Four takeaways from Lansing’s latest budget proposal

Schor kicks off budget season with focus on public safety

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Lansing Mayor Andy Schor rolled out his budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year to the City Council this week, including plans to hire a second social worker at the Police Department and to reroute nonemergency calls to local social service agencies.

The proposal includes about $151.2 million in expenses from July 1 this year to June 30, 2022 — up about 10% from the current budget of $136.9 million. Revenues are also projected to be up a modest 0.7% from the current budget, which is set to be backfilled with about $51 million after the passage of the federal American Rescue Plan. All told, that will leave the city with about $14.6 million in reserve funds next year — up from just $5.4 million that remains amid the pandemic.

The number of proposed full-time employees is also up to 904 from 894 in the latest budget, most of which are centered in the Public Service department to staff an upcoming 311 helpline.
Here are a few quick takeaways:

Biden saves the day

More than $50 million in federal funding is expected to flow into city coffers over the next two years, which can be spent over the next three years to help offset pandemic-induced revenue declines. Schor said that cash will help to “backfill” some of the losses in the current budget — mostly to offset reductions in parking revenue and to pad funding for the Lansing Center.

Officials are still waiting for exact revenue estimates and federal spending limitations. Schor said it won’t be able to be spent on road repairs or to replenish unfunded retiree pension liabilities.

Police ‘reform,’ not divestment …

With a 2.4% increase to the Lansing Police Department’s proposed $26.3 million budget this year, Schor killed off any lingering chances of police divestment taking hold in the Capital City. Despite the rallying cry from Black Lives Matter and other groups, the City Council voted last year against setting divestment as a budget priority, so it is unlikely the Council will intervene.

Instead, Schor dished up plans to hire a second social worker to the Police Department, upgrade police radio systems, buy gun locking mechanisms and to bring on another employee who can help process Freedom of Information Act requests sent to the Police Department.

The Fire Department will also see some extra cash to fund a partnership with Ingham County Community Health, which is designed to bring in trained healthcare professionals to connect nonemergency calls with more appropriate resources rather than an armed and uniformed cop.

Schor also agreed to commit $240,000 this year to the Advance Peace initiative, a program that relies on regional partnerships and would pair about 25 residents who are statistically more likely to get involved with gun violence with local mentors over 18 months. Those recruited into the fellowship could also earn monthly stipends of up to $1,000 for their work.

… social equity and racial justice

As required by an ordinance the City Council passed last month, at least $135,000 of Schor’s budget will be allocated to local organizations that aim to advance racial justice and social equity within the city. Exactly how (and where) that cash will be spent remains to be seen.

The latest proposal also calls for $300,000 to be invested into a new permanent “Equity Committee” following a yet-to-be-released plan from the Mayor’s Racial Justice and Equity Alliance. Schor said that cash will be spent mostly on employee training, assessing the racial landscape in Lansing and soliciting community input as longer-term plans continue to unfold.

Funding unfunded costs

Schor said “challenges” remain as the city struggles to chip away at its unfunded pension and retiree healthcare costs, including a proposed $46.5 million annual payment in his latest budget proposal. That plan would ramp up annual contributions by more than $4 million this year.

Officials warned that this portion of the budget — though expected to be reduced by up to $3.5 million annually following recent changes to retiree benefits and union contracts — could remain unstable and subject to market investment fluctuations as the pandemic lingers into 2021.

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