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Wednesday, October 14,2009

Kids in the Hall

An aggregator of Lansing government happenings

by Neal McNamara
Who wants to talk bonds? Specifically, federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act bonds.

As you may remember, several weeks ago Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero announced a plan to allow the Christman Co. to seek $31 million in ARRA bonds to build a parking ramp for the Accident Fund headquarters at the Ottawa Power Station downtown because private loans could not be secured.


Now, the federal government has allocated counties and cities across the country Recovery Zone Economic Development bonds, for municipalities to use, and Recovery Zone Facility Bonds, which could be sought by private interests or municipalities with projects ready to go. Bernero announced that Christman could seek the facility bonds for the project, combining Lansing’s $14 million in facility bonds with $16 million from Ingham County’s total $20 million allotment of facility bonds. To use those bonds, the legislative bodies of Ingham County would have to declare the county a “recovery zone,” and the Lansing City Council would have to do the same for Lansing.


But, there’s a catch. Lansing Township has a master plan (it’s quite ambitious — check the township economic development Web site for details) for Eastwood Towne Center and wants $17 million of those county bonds for a mixed-use parking ramp near the NCG Cinema (and another $12 million in development bonds). Obviously, the county could not cover both projects.


Add to that, according to Ingham County, the city of Mason is fluttering its eyelashes at the facility bonds for a new city hall and police station, and the county could use the bonds for a new 911 call center.


A Recovery Act bond feeding frenzy could ensue.


Ingham County Controller Matt Myers, however, has a plan. Myers says that there could be other counties in the state that will not use the bonds, and Ingham County could ask for the cheap money (the bonds are low interest) to be put in its pocket. That is, if other political entities are willing to give it up.


The determining factors for which projects get the county’s bonds are many, Myers says. The county commissioners will ultimately decide who gets the bonds, and will consider how ready a project is. (Lansing Township has been planning this new ramp for longer than Lansing had planned to use the bonds; both entities have submitted bond-request letters to the county, but “who submitted a letter first” doesn’t matter, Myers said.) But, consider this: The Lansing Township ramp would be located in a Downtown Development Authority, which has a tax increment financing district, but one that doesn’t capture 100 percent of all taxes.Meanwhile, the Accident Fund project is, on top of many abatements, located in a TIF that does capture all taxes. Barring politics, one project may be more lucrative for the county in the long run than the other.


In a separate bond story, the Lansing City Council on Monday approved intent to issue bonds for upgrades at the city wastewater treatment plant. The city would issue just under $17 million in bonds from a state fund, but the federal government would reimburse just under $7 million under the Recovery Act.


The city Public Service Department touts that the upgrades would improve filters at the plant, which haven’t been replaced since 1978, so that less waste would flow into local waterways. The money would also be used to upgrade energy consumption, saving the city about $268,000. Water utility customers, however, could see (based on an average monthly water bill of $41.96) an increase of 85 cents per month.



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