Thursday, November 26, 2020

Three takeaways from Feb. 27 City Council meeting

February 28, 2018
The East Lansing City Council on Nov. 21, 2017 at the 54B District Court.
The East Lansing City Council on Nov. 21, 2017 at the 54B District Court. —

The 54B District Court was nearly filled to capacity on Tuesday, as seven public hearings were held during a busy city council session. Here are three takeaways from the meeting:

The income tax that won't die

A public hearing was held on a proposed income tax intended to last for 15 years. A 1 percent tax would be imposed on residents, while a one-half percent tax would be imposed on non-residents.

The first $5 million of annual revenue from the tax would be dedicated to unfunded pensions that continue to pose a severe threat to city's general fund. Council would not be able to easily remove the tax if it were passed, as it is being proposed as an amendment to the city charter, city attorney Thomas Yeadon said.

An income tax that would have reserved $3 million for the unfunded pensions was placed on the ballot in November 2017, but failed with 53 percent of voters against the tax.

Whether the tax — or any other revenue option — passes, the city has a "moral obligation" to fund the pensions and will make the payments no matter what, Mayor Pro Tem Erik Altmann said.

"These are constitutional obligations, these are moral obligations, people are planning their lives around these benefits so we're not going to go back on that," Altmann said. "We're planning the best way to pay off those payments with potential new avenues for revenue, but the fact is, if we don't get these new avenues for revenue, we will be making those pension payments."

City condemns racial discrimination

Council approved a resolution to acknowledge, apologize for and condemn racial discrimination in East Lansing.

The move was inspired by East Lansing High School freshman Alex Hosey, 15, who penned an essay titled "Why I Sit" detailing his reasons for refusing to stand for the national anthem. Hosey closed his essay by asking Mayor Mark Meadows to issue a public apology to people of color for the city’s role in housing discrimination.

Hosey is the grandson of Samuel Hosey, the first black pharmacist in Ingham County.

"Always use your voice for what you believe in," councilmember Aaron Stephens said to Hosey. "You're an inspiration to a lot of young people, not just in this city, but in a lot of places."

Other possible revenues

A public hearing was also held on a proposed Headlee Override, which was a revenue option presented to residents at a series of community budget discussions earlier in the year.

The measure would override the Headlee Amendment to the state constitution, which rolls back the tax rate as property values increase. While Headlee protects taxpayers from rising taxes, it has in turn limited tax revenues available to local governments.

Voters would have to approve the override, which would free up 2.4321 mills — about $2.4 million — that were lost the Headlee amendment. About $1.4 million would go toward parks and recreation, while $985,000 would be dedicated to infrastructure investment.

Other proposed revenue options that received a public hearing included the allocation of three additional mills for funding public safety pensions, as well as the issuance of bonds for financing repairs for streets and parks.

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