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Tuesday, June 29,2010

KIDS IN THE HALL

Budget end times, stop signs and new City Hall ... hours of operation

by Andy Balaskovitz
Talks of using $3.4 million of the city’s reserve funds to fix an unbalanced 2010 fiscal year budget livened up Monday’s Lansing City Council meeting. At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries said he was left in the dark about using reserve funds to cover a deficit and wanted a more thorough attempt for a deficit elimination plan that considered revenue additions.

Jeffries thinks the fact that this is the second year in a row of using unrestricted reserves to balance the budget, and the third time in the past four years, is not an emergency measure, but a trend.

“Over the last seven years we have been carving out our reserves,” Jeffries said. “It seems like we are using it as a budget-balancing tool. We react to what you give us and it’s probably a decision we are now stuck with.”

Finance Director Jerry Ambrose retorted that had the administration of Mayor Virg Bernero been able to predict the future, just maybe they could have designed a budget that boosted revenue without dipping into reserves.

“These are unprecedented times,” Ambrose said. “There are some losses in revenue we just can’t control.”

“For one year, I get it. After that it becomes a budgeting tool,” Jeffries said.

In 2003, the city had $13 million in reserves, Ambrose said. That was down to $10.1 million before the Bernero administration took over. After the past two fiscal years, the reserves stand at $5.9 million.

Still, Ambrose contends that any more skimming from the city budget would have cost jobs and raised taxes.

“When budgeting, it is the mayor’s desire to not lay off employees,” Ambrose said. “And raise taxes? We don’t want to do that either.”

(Ambrose reminded the public on Monday night that trash and recycling collection within the city would transition to a four-day collection week beginning July 5 and several city offices starting July 1 will also move to a four-day workweek at the start of the new fiscal year — part of the city’s efforts to close a budget gap going into the new fiscal year, which starts July 1.)

Vice President Kathie Dunbar sought to cool things off, saying the city is looking throughout the state for effective, unique mixes of budget cuts and reserve spending.
“Budget problems are not unique to Lansing,” she said. “How can we adapt other techniques to work here?”

The proposals passed 6-1, with Jeffries against and Fourth Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko absent.

The committee also renewed a contract with the Fraternal Order of Police Capitol City Lodge, which covers the next six years.

Nine new appointments were made to various city boards, including: Kelly Johnston, Amber Shinn and Brad Williams to the Board of Zoning Appeals; Maria Starr to the Memorial Review Board, Adam Hussain to the Parks Board, Alisade Henry and Josh Hovey to the Planning Board, Rory Neuner to the Board of Public Service and Nancy Mahlow to the Traffic Board.

The Public Safety committee recommended a 90-day study in the Westside Neighborhood near the former GM Verlinden Plant. There have been multiple neighborhood complaints that time-restrictive parking signs are irrelevant since the plant shut down. The “no parking” and “one hour parking” signs will be removed in the coming weeks for 90 days.

Council passed several Development and Planning resolutions. One designates the property at 2282 N. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. as an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation (OPRA) District (the tax incentive an increase in taxes because of added value for up to 12 years). Jeffries noted that the property is now back on the tax rolls after being owned by a nonprofit.

Council also approved a brownfield redevelopment project at the Holmes Street School, which will allow Spartan Internet to move forward with a $1.8 million investment, which Jeffries said would create 25 new jobs and move in multiple, mixed-use tenants to the space.

The committee set a July 12 public hearing date to hear plans from Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, which wants to open a branch at 104 S. Washington Square. The credit union is seeking an OPRA certificate to install a bank on the first floor and office space on the second floor of the building, formerly home to Dimitri’s Restaurant.

A public hearing date for July 26 is set in regards to 815 Edgewood Blvd., a vacant lot where Antioch Full Gospel Baptist Church is seeking to construct a new church.

Council passed a number of motions to install stop signs and yield signs throughout the city, based on traffic studies and citizen requests: There will be stop signs at Donora Street and Kenwood Avenue, McKim Avenue and Donora, Riley and Donora streets, Forest Glen Avenue and Tecumseh River Road, Fulton Place and Osborn Road, Viking Road and Herrick Drive, Irvington and Ruth avenues intersection, Lenore and Pattengill avenues, Ruth Avenue and Rex Street, and yield signs at Greenwood Street and Glenrose Avenue and Lamont Street and Glenrose.

Council also passed a make safe or demolish order for 420 North Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., a property value estimated at $26,100 but in need of $59,000 in repairs.

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