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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Kids in the Hall

The snow removal ordinance is basically unchanged; the administration predicts a $1.8 million deficit for this year; and liquor licenses are approved for two downtown businesses

by Andy Balaskovitz
Monday, June 11 — In another display that the Bernero administration doesn't enjoy the support of a City Council majority, proposed changes to the city’s snow removal ordinance failed to pass tonight.

The snow removal ordinance, which has been in effect for the past two winters, was set to expire on July 30 because of a sunset clause originally written into it. Leading up to the expiration date, 4th Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko proposed an amendment that would reduce the amount of time property owners have to comply with notices to clear their snow — from 24 hours to 16 hours.

As Yorko noted tonight, under the current ordinance, residents could hypothetically have up to five days to clear snow, depending on when it falls. “In a perfect world,” said Lansing Chief Operating Officer Chad Gamble, the number would be closer to three.

“Absolutely,” the administration backed the revision, Gamble said after tonight’s meeting. “Our job, as keepers of the infrastructure, is to try to provide ordinances that are able to support safer travel during all times of the year. … To think five to six days is acceptable is challenging.”

However, a majority of Council members — Brian Jeffries, Carol Wood, Jody Washington and Derrick Quinney — weren’t supportive of the change even though they back the original version of the ordinance.

Gamble noted that in the first year, the city recorded about 250 violations. Last year, it was zero. While he said that’s largely due to the “balmy winter” earlier this year, other Council members suggested that’s evidence the original ordinance works.

“I think the ordinance, as it stands, is sufficient,” At-Large Councilman Derrick Quinney said.

“We’ve demonstrated that it is working,” added Councilwoman Carol Wood. “We can play the game that the weather took care of all of it, but there were some days when we had some snow on the ground. I know because I was out there helping” residents shovel.

First Ward Councilwoman Jody Washington noted that she’s “heard from constituents and businesses” that reducing the compliance time from 24 hours to 16 would be a “hardship” on them.

However, the longer the city allows property owners to clear sidewalks, the harder it is to access those sidewalks, said 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tina Houghton: “There is still a lag time for handicapped people who can’t get through and kids who can’t get through” deep snow.

At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar said the purpose of the switch to 16 hours was because when mail is deemed received by 5 p.m. on any given day — and then property owners have until 5 p.m. the next day to clear the snow — no city inspectors will be out after 5 p.m. and the inspection would have to wait until the next morning. “Automatically it becomes 36 hours or more,” she said.

The amendment “only seems like 8 hours, but it makes a significant difference in the time of enforcement,” Dunbar said.

Yorko also motioned for amendments that notices could be deemed received by telephone or email — in lieu of posts on the property and mail — but that failed 4-4, with Quinney, Washington, Wood and Jeffries opposing.

The Council ended up unanimously adopting (after it was evident there wasn’t five votes to reduce to 16 hours) what turned out to be an extension of the original ordinance. The ordinance also includes a clause that says the Council will revisit the time notices are deemed received after the United States Postal Service closes its Collins Road facility. It’s predicted mail will then take 48 to be deemed received and property owners will score another day before being assessed by the city. Or traversing deep snow-covered sidewalks will be that much more difficult for another 24 hours, depending on how you look at it.

In other news, the administration is proposing to spend $600,000 in reserves to help offset a predicted $1.8 million deficit for this fiscal year. It’s a continuation of a trend that started in fiscal year 2009, when the city’s reserves were at $12.96 million. Today, they’re at less than $8 million.

The administration also proposes using the $1.2 million from the sale of parking lot #2 to Lansing Community College to offset the rest of the gap. The budget deficit comes from $1.6 million in income tax revenue that didn’t come in as predicted, as well as a $200,000 decrease in the amount of Return on Equity payments expected from the Lansing Board of Water & Light.

In other news, downtown boozing choices will get a little more diverse after the Council approved liquor license transfers for two new downtown hangouts tonight. The first was for P Squared wine bar, which dubs itself as “Lansing’s only wine bar” on its website. P Squared says it will open this summer in the former Pita Pit location at 107 S. Washington Square. Also, Council approved a liquor license for Mexican-style restaurant Los Tres Amigos, which plans to open in what was most recently The Boardroom at 107 E. Allegan St.
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