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Wednesday, March 13,2013

Kids in the Hall

The financial review has begun

by Andy Balaskovitz
Monday, Oct. 1 — Former Lansing Mayor David Hollister was back in the City Council chambers tonight to deliver a challenging financial outlook for the city. Hollister heads a newly appointed committee recommending fixes to budget problems that he says were years in the making.

The mostly Mayor Virg Bernero-appointed, 16-member “financial health team” — made up of business, labor, government and higher education officials — plans to issue a report in six months that Hollister said will address both short-term and long-term structural issues. It first met on Thursday morning.

“We’re going to make some hard-nose, data-driven, documentable, rational and hopefully consensual recommendations,” said Hollister, who is now senior vice president at the East Lansing-based Prima Civitas Foundation. “The problems we are facing are years in the making. It will be years in resolving. It might be the next generation of leadership that might ultimately make the changes and restructuring.”

Hollister said the team will look at short-term fixes like departmental staffing; long-term structural deficits in health care and retirement benefits; and opportunities for regional consolidation. Basically, it will look at “best practices” statewide, nationwide and internationally to see what can be incorporated here.

Bernero and the Council can choose to adopt the recommendations in whole, in part or reject them all together, Hollister said in his 30-minute presentation. He led a similar team to address financial issues at the Lansing School District several years ago. The “pretty bold” recommendations were rejected by the school board at the time, but are being reconsidered under Superintendent Yvonne Camaal Canul, he said.

Moreover, these recommendations may not just stop at the city, Hollister said, suggesting the team may throw ideas out to the Snyder administration. “The systems we’ve got are just antiquated. They’re not made for the new economy,” he said.

The financial health team will meet again on Oct. 11 at 7:30 a.m. at the R.E. Olds Museum downtown for presentations by officials from Flint, Saginaw and the Michigan Municipal League to detail the financial trouble that’s happened elsewhere. Hollister said it will try and meet every other Thursday and meetings are open to the public.
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