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Tuesday, October 5,2010

Kids in the Hall

The city’s ‘intent’: $3 million for a consolidated service garage

by Andy Balaskovitz
Tuesday, Oct. 5 — The Lansing City Council passed a resolution 7-1 at Monday’s meeting supporting borrowing $3 million to consolidate the city’s two maintenance garages. Those bonds will be paid off in 20 years at an interest rate of 4 percent rather than 5 percent (thanks, stimulus package).

Finance Director Jerry Ambrose said it’s a convenient time to consolidate the Central Garage at 312 N. Cedar St. (for police, fire and administration vehicles and equipment) and the Service Garage at 525 E. South St. (for public services and parks and recreation vehicles and equipment) in preparation for the forthcoming single-stream recycling program.

“We’ve been working on this (consolidation) for years,” Ambrose said, adding that the consolidation was included in FY 2011 budget talks. “At first blush it looked expensive to find new property.”

The recycling transfer station on South Street will become the new service garage because single stream does not require a sorting facility. The whole purpose of the consolidation, Ambrose stressed, is efficiency — even if that means a few less jobs. He didn’t say how many, but pointed out that in 2005, 40 employees worked at the two garages. Today that number is in the mid-20s, he said.

With fewer employees, Ambrose said it’s important to have a streamlined facility all under one roof. Total project costs are $4 million, $3 million of which come from the bonds and another $1 million from the city’s garage internal service fund. An additional $200,000 will be added for debt services (issuing the bonds). Construction is anticipated for January and should take seven months if the 45-day referendum period passes.

Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar said before the vote that the 1 percent reduction in interest rates could mean $30,000 per year in savings for the 20-year life of the loan.

Should the citizens of Lansing seek a referendum against this intent, they have 45 days to collect signatures of at least 10 percent of registered voters in the city to get it on the ballot. At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood was the lone no vote because she believed there was not enough information available to the public before Monday’s meeting on the consolidation.

In other business, 15 members of the public commented on three proposed redevelopments in the city that are up for tax incentives, which include Jet Engineering’s expansion in south Lansing and Pat Gillespie’s Marshall Street Armory and Marketplace projects. Eight comments supported the incentives as important for downtown vibrancy and, in the case of the armory, for linking downtown with the eastside neighborhood.

“A strong downtown means a strong near-downtown,” Joan Nelson, director of the east-side Allen Neighborhood Center, said. She added that the center has written letters of support for both the armory and Marketplace projects.

Loretta Stanaway spoke against the two projects, calling tax abatements to build a strong downtown core an “outdated theory.” She then suggested to the Council that they rename Lansing to “Gillespie-ville.”

Rick Kibbey called the Armory redevelopment a “uniquely satisfying solution” to the current property, which has been vacant since 2006. “It’s a very tricky parcel to develop. Pat Gillespie is cutting edge,” he said following Stanaway.

At the Sept. 27 meeting, At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries scheduled two public hearings for each of these redevelopments; one for Monday and one for the Oct. 11 meeting. The Council will vote on the tax incentives at next week’s meeting, and Jeffries has said that it’s only fair the public has ample time to weigh in on the incentives. Round two will commence next week — same time, same place.

In other matters, the Committee of the Whole meeting was scheduled after the Council meeting, but was adjourned because two of the three agenda items were sent back to the Development and Planning Committee and discussion on the Lansing Police Department’s annual report was pulled because of interim Police Chief Teresa Szymanski’s absence.

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