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Monday, March 18,2013

Kids in the Hall

Securing recreation funds, shouting with the regulars and the governor affects the budget process

by Andy Balaskovitz
Tuesday, March 22 — Monday’s Lansing City Council meeting centered around scheduling a public hearing for next week’s meeting on whether the city should apply for state grant money to improve non-motorized transportation in west Lansing.

Murdock Jemerson, director of the Parks Department, gave a brief presentation explaining the grant application process and how the money would be used.

If Lansing is awarded the $600,000 Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, the city is obligated to “match” those funds with 25 percent of the total, Jemerson said. In this case, that would be $150,000.

However, Jemerson told the Council that his department, along with the Public Service Department, is seeking more grants that will go toward the city’s match.

“These grant match funds will provide our local match,” he said. “There won’t be any charges, if you will, out of the Parks Millage Fund.”

The money would be used for creating a “trailhead” at the west entrance of Grand River Park, non-motorized pathways within the park and also a fishing pier. The project is part of the larger “Waverly Road Regional Recreational Network.”

If this is conjuring up memories of Mayor Virg Bernero’s “sidewalk to nowhere” and the feud that started between him and political analyst Bill Ballenger, it should. Jemerson said this project is part of the ultimate goal of connecting Frances Park on the south side of the Grand River to the YMCA and Grand River Park on the north side. Ballenger lives in the middle of this connection and wants nothing to do with a sidewalk being built outside of his house.

At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries had concerns that the Council was getting this information too late. He said he has not even seen the grant application and does not know for sure how the money will be spent. “We’ll get this (information) on Friday and then have to vote on Monday?” Jeffries asked.

Jemerson assured him and At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood, who had similar concerns, that the information would be available to them before Friday.

In other meeting business, City Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar — while filling in for the absent President A’Lynne Robinson — roused up some Council regulars that left one of them kicked out.

After Loretta Stanaway announced during the public comment period that she is staging a protest against the proposed 4-mill property tax increase before the Council’s next meeting, Dunbar responded that she would “basically be protesting the voters,” because the millage will be decided in an election.

Jeffries seemed to think Dunbar overextended her speaking time and asked for a point of order while Dunbar was speaking. Jeffries said the last “speaking engagement is our public” at Council meetings and that Dunbar was out of line to follow-up Stanaway.

“Really? We’re not supposed to talk when everyone is done speaking?” Dunbar interrupted Jeffries.

After Jeffries said there are only two times Council members are “allowed to speak” on the agenda, the crowd of about six gave Jeffries a round of applause.

After the applause, Dunbar said “there is no prohibition of Council members commenting.”

Council regular Darnell Oldham Sr. began shouting from the crowd at Dunbar, “You’re out of order.”

Dunbar had Oldham escorted out of the Council chambers and Jeffries left the meeting before it ended and skipped out on the Committee of the Whole meeting that followed.

In budget news, Finance Director Jerry Ambrose said that while the mayor still plans to present an all-cuts, “worst-case scenario” budget at the next Council meeting, news from Gov. Rick Snyder Monday could affect how much revenue sharing the city receives from the state.

Snyder presented a three-tiered formula by which municipalities are eligible for revenue sharing, Ambrose said, referring to the Economic Vitality Incentive Program. This requires municipalities to embrace “accountability and transparency,” Ambrose said, and establishes a local version of Snyder’s Dashboard.

A second phase requires municipalities to “present cuts to services that will result in taxpayer savings. We stand in good position if (the 911 consolidation) is recognized,” Ambrose said.

Finally, Snyder is requiring municipalities to come up with a “hybrid retirement system” that changes the structure of public employee health care benefits, Ambrose said, but that would be phased in over time.

“The important thing about these three items is that municipalities will receive one-third of (revenue sharing) funding for each category they meet,” Ambrose said. “We will work hard to evaluate how we can get the most bang for our buck on this.”

In other Council business, the Council voted unanimously on scheduling a public hearing for April 25 regarding a waiver to the city’s noise ordinance requested by the state Department of Transportation. MDOT plans to resurface Cedar and Larch streets in north Lansing as well as make sidewalk upgrades in south Lansing between April and November, but wants to do so between 9 a.m. and 6 a.m. to “reduce the traffic congestion and increase worker safety.”

The Council also unanimously passed a resolution recognizing long-time Lansing resident Arnold Hall, Jr. Hall was a west side resident for more than 60 years and was active in the youth sports community.


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