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Monday, March 18,2013

Kids in the Hall

Let the budget games begin: Proposal for using millage money “infuriates” one Council member

by Andy Balaskovitz

Monday, April 2 — The first night of formal budget hearings before the Lansing City Council featured a few angry Council members over how the administration proposes to spend police and fire millage money.

Council members A’Lynne Robinson, Jody Washington and Carol Wood spoke out against the Bernero administration’s recommendation for spending a portion of those funds on “capital needs,” specifically building renovations at the South Washington Office Complex. The administration hopes to combine the north and south precincts in this building that’s now being used by the Office of Community Media at 2500 S. Washington Ave.

Bernero’s budget calls for using $193,900 of the $2.9 million the Lansing Police Department will get from the millage on building renovations. According to Bernero’s recommendation, another $132,000 would go toward police car radar units; police car printers; police car modems; “palm readers”; and batteries for laptops and microphones. The administration also proposes using $571,500 for bringing back seven police officers.

Council members took particular issue with the building renovations, saying that’s not what they campaigned in support of the millage for.

“I don’t remember at all, especially working as hard as we did on the millage, that being part of the discussion,” 3rd Ward Councilwoman Robinson said. “Because I was out there taking a lot of hits twice, this infuriates me. This is going to be a stick in the mud for me.”

First Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington echoed Robinson: “Nowhere, when we were pushing this millage, did I ever think $200,000 would go into renovating a building. What we’re spending on this dump could fund four more officers. … I too am not happy.”

“The message was not out there from this administration or this Council. Not only boots on the street, but cars and radios: This is not what we told people,” At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood said.

Randy Hannan, Bernero’s chief of staff, said there have been ongoing discussions with the Council about moving the Police Department out of both the north and south precincts “as expeditiously as possible,” both of which are leased spaces. He said the “actual cost” to renovate the armory is “substantially higher” than the $193,900 proposed in the budget. “The equation as it relates to public safety is not just about personnel,” Hannan said.

As for Fire Department “capital needs,” the administration proposed in its budget presentation last week to spend $142,600 on a new ambulance.

Of the roughly $5.8 million generated for police and fire services with millage money, about $4.7 million is for covering the cost increases for maintaining the same level of service in the current fiscal year budget. 

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