Council Meets with School Board

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Wednesday, April 1, 2015, 7:57 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: Library Director Kristin Shelley presenting to City Council and the Board of Education last night.

The first half of this week’s City Council meeting was dedicated to a joint meeting with the East Lansing Public Schools Board of Education and was held at the Hannah Community Center. The meeting consisted largely of presentations and involved no apparent points of disagreement among or between the two governing bodies. Topics included the future of the Red Cedar School, enrollment levels, and the proposed City Charter amendment on public land sales.

The second half of City Council’s meeting involved a presentation updating the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) plans for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). See our special report on the BRT presentation.

Present for City Council were Mayor Nathan Triplett, Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris, and Councilmembers Kathy Boyle and Susan Woods. Councilmember Ruth Beier missed the joint meeting with ELPS but was present for the CATA BRT discussion.

Present for the East Lansing Public Schools (ELPS) were Superintendent Robyne Thompson and Board members Yasmina Bouraoui, Kath Edsall, Nathaniel Lake Jr., President Nell Kuhnmuench, Hillary Henderson, Karen Hoene, and Kate Powers.

Public comments: In public comments, two citizens spoke, including Edward Swanson on the BRT. Swanson’s comments are included in our special report on the BRT. Altmann's comments are included in the discussion of the City Charter amendment, below.

East Lansing Public Library Report: Kristin Shelley, director of the East Lansing Public Library, talked about collaborations with ELPS including after-school programming that has resulted in between 45 and 90 students coming to the library after school. The library offers ELPS students crafts, gaming opportunities, computers, and junk-food snacks, which, Shelley noted, is what the students said in surveys they want to eat after school. The Library also partners with elementary schools and offers opportunities though the Maker Space.

City manager’s presentation: City Manager George Lahanas showed a new handout card that encourages residents to be aware of the various social media options offered by the City including the E-Town Hall and Nixle’s emergency service alerts.

Lahanas also discussed the City’s budget problems. He said state-shared revenue (i.e., money coming to East Lansing from the State) is going up and so are property tax revenues because of an increase in property values, but these revenue increases cannot keep up with the expenses the City is facing. He said that the growth in property tax revenues “will be eaten up by pension costs.” Healthcare costs are also significant. The City’s aging infrastructure, including water, sewer, and water treatment, is going to continue to need repair and replacement. Lahanas said MSU Federal Credit Union’s new large building will help bring in more tax revenues.

Plans for Red Cedar School: ELPS Superintendent Thompson said that she did not have an in-depth budget report available and that “of interest to everyone here is the Red Cedar School.” She said that there are going to be discussions about programming at that building and district-wide in the coming months. She said the school district was looking to figure out “what kind of innovative programming we can offer there.” No one on the school board or city council had any questions about the Red Cedar School.

City Manager advocates for “yes” vote on Charter amendment: Lahanas spoke to why City staff want people to vote “yes” on the Charter amendment regarding public land sales. He said it doesn’t make sense that park land can be sold with only a simple majority approval but that other public land types require a supermajority voter approval. He specifically named the DTN project in the Park District as a reason why the City wants voters to vote in favor of the Charter amendment on land sales. He said that the carrying costs of the Evergreen properties, purchased by the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) for almost about $5.6 million for the failed City Center II project and now worth only about half that, is “severely stressing” the DDA financially and that those properties if not turned into a development will need money from the City’s general fund to pay for at some point.

ELPS Trustee Yasmina Bouraoui asked how much the City is paying on the Evergreen properties for interest annually and how much it would be if we were also paying principle. Lahanas gave the figure at $150,000 for interest and said it would be over $400,000 if the DDA were also paying down the principle.

Mayor Nathan Triplett gave some history of the City Charter’s provisions on land sales. He noted that the Charter currently requires public land worth more than $194,000 to be put to a vote of the citizenry and that the Charter amendment, if approved, would raise that sum. He said that in 2008 the Council attempted to seek voter approval to sell the parking garage under the Marriott Hotel and failed and that now that property is costing us a great deal to repair.

During public comments, Erik Altmann, who is running for City Council, objected to the way the City presents on its website historical data about land sale ballot questions. His objection related to the Charter Amendment on land sales, which will be on the May 5 ballot and could lower the threshold for public land sales from a supermajority requirement (60%) to a simple majority (50% + 1 vote). Altmann noted the City website shows that, in the last four ballot questions about possible sales of public lands, each measure failed to attain supermajority voter approval but would have passed if the Charter had only required majority approval. He noted that the data obtained by ELi from the City Clerk shows that the three votes immediately before those four did achieve approval from a supermajority. Altmann suggested the City is “cherry-picking” data on this issue to sway voters to support the Charter amendment, saying “someone had to slice and dice the data pretty carefully to give that message on the city website.”

Joint marketing efforts: Lahanas thanked Councilmember Susan Woods for helping to put together a pamphlet to give to realtors to convince potential homeowners that the City and ELPS are good values. ELPS Trustee Nathaniel Lake, Jr., asked what helps to bring families with young children into the district in terms of coming to live in East Lansing. Lahanas said the City did not have data on this. Lake also asked whether there was going to be an increase of homes on the northern border of East Lansing. Lahanas said that development in the Hawk’s Nest area could lead to 60 more houses being built but that while those homeowners will pay East Lansing property taxes, the houses will be in the Lansing school district.

ELPS enrollments: Councilmember Woods asked if enrollment is up in ELPS. Superintendent Thompson said enrollment is “pretty flat” right now. She said they were still working on the data from the kindergarten “round-up” program and will know more after they look at that data.

 

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