Streetlights, health care top city's budget

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Charging taxpayers for street lighting and reorganizing health care concessions are highlights of Lansing Mayor, Virg Bernero’s $191.5 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-2014, released last Monday.

Virg Bernero accepted only some of the recommendations of the Financial Health Team (FHT), an independent consulting group appointed by the Mayor. The FHT was created to evaluate the situation and suggest solutions to reduce the $5 million deficit that Lansing carries.

Bernero’s budget proposes charging Lansing residents $46 a year through the Board of Water and Light. This money would be used to operate streetlights and have fire hydrants. According to the FHT’s recommendation, this action would save Lansing $5.5 million, same amount as the deficit.

Lansing's budget proposes to charge residents $46 a year to pay for streetlights and fire hydrants

Lansing’s budget proposes to charge residents $46 a year to pay for streetlights and fire hydrants

Asked to comment about the budget, the Old Town Commercial Association refused to do so. The association’s funding comes from the Lansing government.

The new charges will be compensated by a $45 decrease in property taxes for $100,000 homes. Property values have decreased over the past years, something that does not make residents happy.

Bernero said that Lansing would not follow the steps of other Michigan cities like Detroit, which the state assigned an emergency manager in March.

Lansing's Mayor Virg Bernero released on March 25 his proposed budget

Lansing’s Mayor Virg Bernero released on March 25 his proposed budget

The Lansing budget however, also proposes investing $3.1 million in roads and traffic infrastructure. The FHT recommended making further cuts to have more money in Lansing’s reserves. The FHT said reserves should account for 10 to 15 percent of revenues, but Lansing has depended on six percent since 2010.

Health care will become a topic of negotiation and not one of forced cuts according to the budget. The FHT advised cutting funds for the police and fire department, but Bernero suggested negotiating with the police union about health care. Bernero however proposed the creation of a cold case detective position, which would incur extra costs for the police department.

“We are asking for shared sacrifice and we hope that we get it,” Bernero said about the police union negotiating health care concessions.

Bernero addressed the issue of pensions, which he called one of the biggest challenges that Lansing has. Bernero assured retirees that they will receive their pensions, but in a way that wont damage the city’s finances.

Bernero rejected cutting down subsidies to recreation programs, one of the main suggestions of the FHT. Parks and recreation make up 9 percent of the general fund budget. Bernero called these programs “critical investments” for the young people of Lansing.

Since taking office in2006, Bernero’s administration has decreased Lansing’s government workforce by 31 percent and reduced its budget by $60 million in an effort to stabilize Lansing’s economy.

The budget will be discussed throughout 11 City Council meetings. The council has until May 20 for approval.

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