The income tax proposal failed in the Nov. 7, 2017 election and now the City of East Lansing has to find at least $3 million in revenue.
“We have an informed electorate and they told us to cut so now we’re going to cut,” Councilmember Erik Altmann said.
The proposed tax was supposed to generate around $5 million in revenue annually. Of that, unpaid city pensions were going to receive $3 million, while infrastructure and city operations would have received $1 million each.
Only 25 percent of registered voters showed up to the polls, and of those people, 53 percent voted “no” on the income tax.
Turnout off-campus was higher than City Clerk Marie Wicks expected, while on-campus turnout was surprisingly low.
Since the income tax failed, the proposal to reduce property taxes will not be implemented because it would only work while there was an income tax. However, 63 percent of voters said “yes” to the property tax proposal.
“There might have been a little confusion about that, I don’t know for sure,” Mayor Mark Meadows said.
There could be a property tax increase on the ballot in May to help cut the deficit, but East Lansing already has the fifth highest property tax in the state, Meadows said.
“That would seem like people committing suicide,” Meadows said. “I don’t think they really want us to go in that direction either.”
Services provided by East Lansing will be cut, there is no other option, re-elected Councilmember Ruth Beier said.
“I think people voted in an informed way and told us they want us to cut services rather than raise taxes, so that’s what we’re going to have to do,” Beier said.
Moving forward without the income tax means changes will come to the city, and those changes need to be discussed by the City Council, newly elected Councilmember Aaron Stephens said.
“That’s a conversation we’ve got to have as a full council,” Stephens said. “We’ll be looking into different options in the future.”
Partnerships with regional companies, along with MSU would be a good option moving forward, Stephens said.
City services facing cuts
At this point, no services are off the table to be cut, Altmann said.
“I expect the fire station on campus is going to close,” Altmann said. “I expect the Aquatic Center is going to close. I expect the Hannah Community Center is going to have limited, if any hours. I expect to sell off a bunch of assets like the aquatic center, the soccer complex. I think we need to start selling off anything we can’t afford to keep working.”
As winter approaches, Meadows said snow will still be cleared from streets because it is a responsibility the city has to keep residents safe.
But, the chances are good it will take longer to clear streets because the staff will probably be smaller, he said.
“It takes people to actually provide services. We’ve cut 130 employees off the payroll over the last decade already,” Meadows said. “We’re going to have to keep looking at that. That’s not the best way of proceeding, but it may be the only way for us to proceed. We don’t have a lot of options left.”
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Following that path forward means six police officers and seven firefighter positions could also be cut, per the Financial Health Review Team’s recommendations.
Parking rates will increase, especially special event parking, Altmann said.
“We need to get parking to pay for itself and the parking system’s close to being there but it’s not there yet,” Altmann said.
The path forward is neither good nor bad, Altmann said, because this is what the majority of voters wanted.
“I don’t agree with that, but I don’t really represent myself," Beier said. "I represent all those people who voted 'no', so that’s what we’re going to have to do.”
But a reduction in services is not good for the community, Meadows said.
“There were a few flyers that said ‘don’t let them scare you,’ but we were just telling the truth,” Meadows said. “They should be scared. It’s going to require a reduction of services in the community.”
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