March 18 2013 12:00 AM

The Council supports the millage increase; 425s are approved; and opposition to state legislation that would ‘overstep our ability to protect civil rights’

Tuesday, Oct. 25 — The Lansing City Council “fully and enthusiastically” supports a property tax increase on city residents to bolster revenue for police, fire and road services, based on a resolution passed Monday night.

The seven Council members present at Monday night’s meeting voted unanimously on a non-binding resolution that expresses support for the 4-mill property tax increase that will appear on Nov. 8 ballots. 1st Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt was absent. If approved by voters, the ballot proposal is expected to generate $7.6 million — $2.85 million for the Police and Fire departments each and $1.9 million for local road repairs.

A similar proposal failed to pass by 4 percent in a May 3 special election. In turn, 36 police officers and 11 fire fighters were laid off on July 1. Based on a projected shortfall of another $12 million to $15 million for the next fiscal year budget, the Council and administration are asking voters again.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero asked voters to approve the increase at Monday night’s meeting.

“A significant amount of misinformation about this millage has been circulating. It’s been characterized by some as the largest tax increase in history, but most homeowners would see a lower property tax bill even with the millage,” he said. Bernero added that the city couldn’t raise the income or sales tax rate in the city.

Also, since the proposal seeks to override the Headlee Amendment for the next five years, which would allow the Council to unilaterally raise the millage rate to 20 mills, Bernero countered charges that the city has “unlimited taxing capacity.”

“This is blatantly false,” Bernero said. The Council could unilaterally raise the millage rate by about 3.7 mills. The proposal would raise the city’s operating millage rate from 15.44 mills to 19.44 mills. “Don’t be swayed by misinformation. … I can assure you the city of Lansing has a revenue problem.

“If the millage is not approved, it’s all but certain we’ll have to make additional layoffs to the Police and Fire departments,” he said.

The Council voted swiftly — in about a minute — on the resolution. “This is a resolution basically stating support unanimously of members of this Lansing City Council in favor of the recommended millage proposal,” said At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar.

In other news, the Council unanimously approved two 425 tax sharing agreements with DeWitt Township Monday night, paving the way for what city and township officials say will lead to economic development near the Capital Regional International Airport.

The agreements involve roughly 1,800 acres of land around the airport. The two jurisdictions would split tax revenues from the land, as some businesses would be charged Lansing’s millage rate and others would be charged under DeWitt Township’s lower rate. Approval of the agreements will allow for the city and township to apply for a “Next Michigan Development” zone, which is also known as an “aerotropolis.”

The resolutions establish a “Next Michigan Development Corp.” nonprofit consisting of a five-member board. Two members are appointed by the city, two by the township and one non-voting ex-officio member represents the airport authority. At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries expressed concern that the Council would be turning future decisions for seeking tax incentives over to the board without the Council having a say.

“I’m very concerned about the checks and balances when we have a body granting substantial incentives,” Jeffries said before the vote. “I want to pass this (resolution) but I have serious reservations about giving up that authority.”

In other business, the Council unanimously supported a late-item resolution that was not on Monday’s agenda that encourages local state legislators to not vote for the proposed House Bill 5039. The proposed legislation, Dunbar said, would void local ordinances that protect against gender and sexual orientation discrimination.

The proposal says local governments can’t adopt a local “ordinance, rule, regulation, or policy” protecting anyone not included in the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976. The legislation also voids existing ordinances, which would include the city’s human rights ordinance adopted in 2006, Dunbar said.

“With this (proposed) action, they’re seeking to overstep our ability to protect civil rights in our community,” which includes protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals, Dunbar said.

The Council’s resolution will be sent to senators Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, and Gretchen Whitmer, D-Lansing, and also representatives Joan Bauer, Deb Shaughnessy and Barb Byrum (who represent the Lansing area), encouraging them to not support HB 5039.

In other business, the Council unanimously adopted eight other resolutions at Monday’s meeting:

  • Objecting to the transfer of 106 unsold, tax-reverted properties from the Ingham County Treasurer to the city. As has been the case for the past six years, the Council rejects these properties, which are then turned over to the Ingham County Land Bank to be demolished, rehabilitated or sold;

  • Setting a public hearing for Nov. 14 to consider a special land use permit for Barefoot Christian Church, which wants to establish a church in the basement of the Grand Traverse Pie Company downtown at 105 W. Allegan St;

  • Setting a public hearing for Nov. 14 for another special land use permit for St. Seraphim Russian Orthodox Church, which wants to establish a church at 2627 N. East St. near Gier Park;

  • Granting a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone Certificate for the property at 512 Nantucket Drive in the East Village neighborhood complex along Saginaw Street in the 1st Ward. A certificate for this property, which cuts the property tax by 50 percent for 12 years, was overlooked when the Council approved dozens for the neighborhood earlier this year, Jeffries said;

  • Revoking a similar certificate for Jennifer Bower for the property at 1349 Turner St. Jeffries said the Council’s vote encourages the state to revoke the certificate because 2010 property taxes are delinquent;

  • Amending an “industrial facilities exemption certificate” for Foresight Group, Inc. at the request of the state. Jeffries said the state requested some minor language changes to the certificate;

  • Granting city-wide nonprofit status for Closing the Digital Gap. In order to host charitable gaming events within the city, nonprofit organizations must receive such a designation by the City Council to do so;

  • Approving a fireworks display application by Night Magic Display for Nov. 18 during Silver Bells in the City; and

  • Denying a claim by Mike Koliboski, 3020 Cabot Drive, to eliminate a special assessment for $379.24 for long grass and weeds.

The Council’s next meeting will be Thursday, Nov. 4 at 1:30 p.m. in light of Halloween on Monday.