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Wednesday, October 21,2009

Kids in the Hall

An aggregator of Lansing government happenings

by Neal McNamara

It may come as a relief to some downtown business owners to know that combined sewer overflow work —you know, that city project where they take up the roads to replace old sewer pipes so that we stop flushing our toilets into the Grand River? — set to begin along Washington Square next spring will be delayed until at least 2011.


Lansing Public Service Director Chad Gamble says that any “new” projects — for any of you wonks, that’s CSO Phase 5, segment 2 — will be postponed. Next year’s CSO work downtown would have been on Washington Square from Allegan Street to Kalamazoo Street and Ottawa Street between Grand and Capitol avenues.


The reason for the cancellation, Gamble said, is that the city is instead going to focus on upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant. City Council two Mondays ago approved the Public Service Department’s intent to issue about $17 million in bonds for that project, some of which is being backed by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act bonds from the federal government. Gamble said that the postponement of the CSO work downtown would be a “tangential benefit” to businesses downtown.


But don’t dream of a CSO-free summer just yet. Ongoing CSO projects — the ones that are planned out over several construction seasons — will still happen next year.


Of course, all this depends on the City Council giving final approval to issue the bonds for the wastewater treatment plant. Gamble said that his department is working under the assumption that Council will sign off, but who knows?


At Monday night’s Council meeting, Finance Director Jerry Ambrose announced some half sad, half happy news. First, the happy news: For the 2009 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the city had only spent $113.7 million of the $114.6 million that was approved by Council. The bad news: Revenues were, expectedly, less than anticipated. The city thought it would get about $113 million in revenue, but it ended up getting about $111.6 million. Ambrose attributed the shortfall to foreclosed houses and a loss of property tax income, reduced Board of Water and Light revenue and less income from ambulance fees. (Ambrose said it wasn’t that fewer people were using ambulances, but more people could not afford to pay for them).


To make up the shortfall, the city will take out about $1.2 million from its reserve fund, bringing that fund — the amount of money in that account affects the city’s bond rating — down to about $9.3 million. If revenue projections fall any further, the administration may have to forward a deficit elimination plan to Council, as it did in 2008. That plan included killing a Council bid to fund certain municipal golf courses. Ambrose could not say what a possible deficit elimination plan for this fiscal year might include.


This week marked the second time in a row that Council did not hold its Committee of the Whole meeting, which used to be a weekly thing, which was then reduced to every other week, and may now be less frequent. But, Monday’s agenda was not that thick; it included a few show cause hearings for houses that might be demolished (no property owners showed up), a tribute to gospel promoter Jackie Wade and a budget transfer for a grant for victims of crime. Also, Dave Sheets owner of the Cadillac Club, wants to transfer his liquor license from his name to his business name, Cadillac Club Inc.



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