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Wednesday, September 23,2009

Kids in the Hall

An aggregator of Lansing government happenings

by Neal McNamara

You could call Monday night’s City Council meeting the winter of our discontent agenda.


The consent agenda, a legislative device that was supposed to make Council meetings shorter by allowing the body to vote on a number of supposedly less important agenda items all at once, is causing some infighting.


On one side, you have some Council members saying that the consent agenda is cutting into “open government” because each item is not explained before it is voted on. The other side says that the intent of the consent agenda is being thwarted because it is not being used. At every Council meeting (the last three) since the new rules went into effect (which also put general public comment at the end of the meeting), every item on the consent agenda has been taken off and voted on individually.


On Monday night, First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt pulled all 17 consent agenda items off, one by one. Each item was then voted on with little or no discussion. More time, it seemed, was spent discussing the validity of a consent agenda than its actual business.


Second Ward Councilwoman Sandy Allen questioned the point of a consent agenda because it appeared it would not be used properly any time soon. Allen said that she found it “objectionable” that the tool is not being used.


Allen asked acting President A’Lynne Robinson (President Derrick Quinney was absent from the meeting because of a death in the family) to put on the agenda for the next Committee of the Whole meeting a discussion to possibly change the rules again — either to eliminate the consent agenda or add to the rules language that would require a vote of the entire Council to remove an item or items from it. Word is there won’t be a CoW this week, so Council members’ agendas over the agenda may continue for at least another few weeks.


It appears that Hewitt will again start voting for projects that come before Council for approval from the Lansing Economic Development Corp. that include tax abatements. Two weeks ago, Hewitt declared at a Monday meeting that he would no longer vote for tax incentives until he got a satisfactory report from the EDC detailing the effects of abatements. Hewitt was satisfied after a t'te-'-t'te with EDC CEO Bob Trezise during last Thursday’s Committee of the Whole meeting in which Hewitt was told the EDC would put a self-reporting system for tax abatement recipients on its Web site by December. Trezise said he’s been talking about the self-reporting system for over six months to the mayor, the Council’s Development and Planning Committee and the Council as a whole.


Speaking of tax incentives, a brownfield plan and personal property tax abatement for Jackson National Life Insurance Co. was up for public hearing on Monday night. The company is planning to turn a warehouse on Seager Street into a data center. The brownfield plan is actually a tax capture device that reimburses the developer — in this case Jackson National — for money it puts into cleaning up environmental contamination on the site. In this case property and all local taxes — including school taxes — would be captured to reimburse Jackson National $1.4 million it would put into infrastructure work and lead and asbestos abatement. The brownfield tax capture would last until 2024, and some captured taxes would go to the Lansing Brownfield Redevelopment Authority’s administrative costs ($62,000) and for its revolving loan fund ($314,000).


Jackson National would also receive a 50 percent abatement on about $8 million worth of personal property taxes (taxes on equipment), which depreciates each year (in the last year of the abatement, it is estimated the personal property will be worth around $2 million). Lansing and other local taxing agencies could keep half of that, as well as an estimated $226,000 in income tax over the life of the abatement, which is also until 2024.



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