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Wednesday, August 1,2012

Selling land and maintaining services

A look at ballot proposals from across the county

by Andy Balaskovitz

They don’t have the amount of public attention as a public safety millage approved in November, but city of Lansing voters face a half-dozen ballot questions on Tuesday,  including selling off parkland and lowering the minimum requirement of City Council meetings.

Across the county, voters in Meridian Township will weigh in on senior citizen and recreation funding, while Lansing Township residents are being asked to renew about 75 percent of the township’s public safety budget starting in 2014.

Here’s a look around the area:

This will be the first election in which the Bernero administration seeks voter permission to sell off more than 120 acres of city-owned green space in Lansing Township after a series of City Council roadblocks: The Council rejected the plan’s being on last year’s primary and general election ballots. “We simply can’t afford to maintain all the land we currently own,” Bernero told the City Council in late November. “In these tough economic times, we have to put limited resources into critical public services.”

The proposal to sell off the former Waverly Golf Course and Michigan Avenue Park on the west side is unlike the Red Cedar Golf Course proposal that passed in November because there isn’t a specific redevelopment plan. It’s also nearly 10 times as much land as will be sold at Red Cedar. The administration closed both golf courses five years ago for budgetary reasons. The City Charter requires voter approval to allow the city to sell off dedicated parkland.

Also on the ballot, City Clerk Chris Swope is backing an amendment to the City Charter that would reduce the minimum number of yearly City Council meetings from 50 to 26. While Council regulars have campaigned at Council meetings against the proposal because they want more face time with their Council members (and they say Council barely gets its work done as it is), Swope said the proposal is about making the legislative process more flexible and bringing Lansing on track with every other municipality in the state.

“I haven’t found another city that has anywhere near the number of meetings we have,” Swope said. He added that with the 50-meeting requirement, the Council is sometimes forced to call meetings at the end of the year regardless if it’s necessary. And when holidays fall on Mondays, the Council meets on Thursday that week, followed by another meeting two business days later.

Swope said there’s still a provision in the City Charter to call special meetings when necessary, such as budget time, and that the proposal is to set a minimum — not a maximum. 

The final Lansing-only ballot proposal is permission to sell 1.4 acres in Oak Park on Lansing’s east side. The city wants to sell the parcel, which includes a former maintenance garage, to Neogen Corp. to accommodate the company’s expansion.

Meridian Township voters are faced with three ballot proposals Tuesday. One is on rezoning 4133 Okemos Road from residential to professional office. In March 2011, the township Board of Trustees approved the rezoning, but a nearby attorney circulated enough petitions to put the question before township voters. A yes-vote will uphold the board’s decision; a no-vote overturns it.

The property owner, local physician Shannon Wiggins, was interested in expanding her practice there. Wiggins formerly offered medical marijuana certifications at her East Michigan Avenue office, and concerns grew that she would do the same in Okemos. Wiggins has recently received a fine and probation for complaints by the state Attorney General’s Office for overprescribing pharmaceuticals.

However, Meridian Township Clerk Mary Helmbrecht and a township zoning official say there’s a for sale sign in front of the building, which used to be a Kinder Care Learning Center, and it is unclear whether Wiggins still plans to open an office there.

A second Meridian Township proposal is for renewing funds for the “preservation, maintenance and resurfacing” of roads — at .25 mills — for the next 10 years, starting in 2014. It would generate an estimated $390,000 in its first year if approved.

Meridian Township voters will also weigh in on increasing its millage for senior citizen, recreation and human resources programs. The township is asking to increase the millage rate from .1 mills to .15 mills for 10 years, which would generate about $233,000 in the first year. Helmbrecht said the money is used for funding a parks and recreation employee, activities for seniors at Chippewa Middle School and helping low-income township residents pay bills.

Countywide proposals would increase the millage rate for transportation services for the elderly and handicapped by .12 mills for an additional $784,000 a year for four years; renewing the current millage rate for 911 dispatch services until 2015; and renewing the millage rate for juvenile services until 2016.

Lansing Township is asking voters to renew the millage rate for police, fire and general operating purposes for 10 years, starting in 2014. Township Supervisor John Daher said the millage represents about 75 percent of those departments’ operating budgets.


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