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TUESDAY, MAY 22 — Unlike years past, when the budget process was fraught with name calling, veto threats and long meetings, the Lansing City Council last night unanimously approved Mayor Andy Schor’s first budget proposal with few tweaks.
Schor said afterward it was a “new day in Lansing” — the old day apparently being the 12 years of contention between Mayor Virg Bernero and a faction of the City Council that often came to a head over budget issues.
The complete budget of $218.6 million budget was adopted with few changes, even though the budget differed little from what Bernero offered the year before.
The new budget, which takes effect July 1, includes a 4.9 percent boost in spending from the $134.3 million General Fund — essentially, the city’s operating budget. That included increased funding for code compliance positions, tax collectors and road and sidewalk repair.
City Market funds cut
If there was controversy, it was over the fate of the City Market. Even there, the executive and legislative branches found a compromise.
Last week Council was making noise that it would eliminate the $80,000 subsidy to the Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority for the flagging City Market. Schor had raised the spectre of a veto if that happened.
Instead, the Council and the mayor settled on a 50 percent cut. The $40,000 removed from the City Market subsidy was transferred to code compliance. There it will be combined with $20,000 transferred from a vacant Lansing Fire Department assistant chief salary and an estimated $10,000 increase in fee revenue from the new officer.
That funding will create a new full-time compliance officer whose sole job will be enforcing city ordinances regarding businesses such as signs, grass and other outside issues.
“I’ve heard at the doors and during the campaign that this is something the residents want,” Fourth Ward Councilman Brian Jackson said Sunday.
The budget also includes funding to convert two part-time code compliance positions to full time. That will result in a full-time compliance officer in all four wards of the city, as well as seasonal premise inspectors.
”This is a priority for the Council,” said First Ward City Councilwoman Jody Washington. She had been pushing to gut the City Market subsidy completely, but she called the compromise “a good solution.”
But as a result of the move, the market will close sometime in September or October, Schor said Monday evening.
“I am not sure when, that will be up to Scott Keith to figure out how long the partial subsidy will carry the market for,” he said, referring to the head of LEPFA. “But we will come back with an assessment on the building and a plan to make it work.”
Most of the market’s half dozen or so vendors are on monthly leases with LEPFA. That means the city can end their occupancy with just 30 days’ notice. But as City Pulse reported last week, the Waterfront Bar and Grill is on a three-year lease, although the bar contends the lease automatically renews every three years. City officials don’t agree and gave the bar notice May 1 that effective July 1 its lease was up and would not be renewed.
Road spending up
The budget also will see an extra expenditure of $400,000 for roads and sidewalks, in addition to the city roads millage and federal and state dollars.
“While the state and federal governments have continually underfunded all local governments in their infrastructure needs, Lansing needs to prioritize the funding that we do receive to have the greatest impact for our residents and visitors,” said Schor. “I am happy that the recommended $400,000 from the General Fund for road repair remained in the budget, making this the first time in four years that the City of Lansing will allocate General Fund dollars for road repair.”
While the budgeted amounts will not replace or repair all the sidewalks and roads in the city, it will begin the process of improving the city’s crumbling infrastructure. Schor has acknowledged in community meetings that it will take years to bring the road conditions up.
Taxes, parking & trash bags
Since taking office, Schor has raised concerns about $7.5 million in city income tax that has not been paid over the years. To address that, the city’s Treasury Department will bring in two new employees focused on collecting overdue income taxes.
“People choose to live or work in the city of Lansing, and we want them to, so we’re going to do everything we can to keep them here,” Schor said in April. “If you live here, you’re paying 1 percent in income tax. If you work here, you’re paying a half percent. One percent on a $40,000 job is what? It’s $400. Half percent on a $40,000 job is $200. We’re not asking for half your salary. It’s $200 on a $40,000 job towards your eight hours of your day having police protection and fire protection, utilities and services.”
Parking at the city’s four parking ramps will see a boost in hourly, daily and monthly rates. The hourly rate at three of the ramps, Townsend as well as the North and South Capitol facilities, will see a 20-cent hourly increase, while the ramp on Grand Avenue will see a 50-cent increase. The daily maximum for the first three ramps will increase from $10 a day to $12.50 a day, while the Grand Avenue ramp will see that daily maximum top out at $15 a day, up from $10.
That’s all necessary to finance a five-year $10,679,000 “extreme makeover” of the city’s lots. That money will fund new citation and ticketing sys as well as physical and equipment upgrades, according to a copy of a powerpoint presented to the General Services Committee of Council on May 15.
“There are some really exciting things happening with the parking system,” Peter Spadafore, who chairs the Council’s General Services Committee Peter Spadafore, told the Council Monday night.
In addition, residents will pay $1.25 more for a roll of five city refuse bags. Individual bags will see a 25-cent increase, while trash carts will see increases as well. The smallest cart will see a $2 hike to $42 a month, while the other four cart sizes will see a $1 a month rate increase. The city’s recycling fee will double as well from $5 to $10.