Budget amendments

By Andy Balaskovitz

Council proposes amendments at morning budget session, setting the stage for final approval Monday night. The administration is skeptical “at first blush.”

Thursday, May 17 — The Lansing City Council has some ideas of its own for balancing next fiscal year’s budget, which include bringing back two more police officers and two more firefighters and cutting furlough days.

At a budget session this morning, the Council — meeting as Committee of the Whole — unanimously approved a set of amendments for balancing next year’s budget. However, three Council members — Kathie Dunbar, Tina Houghton and Jessica Yorko — wanted more time to discuss the recommendations after they were approved but were rejected by a majority of the Council.

The biggest difference comes from a proposed increase in annual return on equity payments from the Board of Water and Light that Council predicts will bring in an extra $1.5 million annually.

Currently, BWL makes a 4 percent annual payment to the city. The Bernero administration proposed increasing that to 5 percent, or $17 million for fiscal year 2013. The Council is proposing 5.5 percent.

This would free up $1.5 million in the General Fund for next year, according to the Council’s recommendation. The Council also proposes changing the way police and fire millage money is spent that could result in two more police officers and two more firefighters coming back next year. That would result in 11 police officers coming back and nine firefighters.

The Council also proposes cuts to the city’s Sister Cities program and Bishop David Maxwell’s salary (Maxwell is the director of the mayor’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives) that would help reduce the number of proposed furlough days across all departments from 26 to six.

The Council also voted to eliminate $65,000 worth of support for the Lansing Economic Area Partnership to go toward a “budget control account.”

The Council approved the recommendations quickly and unanimously after being read by At-Large Councilman Derrick Quinney. However, looking perplexed at the dais about what was being voted on, At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar asked to reconsider the amendment resolution. That attempt failed 3-5, with Council members Carol Wood, Jody Washington, A’Lynne Robinson, Brian Jeffries and Quinney voting against.

Moreover, while this morning was the first time the administration had learned of the Council’s proposal, the “first blush” reaction was not good, said Chief of Staff Randy Hannan.

“There are some pieces to this proposal we would view as deeply irresponsible,” he said after the meeting, referring particularly to cutting the number of furlough days without first asking for union concessions in pension and health care.

Hannan also cautioned about raising the return on equity rate from the BWL without first discussing that with the utility. “They’re not a bottomless pit of money. They’re not a piggy bank for the city,” Hannan said. “If you go too far what you’re really pushing the Board of Water and Light toward is rate increases.”

For more on the city’s budget woes, see Monday’s Kids in the Hall.