Council Capsule: January 13, 2015

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015, 5:49 pm
Alice Dreger

Photo: A previous Council meeting, because this reporter forgot her camera this week

ELi apologizes for the slight delay in getting Council Capsule to you today. The reason is that we have today been producing in-depth stories on three of the many major issues covered last night.

All councilmembers were present:  Mayor Nathan Triplett, Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris, Ruth Beier, Kathy Boyle, and Susan Woods.

The meeting lasted about four hours and, as is customary with City Council “work sessions,” was not video-recorded or broadcast. So here’s your Capsule:

Bailey Childcare and Community Center: Bailey representatives presented a detailed plan last night to try to save the daycare and Community Center. ELi has a full report including follow-up interviews from today.

PDIG development: As ELi reported today, last night City staff presented a plan for dealing with PDIG in what they believe is a safe and appropriate fashion. In addition, Council is set to approve, without discussion, “a request from Park District Investment Group, LLC, to rezone the property at 341-345 Evergreen Avenue from RM-32, City Center Multiple Family Residential, to B-3, City Center Commercial District.” This would be part of PDIG’s big development that includes the 10-story “Building A” at the corner of Abbot and Grand River, but it is for a different building within that area, one known as “Building B.” The application for that building will be open to a public hearing on February 3 at Council.

Invasive species grant approved after it was submitted: Assistant Director of Parks and Rec Wendy Longpre asked City Council to retroactively approve a grant submitted to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for invasive vegetative species management. She said it was “impossible” to get approval before submission and that they would withdraw it if Council wished. Council unanimously approved it after some discussion of whether it made sense to spend City money on this when programs like Bailey childcare are lacking for funds. (The City has to match funds if the grant comes through.) The grant includes funds for educating children at Whitehills School about invasive species.

Burcham landfill still a stinky problem: Department of Public Works Director Scott House asked Council for permission to spend $34,700 to further manage the Burcham Park landfill (at the corner of Burcham and Park Lake), which has been causing environmental concerns and costly problems for decades. Methane is a concern, and special sniffer systems are needed. Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris asked if “there [is] an end in sight to this?” House said it was trending in the right direction but would take a long time to fix.

Water Treatment Plant needs greater flow . . . of cash: City staff presented a contract extension for professional engineering services with Tetra Tech in the amount of $718,988 to continue dealing with upgrades and fixes at the East Lansing Water Treatment Plant. The aim is to make environmental improvements and increase worker safety, including by shifting from chlorine as a decontaminant to ultraviolet light. There will also be a new dump pipe that will reach the Red Cedar River in a much shorter distance than it does now.

Dangerous properties hearings process established: City Attorney Tom Yeadon and City staff are working on establishing a process for hearings when a building is declared “dangerous” and the owner is required to make repairs or demolish. There was discussion of whether public comment will be allowed when such cases come before Council.

About $28,000,000 in bonds covered in about 45 minutes (if this reporter did the math right): Finance Director Mary Haskell and others explained to Council what kind of guidance they are looking for in terms of bond management, and Council gave the guidance. Haskell explained that sometimes they redo bonds to get a better interest rate, as in the case of “Resolution Authorizing Issuance and Sale of Bonds, in an Aggregate Principal Amount Not to Exceed $4,600,000, to Refund the Series 2005 Building Authority Refunding Bonds.”

In other cases, the City needs a new bond to deal with newer, massive costs. Such is the case with our sewer system (again). Haskell said the good news is we’re almost done with the big debt from the last round, so the two big sewer debts won’t overlap too much.  Council unanimously approved an “Intent to Issue Revenue Bonds to the State Revolving Fund in an Amount Not to Exceed $15,000,000 for Sewer Disposal System Improvements.”

In still other cases, bonds are coming due and the debt still stands. Such is the case with the Evergreen Avenue properties bought by the Downtown Development Authority for the failed City Center II project. In that case, while the DDA owns the properties, which are probably worth only about $2.5 million, the City owes what the DDA paid for them, which is around $5.6 million. We’ve only been paying interest on that debt. Council suggested Haskell go again for short-term, interest-only deals in the hopes (again) that the properties will soon be sold for a major redevelopment.

In this discussion, Planning Director Tim Dempsey told Council that the DDA cannot afford to pay down the principle, which is why each year we only pay the interest. This led to another discussion:

Parking lots back on the ballot May 5? And Charter change on the ballot, too? Several Council members expressed interest in trying to get the parking lots sale back on the ballot for May 5, and at the same time trying to pass a Charter Amendment that would change the requirement of a 60% vote by citizens to sell city properties over a certain amount. There is talk of changing the Charter so that Council (not the public) would have the right to decide when to sell all City-owned land, or of having a 50% threshold at the ballot box instead of 60%. City Manager George Lahanas strongly favors taking away the 60% ballot-box requirement. Several Council members agree. It looks possible that they will get this on the May 5 ballot.

Various appointments made: Jacob Keesee was appointed to the University Student Commission representing the Inter-fraternity Council for a partial term ending April 30, 2015. Matthew Joyner and Jennifer Ferguson were appointed to the Housing Commission for a partial term ending December 31, 201. Allen Drouare was appointed to the Building Board of Appeals for a partial term ending December 31, 2015.

Public comment: All public comments, which occurred for nearly an hour at the start of the meeting, were focused on PDIG or the Bailey daycare and community center except for mine (Alice Dreger). I told Council that because City Council work sessions are not recorded and archived, and because Council’s minutes are so vague, if people in this city want to know what is happening in this City at work sessions, they have to rely on the word of other people, including those of us reporting at news outlets like ELi. I suggested the City should be broadcasting and video recording and archiving work sessions rather than making citizens rely on us.

At the start of the meeting, Mayor Nathan Triplett had told the public that news reports were causing people to think Council was going to take action on PDIG that night when they weren’t. So I told Council that the reason some people thought Council might take action on the PDIG plans that night was because the published Council agenda said under PDIG that “action [was] requested.”

I also thanked those who have answered questions for ELi this week and read aloud questions not answered for ELi this week, including questions to City Manager George Lahanas about PDIG and questions to Mayor Nathan Triplett regarding the marijuana charter amendment proposal, PDIG, and the BWL Board representative.

East Lansing’s new BWL rep will be…. At the end of the meeting, Mayor Nathan Triplett revealed that he’s picked a candidate for East Lansing’s BWL representative and expects approval of the choice next week at Council. On that, see our special report, and also note ELi’s special report on BWL’s Board firing General Manager Peter Lark.

Other reports from Councilmembers: Triplett also said that the recent Court of Appeals ruling regarding the Grand Rapids marijuana Charter Amendment did not have implications for East Lansing’s proposed marijuana Charter Amendment.

Councilmembers Susan Woods, Ruth Beier, and Diane Goddeeris had nothing to report, nor did City Manager Lahanas or City Attorney Tom Yeadon.

Councilmember Kathy Boyle reported that the rental nonconforming report will be presented by staff at the next work session.


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