Budget 'blueprint'

By Andy Balaskovitz
Former Lansing Mayor David Hollister presents the Financial Health Team\'s final report to Mayor Virg Bernero. Andy Balaskovitz/City Hall

Financial Health Team presents budget recommendations for next fiscal year

Monday, March 18 — The city’s advisory Financial Health Team would make $12 million in cuts to services — including funding for police, fire, building inspection, cemeteries and golf — while increasing contributions to legacy costs and reserves to balance next year’s $9 million budget deficit.

In what was called a “blueprint for sustainability” at a press conference today by former Lansing Mayor David Hollister, who headed the 18-member team, the Financial Health Team’s final report now goes before Mayor Virg Bernero and City Council. Recommendations for long-term and regional goals were made public last week. The report issued today includes 18 recommendations for balancing next year’s budget.

Bernero is expected to propose his fiscal year ’13-’14 budget, which starts July 1, to the Council a week from today. He declined to say which short-term recommendations will make it in his budget.

“What we present here is a plan for moving forward,” Hollister said. “We know many of the recommendations are controversial.”

Hollister also said the recommendations could be painful, but that changes need to happen in the next three to five years to avoid an emergency financial manager stepping in.

“The Council can run but they cannot hide,” Hollister said, referring to the budget process.

Here’s a look at some of the short-term recommendations. They include spending $3.2 million more on prefunding retiree health care and technology and boosting the city’s financial reserves while cutting $12.2 million from other parts of the budget:

  • Increasing the city’s contribution for retiree health care by $1 million.
  • Hiring a chief information officer and investing in information technology to “improve productivity and improve services,” to the tune of $1 million.
  • Injecting $1 million more into the city’s financial reserves.
  • Cutting $1 million for police and $2 million for the Fire Department through staff changes and to bring the city in line with other departments in the state.
  • Having the Board of Water and Light charge fees for fire hydrants and streetlights, which is projected to bring in $5.5 million a year. The Financial Health Team projects this would cost residential customers about $45 and commercial customers about $1,394 a year.
  • Eliminating subsidies for golf, building inspection and cemeteries, which could save a little more than $1 million.
  • Going to a permanent 4 1/2-day work week, which could save $1 million, if it’s feasible to do so.

“This budget is about the future of Lansing,” said Jerry Ambrose, who led the subcommittee on short-term recommendations. Ambrose is the finance director for the emergency financial manager in Flint and is formerly the Lansing finance director. “From our perspective, the city must begin now to address those long-term challenges.”

Ambrose said the city should think in terms of providing essential services — police, fire, roads and zoning — and get out of the business of recreation and human resources. “There are other providers” for that, he said.

Bernero declined to say which recommendations will make it in his budget proposal next week.

“We will balance the budget. Believe it or not, that will be the easy part,” he said, referring to some of the long-term and regional solutions that may be more controversial and difficult.