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Tuesday, November 2,2010

Kids in the Hall

Snow removal standards, a closed session and the unveiling of a (planned) consolidated service garage

by Andy Balaskovitz

Tuesday, Nov. 2 — There was no scheduled legislative business during Monday’s Lansing City Council meeting, but that just meant all the action happened immediately after during Committee of the Whole.


Second Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton kicked things off with a motion, which was approved 7-0 (with Vice President Kathie Dunbar absent) to go into a closed session in order to discuss the Market Place project. Finance Director Jerry Ambrose and City Attorney Brig Smith joined them.


Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina overruled last week the Council’s 4-4 vote to block brownfield tax incentives for Pat Gillespie’s downtown project.


Ambrose has said that an appeal would not be in the city’s best interest, though the Council reserves that right with a five-member vote.


In other Committee of the Whole business, Chad Gamble, director of public services, walked through a set of “standards” his department will use when enforcing the new snow removal ordinance. The three-page set of standards gives the basics of the new ordinance and answers frequently asked questions. However, Council members took issue with some standards.


“I want to see something that specifies an amount” at which residents must clear the snow, At-Large Councilman Derrick Quinney said.


Gamble said that specifying a depth minimum makes it tougher to enforce administratively. “As soon as you pick a number, events across the city vary north to south to east to west.”


He added that his department will be reasonable when inspecting sidewalks.


“Are the sidewalks unsafe or difficult to travel? That’s what we’re looking at,” he said. “That’s difficult to put into one statement.”


Gamble told Quinney that his department would “work on something” in relation to accumulation depth and have findings back within a week.


At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries was confused over what a “weather event” is that triggers inspection from the department. The standards define it as “a winter weather event that causes snow or ice to continuously accumulate.”


While Gamble assured Jeffries it wouldn’t simply be a “light dusting,” he added that it is difficult to express in writing the exact start and end times to a snowfall.


At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood expressed concerns that the city is requiring more of its residents by way of clearing snow than what the city does itself. She is also concerned about the 60-day period in which assessments can be placed on property taxes. People might be trying to sell off their property in that time, and Wood suggested there be language in the standards that says 30 days is more realistic. Gamble agreed.


To round out the Committee of the Whole meeting, Dick Peffley, executive director of water and special projects at the Lansing Board of Water and Light, led a presentation on the new consolidated service garage at the corner of Cedar and South streets.


The total cost to consolidate the two service garages — the Central Garage is near the Cooley Law School Stadium — is about $4.2 million. Of that, $3.2 million will be paid for through bonds, while the other $1 million will come out of the city’s motor vehicle fund.


The Council approved an intent to bond for the project about a month ago, but will have to vote again to let the bonds go to sale, Wood said. She added that she wants to see an itemized cost savings list on the project.


“It’s not just about convenience — we need to save money too,” she said.


If all goes according to plan, construction bids will be sent out in December with plans to start building in April. Project completion is expected in Dec. 2011. The city has a fleet of 1,144 machines, ranging from garbage trucks to generators.

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