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Monday, March 18,2013

Kids in the Hall

Another millage hike up to voters: What’s different this time?

by Andy Balaskovitz
Monday, Aug. 29 — Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero assured voters tonight that another millage increase approved by the City Council — the second such proposal Lansing voters will weigh in on in six months — is even more necessary this time around.

First, the administration is predicting another budget shortfall upwards of $15 million next fiscal year — and that’s after laying off 36 police officers and 11 fire fighters on July 1.

Secondly, property taxes are expected to drop another 10 percent next fiscal year, Bernero said. He warned circumstances will be even more dire next fiscal year than they were this year.

“The realities on the ground have changed since last time this was considered,” he told Council tonight. “Without the millage, (public safety services) will continue to deteriorate even further.”

Bernero believes voters will approve the proposal this time around “given what happened in May and what is going to happen,” referring to next fiscal year’s deficit prediction. He also said voters are “evenly decided on the question” to raise property taxes, as the May proposal failed by merely 601 votes, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Following Bernero’s comments, the Council approved ballot language for the Nov. 8 election that asks voters again to raise the city’s operating millage by 4 mills — from 15.44 to 19.44 mills — for five years on a 6-2 vote. Council members Brian Jeffries and Eric Hewitt voted against the proposal.

Unlike the proposal in May that failed, the new language stipulates 1.5 mills will go to “police protection,” 1.5 mills will go to “fire protection” and 1 mill will go toward “local road maintenance and other essential services.” Also unlike the May proposal, if approved, this millage hike would generate only $7.6 million instead of $8.5 million as was predicted before, due to declining property values. If approved, the new revenue would be added to the fiscal year 2013 budget, which begins July 1, 2012.

The language approved by the Ways and Means Committee about two hours earlier designated 1 mill for police, 1 mill for fire and 2 mills for roads and other essential services, but Jeffries made a friendly amendment during Council to change the mill levels.

Jeffries ended up voting against the resolution because he suggested another amendment that wasn’t voted on because City Attorney Brig Smith said it was illegal. Jeffries wanted to add a clause to the resolution that guaranteed the new revenue would “supplement” the police and fire budgets and not “supplant” money. Jeffries is concerned that if the millage passes, the administration could move money out of the police and fire budgets into the General Fund in light of new revenue coming into those budgets. Smith said the Council can’t bind future a future Council to spend money a certain way.

Hewitt voted against the proposal — in Ways and Means and during Council’s meeting — because he said there is no guarantee from the administration that if the millage passes, there won’t be cuts to police and fire budgets.

Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar noted that even if the millage passes, it’ll make up roughly half of what the projected deficit is at this point and that further cuts are coming next fiscal year with or without the millage.

Hewitt also said he doesn’t “feel this administration has shown a commitment to cut nonessential services.” During Ways and Means, a committee that Hewitt claimed he resigned from in February because meeting times conflict with his full-time job with the state, Hewitt said “we have lots of fat and pork in our budget” and suggested closing a community center “that costs nearly $1 million a year to keep open. How many fire fighters can we keep on for a million bucks?”

In other business, the Council unanimously adopted two ordinances Monday that rezone properties in the city. The first ordinance rezones a Neogen-owned property at 601 N. Pennsylvania Ave. in the 1st Ward from a residential to professional office district. Neogen wants to use the house for administrative offices. The second ordinance rezones 2331 N. Larch St. from a parking to commercial district in light of planned construction on the property.

The Council also introduced an ordinance to establish the Knapp Building Historic District. A historic district designation makes the developer eligible for state and federal restoration grants, similar to what was used at the Marshall Street Armory. The Council scheduled a public hearing for Sept. 12 on the matter.

On its consent agenda, the Council unanimously approved five resolutions along with the millage proposal:


  • A tribute recognizing the Tejano/Latino Music Extravaganza, which will be hosted by the Lansing for Cesar E. Chavez Committee on Sept. 10 in Old Town;

  • Setting a public hearing on Sept. 19 to consider a special land use permit for Walk in Truth Ministries, which wants to establish a church at 2011 W. Saginaw St. on the west side;

  • Authorizing the distribution of the city’s “Design Lansing” master plan to neighboring jurisdictions and utilities. These entities will have 63 days to review and comment on the 192-page plan, which is also available at www.designlansing.net. The city’s Planning Board reviews comments and then votes to recommend the plan to Council for adoption;

  • Approving two licenses to display fireworks (on the same night) — one for the Mosaic Festival in Adado Park on Saturday and for the Lansing Lugnuts game, also on Saturday.


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