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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Kids in the Hall

The sidewalk millage to nowhere and a Red Cedar Golf Course ballot question is up for a Council vote next week

by Sam Inglot

Tuesday, Aug. 21 — A millage proposal to fix the city’s sidewalks, which would have been put on November ballots, didn’t have enough support to make it out of a Lansing City Council committee Monday night.

The proposal, led by 4th Ward Councilwoman Jessica Yorko, failed to pass out of Committee of the Whole by a 4-2 vote. It needed five yes votes to pass. Council members Kathie Dunbar, Tina Houghton and A’Lynne Robinson joined Yorko to support it. Council President Brian Jeffries and At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood opposed the measure. Council members Derrick Quinney and Jody Washington were absent.

The proposal would have amended the City Charter to levy a .5 millage for sidewalk funding which would have appeared on the Nov. 6 ballot for city voter approval. City projections say the millage would have generated about $2.5 million for sidewalk repair, maintenance and replacement over three years.

Jeffries said it would be “irresponsible” to raise the millage because the city is already so close to its millage cap, which is 20 mills. The city currently has a millage rate of 19.44 and the sidewalk millage would have increased it to 19.94 if voters had approved it.

“We’ll have little buffer if an emergency arises where we need to levy additional funds. We will have no money available to pay for those things,” he said. “We’ve spent our reserves down to precarious levels.”

Jeffries and Wood also said transparency was an issue. They were sent information on Lansing sidewalks and the millage from Yorko on Friday and were expected to vote on Monday. They said the proposal conversation has been going on for less than a month and they were left out of the loop.

“The way I found out about this was picking up the City Pulse,” Wood said. “I had no knowledge of this until it was in the City Pulse.”

Dunbar said the Public Services Committee, where the proposal originated and which is chaired by Yorko, gave adequate time to consider it for the ballot.

“We are letting the public decide if they want a tax raise,” she said. “This has been a priority but we haven’t had the money. To claim this is a surprise is silly.”

The millage would have amended the Charter, which needed approval by both Attorney General Bill Schuette and Gov. Rick Snyder before heading to the ballot, said City Attorney Brig Smith.

In other ballot proposal business, the Council heard a presentation on the redevelopment of the Red Cedar Golf Course from Chris Jerome, who is partnering with developer Joel Ferguson on a project to redevelop the defunct golf course, which closed in 2007 for budgetary reasons. Jerome and Ferguson had the winning proposal for redeveloping the 12.5 acres of public parkland that voters approved to sell along Michigan Avenue. But the 12.5-acre parcel isn’t enough for what the duo has in mind for the land. They want to develop the entire park, which includes 48.5 more acres. (See Wednesday’s City Pulse for more on Jerome.)

The Council voted unanimously to support a November ballot proposal to sell “up to an additional 48 acres” of the park. The Council is scheduled to vote on placing the question on ballots at its meeting Monday.

Before the vote, Jerome hyped up the Council with his idea on how to redevelop the land to make it a “destination.” Nothing is set in stone until the developers know what they have to work with — whether it’s 12.5 acres or the entire park. Jerome said if they get the whole park, they plan on making a public green space and amphitheater, along with entertainment venues and various apartments.

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