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Monday, March 18,2013

Kids in the Hall

The Council promises to spend millage money — if it passes today at the polls — on police, fire and roads

by Andy Balaskovitz
Tuesday, May 3 — After several Lansing City Council members said at Monday night’s meeting they’ve heard concerns from residents that the city wouldn’t actually spend new millage revenue — if it passes today at the polls — on police, fire and roads, the Council unanimously adopted a resolution promising it would go for that purpose.

The non-binding resolution — sponsored by Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar — basically gives the Council’s word that the potential $8.5 million in new revenue will be spent as Mayor Virg Bernero outlined in his budget proposal: $3.75 million for police; $3.65 million for fire; and $1.1 million for roads.

The ballot language before Lansing voters today reads: “Shall the City restore its property taxing capacity to 20 mills for the next 5 years (from current year 2011 through 2015, inclusive), which is .8308 mills in excess of the current limit, and within which the City may raise the current levy of 15.44 mills by 4 mills to 19.44 mills for the purpose of funding essential services, including police, fire, and local road maintenance?” It has a five-year sunset clause, too.

At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries, who was “very disappointed in terms of how we got this resolution presented five minutes ago,” said he heard residents take issue with the end of the ballot language.

“When I look at the language on the ballot, it talks about ‘for the purpose of funding essential services.’ What are essential services? This year we’re saying by this resolution, these (police, fire and roads) are the essential services,” he said. “Next year, essential services could be something else.”

Three amendments were made to the resolution before passage. At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood asked to remove a clause that said budget reductions over the past few years have been “achieved without significantly impacting the level of services” because “furlough days have had an impact on our services,” she said.

Jeffries requested two paragraphs be added that said all general fund revenues collected from the millage — if it passes — will be “utilized to fund only police, fire and roads.” The second, after Jeffries had heard concerns from residents that the Council would use some “back-door” method to move the potential funds into other areas of the budget, said that the new revenue would “supplement” the Police, Fire and Public Service departments’ budgets and not “supplant” funds elsewhere.

The item was on the Council’s agenda since Friday, but the final resolution never came before the Council until 7:50 p.m. Monday — nearly an hour after the meeting started. Dunbar said the idea to draft the resolution came to her late last week and up until it was introduced to the Council, the city’s outside legal counsel scrutinized the language to make sure it wouldn’t require rewriting portions of the City Charter.

In other millage election news, City Clerk Chris Swope said Monday night that of the roughly 4,400 absentee ballots mailed out, about 4,000 have been returned. Swope said absentee voters have until 8 p.m. to return their completed ballots to this office.

The Council also unanimously approved a resolution to schedule a public hearing on the fiscal year 2012 budget for its May 16 meeting — the same night they are scheduled to adopt the budget.

After Council regular John Pollard criticized the Council for scheduling a public hearing the same night as the budget vote, Council President A’Lynne Robinson said, “We have been having a budget item under our special ceremonies (on the budget) for several weeks now. There are certainly a number of variables that are yet still outstanding,” she said, referring to the millage vote and state revenue sharing. “We attempted to push it out as far as we could.”

In other business, the Council unanimously approved a resolution to apply for a $50,000 grant from the Michigan Municipal League to help pay for the costs of studying the effects of regionalizing fire services. The money would be shared by the city, East Lansing and Delhi, Delta, Meridian and Lansing townships.

The Council also unanimously approved granting nonprofit status to Progress Michigan/Education, 115 W. Allegan St.

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