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Monday, April 8,2013

Kids in the Hall

Budget hearings round 2: More BWL details, LEPFA and human resources

by Andy Balaskovitz
Monday, April 8 — Lansing Board of Water and Light General Manager J. Peter Lark was in the house tonight to give more details on potentially new ways to pay for streetlights and fire hydrants in the city.

The idea is the central piece to Mayor Virg Bernero’s proposal to balance a projected $5 million budget deficit next fiscal year. Right now, the city pays the publicly owned utility about $5.5 million a year to maintain and service hydrants and streetlights. In concept, BWL customers would be billed directly for the services rather than it coming out of the General Fund.

Lark presented two scenarios that could affect residential, commercial and industrial customers differently: a percentage increase based on electricity and water usage and a flat fee increase for both of those. He separated projections for streetlights and hydrants.

The first involved a 2.5 percent increase in electricity charges.

For streetlights, Lark said the analysis assumed 500 kilowatts an hour usage by the average residential customer ($1.75 a month increase); 5,000 kw/h by the average commercial customer ($7.37 a month increase); and 75,000 kw/h by the average industrial customer ($825 a month increase).

Lark cautioned that these are averages and are subject to change on the amount of electricity used — which could vary even with the weather. “I’m not saying it’s exact — I just can’t say that,” Lark said.

Councilman Brian Jeffries wondered: “Why would we support something if we’re looking at trying to bring industrial businesses into the city and asking them to pay $10,000 a year? Aren’t we disadvantaging ourselves?”

“What you’re saying has merit,” Lark responded, but added that companies may see a city with a stronger budget situation. “I think you raise a good point. I don’t have an answer for that.”

Jeffries also wondered whether BWL could approve tiered base rates, so that costs may be spread across other jurisdictions the utility serves. “I can’t really say what we’d do,” Lark responded. He also said that customers in about six jurisdictions served by BWL are charged for hydrants. All jurisdictions pay for streetlight services out of general funds, he said.

A second option Lark laid out was a flat fee increase by class (residential, commercial and industrial), regardless of electricity usage. Some tentative estimates are $1.75 a month for residential users; $23.68 for small commercial and industrial users; and $131.58 for large commercial and industrial users.

“In general, the flat rate advantages the larger users. I don’t know if you want to do that or not,” Lark said. “The little guy would probably do a little better with 2.5 percent.”

Hydrants

Under the percentage usage model for hydrants, Lark based that off of an 8 percent increase across various customers, based on the amount of cubic feet of water used a month.

The average residential customer would pay $2.08 a month under that model (based on 6 cubic feet of water used); the average small commercial and industrial customer would pay $4.15 a month; mid-size commercial and industrial customers would pay $23.47 a month; and large commercial and industrial customers would pay $103.83 a month. Commercial rates are based on 50 cubic feet of water used and industrial rates are based on 820 cubic feet used.

Council President Carol Wood asked for the second week in a row how much the city would pay under a user fee model. Those answers were not yet available.

***

The Council also reviewed the proposed budget for the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority, which oversees the City Market, Cooley Law School Stadium and the Lansing Center.

Scott Keith, president and CEO of LEPFA, said he expects occupancy at the City Market to “remain consistent” from the past year. The City Market is projected to operate on a nearly $183,000 budget next year, with a $49,651 subsidy from the city. The rest of the revenues are mostly from tenants’ rent. More than half of its expenditures are made up from salaries and utility costs.

Over at the baseball stadium Keith said several improvements were made inside the last year, including for suites; picnic area furniture; and some changes to the beer dispensing system. Repairs and maintenance is budgeted at $57,000 for the next fiscal year.

Jeffries asked whether there’s a plan to upgrade the brick work out front along Michigan Avenue, which he said is “suffering quite a bit.” They were originally from a fundraising campaign that feature donors’ names. (Jeffries said he has one.) Keith said the city has gotten some quotes from local companies but that it’ll be expensive to fix. No plan is in place to restore them.

Across the street at the Lansing Center, Keith relayed good news that the convention business appears to be rebounding from years past. However, he said LEPFA still struggles with health care costs for employees and the increased cost of goods, particularly utilities.

Bernero’s budget still proposes an $852,000 subsidy. The Lansing Center, Bernero has said, should act more like a regional destination — like the Potter Park Zoo — and be funded as such by various sources.

***

The city’s Human Resources Department was the third area of Bernero’s budget examined by the Council tonight. Human Resources generally oversees payroll and benefits; employee services; and union relations.

Department Director Terri Taylor said the department successfully negotiated a new contract with Teamsters 214 employees in September and that the city’s in negotiations on a new Teamsters 580 contract. Contracts with Fire Department employees and the UAW both are set to expire this year.

While a line item for employee parking was reduced this year due to the move to a consolidated 911 Center, Taylor said that’s proposed to be increased due to higher “actual costs of parking.”

The department’s total budget is proposed to increase 7.7 percent from this fiscal year’s budget, from about $1.5 million to about $1.6 million.
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