Council Tackles Roads, Water, and Sewer Budgets

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Thursday, May 12, 2016, 8:25 pm
Chris Root


On Tuesday this week, the East Lansing City Council held its third special meeting on the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, which focused on the Major and Local Street Funds, Sanitation Fund, and Water Fund.

Scott House, Director of Public Works, presented proposed changes for fees related to these funds, including a 10% increase in monthly rates for water and sewer service and a 15% increase in connection fees to these systems for new construction. Projected expenditures in each fund for FY 2017 are $1.7 million for local streets and $2.6 million for major streets (both of which are largely from federal and state funds), $2.0 million for sanitation, and $4.4 million for water.

Projecting expenditures for emergency repairs, maintenance, and improvements of road, water, and sewer is difficult, involving research, planning, and setting priorities. Televising the City’s underground infrastructure as part of the state-funded Stormwater, Asset Management, and Wastewater (SAW) grant is almost completed, which will provide an overview of the condition of this infrastructure. (“Televising” refers to using robotic cameras to see into sewer lines to ascertain which structures appear to need repair.)

This study does not provide information about the performance of this infrastructure, however. Performance information is also needed for planning in order to answer questions such as how large a sewer or water pipe should be laid (a question about needed performance) to replace an existing pipe that keeps breaking (a question about condition).

Planning is also complicated by the fact that money spent on improving roads can be wasted if sewer or water pipes below those roads will soon need to be repaired or enlarged. Of course, it would be ideal to update underground infrastructure and rebuild roads simultaneously, but funds simply aren’t available to pay for all the work in the City that needs to be done.

Setting priorities is essential, including identifying the most problematic infrastructure to replace in order to avoid having to do emergency repair, which is more costly than planned infrastructure improvement. For example, replacing the water main in Glenmoor (on the City’s west side) is planned for this year because it kept breaking last winter.

Plans have been prepared for continued improvements in Chesterfield Hills, where street work was done during the past year, but it is not clear how that future work will fit into the City’s priorities. The road paving project begun in Chesterfield Hills last year is planned to be finished.

This summer, the City will use money from the Major Street Fund for road work on Harrison Road from Saginaw Road to Lake Lansing Road.

House pointed out that the Park District project will have significant infrastructure costs, so that the City will have to direct considerable funding to this area once this project gets underway. The vacant buildings in the area should all be demolished by the end of 2016, as reported in ELi.

WGR Finance, the new owner of the privately owned properties in the Park District, has not yet given the City a site plan or Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan for this area. City Council members heard from citizens during the 2015 election that getting rid of the blight in this part of the downtown is a priority, but deciding what will replace it requires big decisions about design and the extent of public financing for the project.

Councilmembers asked at Tuesday’s special budget meeting about the most cost-effective ways to extend the life of local streets, given the high price tag of one million dollars per mile to fully reconstruct a road. House explained various options, some of which are recent innovations, including recycling asphalt, micropaving (using a thin layer of asphalt), and using a thick sealant instead of asphalt.

All these methods are designed to fill in cracks so as to forestall further deterioration of the road. The Public Works Department is watching use of alternative techniques in other Michigan communities and also will be testing them in East Lansing.

House explained that the condition of all the streets in East Lansing have been assessed as either Red, Amber, or Green. While it would be ideal for all streets to have the highest Green ranking, it is sometimes more important to use limited funds to address roads in the worst condition, thus changing streets from Red to Amber status rather than allocating funds to improve streets from Amber to Green.

City staff also provided the Council with a 48-page fee schedule for all sorts of services, showing distinctions between resident and non-resident fees, where they exist. The document also provides recommendations for fee increases.

Some examples of suggested increases in fees are for permit parking, daily passes for Aquatic Center for both East Lansing residents and non-residents, use of parks and streets for events, land development applications (including rezoning, site plan and special use permits), and administrative review of traffic impact and engineering studies.

The public hearing on the FY 2017 budget, along with a review of the Parks and Recreation budget, will be held on Tuesday, May 17, at 5:00 pm at the Hannah Community Center. The Council plans to vote on the budget and tax rate at its regular meeting on Tuesday, May 24, at 7:00 pm at City Hall.


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