July 20 2010 12:00 AM

Tax exemption for GM expansion dominates Council meeting

After swiftly placing more than a dozen letters and resolutions on file or moving them to various committees, Monday night’s Lansing City Council meeting welcomed General Motors Inc. representative Brian O’Connell to an informal discussion on a possible Lansing expansion. GM is considering the Grand River assembly plant on West Main Street for a $190 million, 600-plus jobs investment.

However, you couldn’t find evidence of the informal hearing on the agenda or in the July 12 meeting minutes, which At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries asked to be included.

“I had asked for a public hearing, which doesn’t appear on tonight’s schedule,” Jeffries reminded the four other council members present. “I’m disappointed this was not on the agenda so the public would know.”

After a little confusion and misunderstanding, acting Council President Kathie Dunbar agreed to allow public comment on the GM expansion to happen at the end of the meeting, following a brief presentation by O’Connell and Lansing Economic Development Corp. Vice President Karl Dorshimer.

The presentation itself was like a big carrot dangling in front of City Council’s face. A great deal of GM’s decision to (or not to) bring their investment to Lansing (they’re also considering other cities), hinges on a 25-year personal property tax exemption for about $60 million worth of new equipment. Granting the abatements shows GM that Lansing is willing to incentivize their expansion.

Dorshimer did the math: About 640 new jobs would bring the city about $131,000 per year in income taxes. He also reminded Council that they could revoke the exemption if GM did not follow through on making $60 million worth of investments in the first two to three years.

“This keeps Lansing in the forefront of GM,” Dorshimer said. “Most likely, if investments are not made here, they will go some place else.”

Jeffries tried his hardest to get O’Connell to divulge the nature of the new investments and what kind of cars would be manufactured. Without budging, O’Connell acknowledged that they simply would be new cars.

The few public comments that followed GM’s presentation doubted they would make good on their jobs promises and countered GM to “pay Lansing what you still owe us.” In one comment that set the chambers into laughter, one woman observed the resemblance of O’Connell with Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero.

“You could be Bernero’s brother! Doesn’t anyone see that?” the woman asked.

O’Connell said GM will make a decision before the third quarter of fiscal year 2011 and investments would soon follow. “We really appreciate Lansing for taking this up this quickly,” said O’Connell.

City Clerk Chris Swope reminded the public that absentee ballots are available until July 31 for the Aug. 3 primary election. Of the 4,500 absentees mailed out, 47 percent have been filled out and returned, he said.

“We seem to have quite a few this year,” he said.