Oct. 29 2008 12:00 AM

Council, administration still bickering over the budget.

The case of the budget deficit, golf courses and legal action against the mayor of Lansing developed more wrinkles this week. Last week it was Finance Director Jerry Ambrose deriding the City Council for being untimely in approving its budget priorities for next year and not offering alternatives for closing the $3.85 million hole in this year’s budget.

“It’s unconscionable that you would say something like that,” At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood chastised him at last week’s Council meeting. “I am just beside myself.”

Wood and Council President Brian Jeffries statd displeasure over the administration’s stance, noting that their hands have been tied by the the deficit plan. The Council is permitted only to vote the plan up or down. In an interview before this week’s meeting, First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt joined the chorus of dissent against Ambrose’s “smart-ass” comments and the notion the Council has simply rejected Mayor Virg Bernero’s plan without offering solutions.

Hewitt says the Council has presented the money-saving options in the form of its budget priorities. Hewitt mentioned postponing the $700,000 Grand Avenue beautification project, noting not only the cost but the ongoing construction.

“We could hold off and use some of that money to get someone back to work,” Hewitt added, referring to the 31 positions left vacant at City Hall. Another possibility some Council members entertained would mandate that the city be responsible for all residential trash pickup within city limits, as is the case in East Lansing. The move would effectively boot Granger while claiming an additional revenue source. Currently Lansing residents are free to choose between Granger and the city for trash service. Hewitt said the increased trash service could net $3.5 million per year. The administration hasn’t offered any feedback, he claims, or even completed a cost-benefit analysis. Hewitt is exasperated with the state of the deficit and the lack of movement on plans he believes could address the structural deficit.

“We’ve shaken the tree and gotten money out of it, why can’t they?” Ambrose said Monday afternoon, and the mayor repeated during this week’s City Council meeting, that the administration is not required to wait for Council approval to move forward with cost-cutting measures after the executive order has been issued.

Details of these cuts are expected to be made public this week. Expect the potential of legal action against the mayor to linger. Hewitt said he doesn’t expect the deficit plan to override Council’s ability to sue. The Council had threatened last summer to sue the mayor for not opening two golf courses after it had put money in the budget for that purpose. But after City Attorney Brigham Smith advised that the suit would fail, Council tabled it. So is it all just about the golf courses? No, Hewitt said, it is about the mayors thwarting the will of the Council.

“Today it’s golf courses; next year will it be fire stations?”

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