Following the failure of a majority of East Lansing voters to pass the income tax proposal on Tuesday, Mayor Mark Meadows used his comment time during last night’s City Council meeting to preview the next steps Council will be taking to address the City’s budget problems.
“It means we have to go forward with the alternatives that were set out by the Financial Health Team,” said Meadows. “People should be thinking about the things that are provided that maybe we can’t afford to provide anymore.” He specifically mentioned free leaf-pickup and the additional recycling days following Christmas.
One of the Financial Health Team’s recommendations to the City was to cut five percent out of the budget, and the City has prepared that plan, although it has not yet been implemented. In the past, Meadows has said that they would wait to see if the income tax would pass before deciding on implementation. Last night, he said, “We have a half a year left in this budget year, and I think we need to discuss whether we would implement the five percent reduction immediately.”
He criticized the implication that was made on the “vote no” advertisements that the City had so far failed to consider other recommendations from the Financial Health Team (FHT). He called this claim “frankly nonsensical, a misstatement of fact and, in fact, a lie that was told to the people of the City of East Lansing by a former council member.”
This was a reference to Don Power, who was featured on some of the “vote no” flyers. Power was elected to and served on East Lansing's City Council for a few months before resigning in 2012.
Meadows cited several recommendations that he said the FHT indicated could be alternatives to an income tax, such as “Recommendation Number 28, which was to seek voter approval for a Headlee override. That would bring the city 2.2 million dollars but would raise city property taxes by another two and a half mills.”
Meadows indicated that since the Ingham County tax proposal passed on Tuesday, and that will result in a property tax increase, East Lansing voters are apparently more receptive to property tax increases than they are to an income tax.
The Mayor also read out a recommendation from the FHT’s recommendations, “That we seek service consolidations and to utilize 1988 PA57 which allows for a Fire and Police Authority.” If East Lansing joined an existing Police and Fire authority or sought to create a new one with other communities, that body would have the authority to levy additional property taxes.
Meadows also discussed several FHT recommendations to create separate millages (similar to the one that currently funds the East Lansing Public Library) with funds targeted to specific improvements such as fixing streets and sidewalks or preserving and improving parks.
“We are already fifth in the state in terms of our total property tax millages…and this would make us, of course, number one,” Meadows said. “It’s hard for me to believe that the people of this community want to go in this direction. But, like I say, it was a pretty confusing vote last night, with a determination that the public wanted a property tax reduction by supporting the Charter amendment, not supporting the income tax which would put that into place and voting to tax themselves some more by supporting the county tax.”
Meadows had previously encouraged voters to vote “yes” on the property tax decrease even if they were voting “no” on the income tax. Many appear to have done so.
Looking at the precinct data, Meadows called out three precincts which he said were responsible for defeating the income tax. These were Precinct 17 (the Northern Tier neighborhoods), Precinct 7 (Whitehills), and Precinct 5 (Abbot Parkside north of the Meijer store). These precincts went disproportionately “no,” with the difference between “yes” and “no” in these three districts coming to 393 votes, while the difference between yes and no votes on the income tax question in the city as a whole being 381 votes according to current Ingham County Clerk data.
“We need to do a better job of educating people, especially in those neighborhoods, about what this really means,” Meadows said.
In his concluding remarks on the matter, the Mayor said, “I think we have to get something on the ballot pretty quick, or we’re looking at even higher numbers of cuts in the next budget year.”
Susan Woods, who lost her bid for reelection, took her allotted time during the communications portion of the meeting to say goodbye to her colleagues and the City staff.
She started by inviting everyone to come to the East Lansing Film Festival, which starts on November 9. This remark which was greeted by laughter from her Council colleagues. Woods has been criticized in the past for using her Council seat to advertise the Festival, which pays her a salary of $31,200 per year. Last night, she said that she was going to take advantage of this being her last week to “break all the rules.”
She reminisced about her early days on Council when she was newly elected and unfamiliar with parliamentary procedure, and she praised her fellow Council members and the work that they had done together. She had kind words for the City staff, singling out City Manager George Lahanas for helping her and for the work that he had put into his budget presentations leading up to the vote on the income tax.
Woods ended with a plea for the public to revisit the idea of an income tax in the future. “It’s really, really, really, really scary that you guys didn’t vote ‘yes’ on it,” she said. “I hope with these wonderful four people, and the new one, that they can come together and find a reiteration of this income tax and that you, the people of East Lansing, will accept it, because there really are no other alternatives. I know you think there are, but there aren’t.”
She said that now that her time on Council is done she will work to make East Lansing shine as a City of the Arts.
If you voted in this Tuesday's election, please take ELi's quick survey asking (1) why you voted as you did on the income tax, and (2) how you think the City should dealing with the approaching budget crisis. Click here to take the survey.