Kids in the Hall

By Sam Inglot

Budget hearings round 3: Police, finance and IT

Tuesday, April 16 — A police union official says there is no way the Fraternal Order of Police will reopen its employee contract with the city before it expires in 2015, which could put a kink in the Bernero administration’s plan to save $700,000 through concessions in the budget year that starts July 1.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero’s proposed budget includes $700,000 worth of concessions from the police union. The savings would come if the police switch over to the same health care plan as other city employee groups.

At a City Council budget hearing Monday night, Tom Krug, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, said the administration would need to find other ways to save money in the budget.

“The mayor is looking for another $700,000 in concessions from the police officers. We’ve already given quite a few concessions,” Krug said after the meeting. “We’re just not in a position of opening our contract right now and I think there’s things in the new budget that he can look at where he could find some money.”

The $700,000 savings would be achieved if the FOP moved onto the same health care plan as many of the other city employee groups, said Chad Gamble, Lansing’s chief operations officer. However, he said the administration is open to other ideas from the police union.

Councilwoman Jody Washington took issue with the administration’s wanting to reopen the police contract. The contract extends until 2015, but she said over the years the administration has kept coming back for “more and more” concessions. She asked if the administration had a “Plan B” if the police didn’t reopen its contract.

In response, deputy finance director Angela Bennett said there is about $436,000 of police and fire millage money still available that could be used to help offset the cost, but the administration is hopeful the LPD will reopen its contract.

Councilman Brian Jeffries asked to see a “Plan B” in writing in the future.

Along with police contract discussions, Council members and the administration asked the city attorney to look at what legal steps could be taken to break the city’s lease for the LPD’s North Precinct to save money. The lease expires in September 2014. If the city were able to get out of the lease, the department could be housed in City Hall.

Krug said the city could save roughly $450,000 by breaking away from the North Precinct lease, which he thinks the city should do rather than ask for more police concessions.

One of the other ways Krug said the mayor could save some money would be by not creating a cabinet position for a newly formed Information Technology Department. The Council discussed the proposed IT budget as well.

IT used to be part of the Finance Department, but under the new budget it will become its own department. Some key changes from last year’s budget include the creation of an IT cabinet position as well as a $2 million bond for technology upgrades.

Washington asked the administration why it felt it was necessary to create a cabinet-level position for IT. She said she felt the administration was getting “top heavy.”

Gamble responded that having a cabinet level member places a “necessary emphasis” on the importance of technology throughout the city and every department.

When Jeffries asked for a breakdown of how the $2 million technology bond would be spent, Gamble said there was a “conceptual plan” right now. He said the administration would come back to the Council with a five-year plan when the budget was approved.

The Finance Department budget was also discussed Monday night. The department includes the treasury, assessing and finance operations. One of the new aspects of the budget to save money is a possible joint purchasing agreement with the Board of Water and Light for office supplies.

“My concern is, if we’re having an entity ... even though it’s owned by rate payers, if they don't get something right, who’s held responsible?” Wood asked. She didn’t get an answer.

Due to past budget cuts, the positions in the city for collecting delinquent personal property taxes have been cut from two full-time positions down to two part-time positions, city Treasurer Antonia Kraus said. Because of the low staffing levels, she said her department has had to partner with a collection agency that takes 15 percent of the collected tax money.

Jeffries asked if Kraus had a need for more staff. He asked for delinquency figures related to personal property, income and real property taxes. Kraus didn’t deny that her staff was stretched thin.

“If you’ve heard the circus music in my office, that’s just me keeping all the balls in the air,” she said.