May 21 2013 12:00 AM

Council approves a budget in messy fashion, Mayor Bernero promises some vetoes

Tuesday, May 21 — The Lansing City Council approved a fiscal year 2014 budget at Monday’s meeting, but it was ugly. The process, that is.

During a three-plus hour meeting — with a half-hour recess midway through to figure out what it was doing — the Council approved a $116 million budget that is balanced largely due to a higher annual payment in lieu of taxes the city gets from the Board of Water and Light.

“This process has been a cluster,” as Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar put it towards the end of the meeting. Later on, she added: “Although this was a very frustrating process for me, I appreciate everyone took the time and tried to make their voice heard.”

Dunbar, along with Council members Tina Houghton and Jessica Yorko, voted against the budget.

Things got confusing when Finance Director Angela Bennett told the Council that the budget it approved in committee on Friday was not balanced because the Council inaccurately factored in the amount in the General Fund by eliminating a proposed full-time information technology department head. Also, the Council had proposed spending $250,000 from a fleet reserve fund to pay for various new vehicles — like police cars and pick-up trucks — but Bennett said the account only has about $63,000 in it.

Shortly after that, the Council recessed so that Bennett could figure out a way to make the numbers work.

In the end, the Council’s budget eliminates Bernero’s proposal for a full-time cold-case detective; eliminates a proposed cabinet-level IT position and instead puts $50,000 in a control account to come up with a solution with the Lansing School District; a yet-to-be-determined return on equity payment increase from BWL to help pay for streetlights and fire hydrants; bonds for $1.3 million to pay for local roads instead of paying for it out of the General Fund; eliminates a $70,000 line item for developing form-based codes; eliminates positions for Sister Cities and the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives; reduces the city’s appropriation for the Tax Increment Finance Authority from $1.4 million to $1 million, the difference being made up by the Economic Development Corp.’s revolving loan fund; and sets in a Council-controlled account money to pay off debt service on a $2 million technology bond until a more detailed plan for spending is shown from the administration. The Council also decided against projecting for a $645,000 surplus that would have been placed in a "control account," perhaps named as such because the Council would decide how it's spent. Instead, that amount will be factored into lowering the BWL payment increase.

Following the meeting, Mayor Virg Bernero promised to veto the cold-case detective decision and the Council’s proposal for funding the TIFA. He said “stay tuned” to see which other line items he will veto. Councilman Brian Jeffries’ rationale for the TIFA funding mechanism, which also establishes a loan program so the city can be reimbursed for its General Fund contributions over the coming years, is so that taxpayers are not on the hook for the struggling economic development program.

However, on the whole, Bernero said, “Overall, we’re not far off” between the budget he proposed and the one adopted by the Council. “They’ve gone at it a different way,” he said, referring to the BWL payment as a revenue-raiser. He had proposed a special assessment to pay for streetlights.

“I want structural change,” Bernero said, “long-term change.”

Bernero has until the end of the day Thursday to file his veto, which he can do by line item, with the City Clerk's Office. His veto choices will likely stand, as it takes six Council votes to override.