Kids in the Hall

By Andy Balaskovitz

Budget hearings round 7: Mayor’s Office and Community Media

Monday, May 15 — The city’s Office of Community Media had a strong year at its temporary home in a former National Guard armory. Within the next year it expects to be operating from the newly renovated Holmes Street School alongside a technology empowerment center.

The roughly $3 million renovation project at the school, of which the city is paying around $1 million, will contain both the city’s Public Media Center and the Information Technology Empowerment Center, a community classroom space for those interested in science, technology, engineering and math. The city has a five-year lease agreement at the former school in which it’ll pay $1 a year.

Mayoral Chief of Staff Randy Hannan told the Council tonight that the media center could be relocated by the end of the summer. The former school is two blocks south of Malcolm X Street and two blocks east of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Councilman Brian Jeffries asked whether the administration considered moving the media center to City Hall.

“We don’t have space in City Hall that’s compatible for studio space,” Hannan said. “And we’ve wanted to make an investment in that neighborhood for a long time. This will provide opportunities for young people in that neighborhood to access public media and ITEC activities.”

The project is being led by Spartan Internet President and CEO Ryan Vartoogian, who bought the property from the Lansing School District in 2007 for $115,000.

Addressing concerns expressed by Council President Carol Wood over Spartan Internet’s late payments on property taxes over the past four years (as he was given tax incentives and contractual consulting work from the city), Hannan said the administration has been “very clear and adamant” with the company about being on time with its taxes. “We will be very diligent to make sure Spartan Internet meets its obligations.”

Meanwhile, Dominic Cochran, director of the Office of Community Media, said his team has seen “more demand than we can offer for (video) equipment” that it rents, and that the Public Media Center now has 100 members.

“They have produced 500 hours of new programming we’ve put on the channel,” he said.

The proposed budget for the Office of Community Media is $334,250, which is an 11.1 percent increase from this fiscal year. Hannan said that’s driven by new information technology expenditures (as part of every department’s budget), salary adjustments with the elimination of furloughs and higher projected PEG revenues coming in from AT&T and Comcast.

The Mayor’s Office budget would also see an 11.1 percent increase from this fiscal year, projected to come in at $792,470. Along with a $27,000 influx for information technology, the bigger budget includes a raise for Mayor Virg Bernero and his staff “because of the elimination of furlough days” in all other departments.

The Mayor’s Office budget also includes the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives and the Sister Cities program. Those programs are run by part-time staffers who are each paid roughly $20,000 a year.