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Wednesday, October 24,2012

Bring on the proposals

Local proposals affect schools, libraries and development

by Sam Inglot

Five millage increases and one land sale authorization are at stake in six different jurisdictions in greater Lansing, adding a local flavor to ballots already inundated with statewide proposals (see page 8). Here’s a tour around the area’s Nov. 6 ballot proposals, from Perry to Eaton Rapids:


Not about ‘Burger King’

City of Lansing voters will take up the lone proposal that won’t increase or maintain millage rates in the area. The question is: Should Lansing sell off up to 48 acres of the former Red Cedar Golf Course for redevelopment? Chris Jerome, who along with developer Joel Ferguson is behind the Capital Gateway plan, hopes so — he says the project would be “inferior” without it. 

Last year, voters approved the sale of 12.5 acres along Michigan Avenue. However, Jerome and Ferguson would rather develop 61 acres of parkland as well as two former car dealerships owned by the Jerome family near the park. 

“The Red Cedar Capital Gateway Project is a winner for Lansing in every respect — jobs, recreation and the environment,” Jerome said. “If you like any or all of those things, this is a great opportunity for the city.”

The development would be a mixed-use blend of student and professional apartments, entertainment venues, restaurant and retail space and two hotels. On the southern side of the old golf course, which sits in the Red Cedar River’s floodway and floodplain, the developers want to maintain it as green space. The project also coincides with Ingham County Drain Commissioner Pat Lindemann’s plans to reduce storm water discharges into the Red Cedar River with low-impact design techniques meant to absorb runoff into the ground — not funnel it to the river. 

Also, a major developer, Carpenter & Co. Inc., has expressed interest in building the two hotels, Jerome said. Carpenter & Co. Inc. is based in Cambridge, Mass. 

“They are considered one of the premier mixed use developers in the U.S.” and “probably the best university hotel developer in the country,” Jerome said.

However, nothing is set in stone until the voters decide whether they want to authorize the sale of the 48 acres of parkland. Jerome, who considers the development to be his family’s legacy to the Lansing community, said if voters choose not to sell the land, it would mean a less influential project.

“It brings up choices that are all inferior to the benefits represented by the bigger project. You wind up choosing certain opportunities and chasing away others,” he said. “This is not about bringing Burger King to Michigan Avenue. It’s about bringing hundreds of great jobs and a lot of different types of businesses to the state that haven’t been here. It’s about creating a tax base that will support essential services.”


Keeping books on the shelves

In East Lansing, a 1-mill levy to support the city’s public library would replace the General Fund expenditure that keeps the library open now. Library Director Kristin Shelley said if the millage passed, it would help both the city and the library.

If the millage doesn’t pass, she said, it would mean fewer days the library’s open and a reduction in staff, materials and programming. About 270,000 people visit the library each year, she said. 

Another potential cost-saving option — joining Capital Area District Library system — has been proposed in the past but wouldn’t realize any savings, Shelley said. 

The 10-year, 1-mill increase would generate roughly $840,000 in its first year in fiscal year 2014. East Lansing voters approved a 1-mill increase for the library earlier this year. The two millage increases combined would replace the need for General Fund money from the city, which equates to $1.6 million annually. 

Shelley said the library has already cut 10 staff members since January 2011, along with cutbacks to newspaper and magazine subscriptions, database services and basic maintenance.


Meridian fire station

After an independent analysis was completed on the Meridian Township Central Fire Station, it was determined that it wouldn’t be worth the cost to update the more than 50-year old building, said Meridian Township Fire Chief Fred Cowper. 

So the township is requesting a 15-year, .2-mill increase to build a new one. The revenue would be used to pay off bonds the township would issue to pay for it. The $3.5 million that would be raised for the new facility would cost a homeowner with a taxable value of $100,000 about $20 a year.

“I think it’s time for a new station,” Cowper said. “The current station has served its purpose and is now antiquated for providing fire service to the township. Looking at a new one will bring us into the 21st Century in the township.”

Cowper said the old station lacks appropriate space for the department’s equipment and doesn’t have separate showers, bathrooms or sleeping quarters for male and female firefighters. The roof, heating, cooling and electrical work are also in need of upgrading. He said the new facility, which would be built on 13 acres of township-owned land at the corner of Central Park Drive and Okemos Road, would tackle all of these problems and would also be the new location for training, administrative services and a multi-purpose community space.


A few for the schools

Three different school districts in the area are seeking millage increases or renewals from the voters in those districts. Officials with Williamston Community Schools want a 1-mill increase for some “very in-your-face repairs,” said Superintendent Narda Murphy.

The 10-year millage would raise roughly $400,000 annually, she said, adding that it’s a “very common millage that’s in most of the neighboring school districts.” She said the sinking fund millage would allow the school to allocate funds toward building maintenance and infrastructure needs rather than taking out bonds or pulling money from the General Fund.

Among the items in need of repair, Narda cited the Williamston Middle School roof along with boilers and chillers in the elementary school that need to be replaced.

Eaton Rapids and Perry Public Schools are also featured on the ballot. Eaton Rapids is looking to renew its operating millage for 10 years at about 17.9 mills starting in 2014. The Perry millage would restore a portion of its operating millage that was lost due to the Headlee Amendment rollback. The roughly 1.2 mills would be levied for two years and would raise $57,400 in its first year.

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