May 6 2013 12:00 AM

Budget hearings round 6: A countywide economic development millage? Niowave-inspired ordinance passes unanimously.

Tuesday, May 7 — The head of the Lansing Economic Area Partnership said Monday night that Ingham County commissioners are considering a millage to support economic development activities countywide.

LEAP President and CEO Bob Trezise told the Lansing City Council the news during his organization’s budget hearing. The city contracts with LEAP on economic development projects. He said commissioners are considering a two-tenths or three-tenths of a mill increase — and it could do so without the vote of the people based on a 100-year-old state law.

“It is a very odd law: It allows the county commission to vote without a vote of the people on an increase in millage for agriculture or economic development purposes,” he said. “If that were to occur, LEAP would play a significant lead role in utilizing those funds for economic development purposes.”

The “Advertisement of Agriculture Advantages Act” of 1913 empowers local boards to levy a special tax or appropriate general fund money “for the purpose of advertising the agricultural advantages of the state or for displaying the products and industries of any county in the state at domestic or foreign expositions, for the purpose of encouraging immigration and increasing trade in the products of the state, and advertising the state and any portion thereof for tourists and resorters … .”

Trezise said other revenue could go to the Ingham County Land Bank Fast Track Authority, LEAP, “business accelerator funds,” Michigan State University Extension and for helping startup businesses in the area.

In other development business, Trezise told the Council that while $1.4 million is appropriated in Mayor Virg Bernero’s budget proposal to subsidize the city’s troubled Tax Increment Finance Authority, the administration is hoping the state Legislature will pass a bill allowing the city to refinance its debt for the fund as it did in 2009.

Finance Director Angela Bennett said if the city is successful, that $1.4 million could go into the city’s reserves and as an increased payment for long-term retiree health care obligations. The Council was told a bill is still being drafted.

The TIFA — created in 1982 to promote downtown development and public improvements through tax-increment financing — is steadily capturing less in property tax revenue in its downtown district. Those property taxes are used to pay off debt. Problem is, property values have taken a major hit since 2008, Trezise said, leaving the city on the hook to cover debt payments.

When he started with the Lansing Economic Development Corp. in 2006, the TIFA captured $5.5 million that year. This budget projects $2.8 million coming in.

In regular business, the Council unanimously approved changes the city’s Special Land Use ordinance to prevent situations that took place in the Walnut Neighborhood from happening again.

If you haven’t picked up City Pulse in the past 10 months, residents there have been in dispute with their corporate neighbor, Niowave Inc., which built a 14,000-square-foot pole barn in the neighborhood.

The ordinance, which passed 7-0 (Councilwoman A’Lynne Boles-Robinson was absent), requires a site-plan review if future development over 1,000 square feet is planned on a property with a special land use permit. It also requires notifying the Council of the plans and holding a public hearing on them.

For Councilman Brian Jeffries, a central question posed by the ordinance is: “How are we as a city going to be working with and locating developments within our urban areas?”

He also said the ordinance gives the Council more oversight over such developments, “Taking some of that function back we gave to the administration in the original ordinance.”

Councilman Derrick Quinney added: “It’s been a long time coming, something that will be good for the entire city. We certainly won’t be blindsided as a result of what’s occurred in the past.”

Niowave’s request for a personal property tax abatement, which would be contingent on façade and landscaping improvements as a compromise with neighbors, awaits Council approval.