Kids in the Hall

By Neal McNamara

An aggregator of Lansing government happenings

First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt is still seeking a “comparative analysis” of Lansing Economic Development Corp. projects so he can review how well tax abatements and incentives are serving the city. He is pledging not to vote for any more EDC projects that contain abatements until he gets the information.

In a debate that ensued after Hewitt declared his intentions at last week’s Council meeting, Bob Trezise, CEO of the EDC, and At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries, who chairs the Council’s Development and Planning Committee and serves on the EDC board, highlighted EDC reports from the last three years to show an amount of transparency. The reports, from 2006, 2007 and 2008, appear on the EDC’s Web site — under the “documents” section — and list each project carried out in each year, the type of abatement, the amount of private investment, public investment and the number of jobs, retained jobs or units of housing created.

When asked if he had seen these reports at last Monday’s meeting, Hewitt was unsure. But, following up with him, Hewitt said that he had seen the reports, but they were not what he was looking for.

“The information on the reports is nothing more than a copy of what the project agreement stated. There is no updated information that would allow a true comparison,” he wrote in an email.

Indeed, some of the reports contain outdated information. The 2007 report lists the Capitol Club Tower as having created 122 owner-occupied housing units in the city, but the upscale condominium tower has yet to break ground. Meanwhile, the report says that the project has received nearly $2.5 million in incentives. (The project has been on hold because of the credit crisis.) The 2007 report also counts 24 owner-occupied housing units and 28 rental units from the Sobi Square project, which, too, has not broken ground.

Last Monday, Hewitt indicated that for two years he had been asking for reports from the EDC on how well abatements were working. He clarified his remarks, saying that in 2008, while Council was deciding whether to sell developer Pat Gillespie the Lansing City Market parcel, he asked the EDC for information on how well the abatements were working. During this year’s budget process, he asked for a “comparative report to determine if the increasing budget for the EDC was producing results.”

Since last Monday’s meeting, Hewitt says he has reviewed minutes from the Development and Planning Committee since 2008 and has not found information that would satisfy his desires.

“I cannot find anything that I would call a comparative analysis of EDC projects,” he said. “The minutes indicate the committee members repeatedly requested similar information in either the form of a list or map starting in February of 2008.”

Meanwhile, the Development and Planning Committee has a meeting today at which it will explore an application for a personal property tax exemp tion by the Jackson National Life Insurance Co. for a data center it plans to build in Lansing.

Both Committee of the Whole and the regular Monday Council business meetings were canceled this week because of Labor Day. Council will make up its Monday meeting on Thursday afternoon, when the new Council rules approved last Monday will take effect. This includes the “consent agenda” — under which action items that are usually voted on unanimously with little debate will go to be voted on all at once, to save time — and early reports indicate that some items will be taken off the consent agenda (this is allowed under the new rules) by Council members weary of the new legislative mechanism. Also, general public comment will be at the end of the meeting.