner Ricky Jefferson, state Rep. Ronnie Peterson, and former state Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith.

Gainsley is optimistic about the millage passing this time because the 2016 defeat came down to less than 40 votes with minimal fundraising, organizing, and outreach.

"We're tapping into our community talent to build a highly informative campaign with outreach efforts across the city," he says. "We're putting together a number of informational pieces to clearly show the current state of the city's finances, as well the effects of the result of this vote on our financial future.

"This debt has been a thorn in our side long enough, and it is time to put it behind us and move onto more important work."

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.