March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Setting a date on tax abatements and a business owner speaks out against the proposed property tax millage

Tuesday, March 8 — A slow night at the Lansing City Council meeting Monday centered around scheduling a public hearing on personal property tax abatements.

Next Monday, a public hearing is scheduled — followed by a Council vote — on a 12-year personal property tax abatement for the health insurance research firm MedAssurant, 3301 E. Michigan Ave. MedAssurant is headquartered in Maryland, but is looking to expand its Lansing operations, At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries said.

“They want to move a major part of their business to Lansing,” he said, adding that the firm looks to increase staffing levels from 45 to 404. Most of those new jobs will be salaried employees making between $47,000 and $57,000 a year, Jeffries said.

MedAssurant proposes to renovate the former Dunham’s sporting goods building near the Frandor Shopping Center. Jeffries said the firm plans to make about $4 million in improvements, but only $1.5 million of that investment will be eligible for tax breaks.

Council regulars John Pollard and Darnell Oldham Sr. prefaced the Council’s vote with the idea that tax abatements don’t work and fail to create jobs by attracting business via lower taxes.

“Jobs aren’t being created, companies are playing musical chairs on the necks and backs of taxpayers,” Pollard said. “Tax abatements are to economic development what cannibalism is to nutrition.”

Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar, who was filling in for Council President A’Lynne Robinson, said abatements are especially important in “urban core cities” where companies are willing to invest in “dilapidated, depressed areas.”

“That’s where we use them in Lansing,” Dunbar said.

The Council voted unanimously to hold the public hearing and vote on the tax exemption at its next meeting on Monday.

During a second public comment period Monday, local business owner Matt O’Donnell spoke in opposition to the proposed property tax increase that will be voted on by Lansing residents in a May 3 election.

O’Donnell said he owns four commercial buildings in the city, including O’Donnell’s On the Spot Repair at 5504 S. Pennsylvania Ave., but does not live in the city. He is opposed to the idea that only Lansing residents will get to vote on the increase.

“The proposal only gets voted on by residents. Commercial owners don’t have a say,” O’Donnell said. “This dynamic seems like taxation without representation. It doesn’t take into consideration the fact that commercial property owners pay the lion’s share of the city budget.”

O’Donnell suggested the proposed tax increase — 4-mills over five years for police, fire and road services — only be for residential properties and that the city work harder “to size city government in relation to the revenue we have.”