March 18 2013 12:00 AM

A Jeffries, Wood, Hewitt memo suggests $5.3 million in budget cuts and new revenue in light of failed millage

Tuesday, May 10 — Three Lansing City Council members authored a memo to the other five members and Mayor Virg Bernero that suggests upwards of $5.3 million in potential revenue and cuts to help plug a projected $20 million budget deficit for the next fiscal year.

The four-page memo from At-Large Council members Brian Jeffries and Carol Wood and First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt suggests selling some city-owned property, annexing the Capitol Regional International Airport into the city so Lansing can collect property and income taxes on it, reducing city contracts by 10 percent, combining the Human Resources and Human Relations and Community Service departments, eliminating the Office of Community Faith Based Initiatives, eliminating a district court judge and other cuts to various departments.

The proposed cuts and estimated $5.3 million in new revenue would be in lieu of Bernero’s proposed cuts to police, fire and roads, Jeffries said. Bernero has proposed eliminating 149 positions from the Police and Fire departments and nixing all but grant-funded roads and sidewalk projects.

The three Council members’ proposal to sell the downtown Oliver Towers, which has been vacant since a fire in 2000, would generate approximately $2 million, Jeffries said.

Patricia Baines-Lake, executive director of the Lansing Housing Commission, which has offices in the building, said she had not heard of a proposal to sell it. She said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a “declaration of trust” on Oliver Towers and that any potential sale would have to be approved by that agency. She could not comment on the approximate sale value of the towers, which she said the commission is in the process of having appraised.

The memo also suggests a 10 percent reduction in city support for Common Ground, the Lansing Economic Area Partnership, Community Corrections, Silver Bells, Arts and Culture, Rail Council, Safety Council and Sister Cities. That would save $23,140, estimates say.

Additional cuts to what Bernero has already proposed include: $13,000 from the internal auditor, $107,000 from the mayor’s office, $20,000 from the Planning Department, $53,000 from the Finance Department, $130,000 from “IT,” $281,000 from the Human Resources Department, $953,148 from the Police Department, $840,000 from the Fire Department, $380,000 from Public Services, $250,000 from the Parks Department and $250,000 from the Office of Community Media.

$1.1 million of the Council members’ proposed $1.8 million in cuts to police and fire are reductions in equipment rentals. The memo says “it appears” there is $4 million in “unencumbered monies” within the Fleet Maintenance Internal Services Fund and proposes to reduce that by more than $1 million.

The proposed police cuts also contemplates “the elimination of the leases for the North and South Police Precincts and relocation of police operations to City Hall,” the memo says. “Obviously, there is a question as to timing and issues with the current leases.”

These cuts — if combined with the projected $2 million from the Oliver Towers sale — would reduce the amount of proposed police, fire and roads cuts by about $5.3 million.

Of 11 “ideas” listed in the proposal, 10 of them have question marks as cost-saving estimates. The $2 million in savings from the sale of Oliver Towers is the only one not highlighted by a question mark.

Other ideas are selling the Washington Armory, 2500 S. Washington Ave., annexing the airport into the city and eliminating the Office of Community Faith Based Initiatives and the savings of eliminating a district court judge.

Finance Director Jerry Ambrose didn’t comment much on the proposal because it had just surfaced at the start of the Council meeting.

“The first think I noticed was a lot of question marks,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any silver bullet that’s going to make this (budget process) any less painful. We’re also coming up on the last week.”

Ambrose was referring to the fact that the Council will adopt a finalized fiscal year 2012 budget at its next meeting. With time dwindling, Jeffries said the memo is supposed to be “an idea and a concept” and a “plan B” to the failed millage vote, which he said wasn’t presented by the administration.

“The fact is, there was no plan B (if the millage failed),” Jeffries said.

Jeffries said he spent all day Friday with Wood working on the proposal. He said they met with representatives from local unions that morning and talked about “next steps” and alternatives to the public safety cuts proposed by the Bernero administration, which includes eliminating 149 positions in the police and fire departments.

Jeffries said “certainly the discussion from the labor end was, ‘Do what you can within your authority to raise taxes. But the vote was clear: don’t raise taxes.”

Jeffries added that he isn’t proposing a tax increase. “These are ideas that merit further discussion,” he said.

The Council can unilaterally raise the city’s operating millage to the Headlee cap, which would be by about 3.7 mills. The millage election asked voters to override the Headlee cap so the Council could raise it by 4 mills, which was expected to bring in $8.5 million in revenue for police, fire and roads.

When asked by Council President A’Lynne Robinson if any other Council members were contacted to work on the proposal, Jeffries said, “Nope. We are certainly welcome to bring others (Council members) to the table.”

Following Jeffries’ announcement of the memo, Robinson presented a letter from local union officials from the International Association of Fire Fighters, Fraternal Order of Police, UAW and Teamsters that urged the Council to increase the property tax by 3.7 mills.

In other business, the Council unanimously approved 12 resolutions at Monday’s meeting. The resolutions:

  • Recognize the 39-year anniversary of the Lansing chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction;

  • Recognize Alfonso and Olivia Mejorado for their 34 years of service to the city’s Latin American Softball League;

  • Approve a roughly $3 million spending plan for low- and moderate-income housing and emergency shelters in the city for the upcoming fiscal year;

  • Approve a special land use permit for Dianne Lewis-Hartwell who wants to expand a child day care center at 3025 Cynwood St.;

  • Set a public hearing for May 23 to consider a special land use permit for a cell phone tower at 300 Frandor Ave.

  • Set two public hearings to consider a proposed redevelopment at the Walker Building, 1135 N. Washington Ave., in Old Town. The first considers establishing an Obsolete Property Rehabilitation Act district, while the second considers a 12-year OPRA tax abatement for the property;

  • Grants nonprofit status to Native Nations Foundation, 201 Townsend St.;

  • Denies a claim by Skeeter Kittle for $1,485 in nuisance fees related to cleaning trash and debris at 1809 W. Holmes Road;

  • Approve three reappointments to local boards and commissions: Yvonne Young-McConnell to the Fire Commission for a term to expire June 30, 2015; Walt Steele to the Plumbing Board of Appeals for a term to expire June 30, 2015; and Sandra Kowalk-Thompson to the Board of Police Commissioners for a term to expire June 30, 2015. Three other reappointments and one appointment were scheduled for Monday’s meeting, but were pulled from the agenda because the Intergovernmental Relations Committee was unable to meet before the full Council meeting.