Thursday, August 13, 2020

Hannah Center to remain open another year as city works to balance budget

May 21, 2018
<p>The audience reviews copies of the anticipated budget cuts during the City of East Lansing budget meeting Feb. 20, 2018 at 54B District Court. (C.J. Weiss | The State News)</p>

The audience reviews copies of the anticipated budget cuts during the City of East Lansing budget meeting Feb. 20, 2018 at 54B District Court. (C.J. Weiss | The State News)

East Lansing's well-documented budget crisis is posing a major threat to the city's Parks, Recreation & Arts services, but the Hannah Community Center will live on - at least for one more fiscal year, according to City Manager George Lahanas.

The closure of the Hannah Center, home to a public art gallery, youth athletics, the Prime Time seniors' program and much more, has been heavily discussed since the city sought feedback on that cut and others like it at public budget discussion sessions earlier this year.

While closing the Hannah Center is not in the 2019 budget up for approval tomorrow, the clock appears to be ticking on the center's existence. 

In fact, its survival may be threatened in the next fiscal year. The recommended date of closure for the center is July 2019, the first month of the 2020 fiscal year.

Lahanas stressed that no action had been taken on the Hannah Center yet, as the 2020 budget has barely been discussed and would not be enacted until next spring.

Shuttering the Hannah Center would save the city a little over $1 million, although maintaining the shuttered building would cost about $157,450 annually, according to parks department director Tim McCaffrey.

The building's closure would also require laying off nine full-time and 62 part-time staff members.

The proposed closure, while drastic, would be far from the last cut the parks department is facing as the city looks to make up for years of declining revenue and rising pension costs.

The closure of East Lansing's soccer and softball complexes, the elimination of community events like the Summer Concert Series and reductions in park maintenance were among future cuts proposed during the public budget discussions.

Lahanas said these measures are not off the table, but won't be enacted for the upcoming fiscal year.

"At this point, [additional cuts] are not under consideration," Lahanas said. "But that doesn't mean that something can't be put on the list if financial circumstances change." 

No parks department building closures have yet been approved and if any were to occur, they would come at the end of fiscal year 2019. More detailed information on the budget's impact on city services will be available after council votes on the 2019 budget tomorrow, Lahanas said.

Yet the budget situation isn't being tackled solely through cuts. At last Tuesday's budget work session, fee increases for a few of the city's parks and recreation services were unveiled, with some fees twice as high as they were for fiscal year 2018.

All fees for youth and adult tournaments at the East Lansing Softball Complex would double last year's rates under the proposed budget.

Residents would see a $65 increase in annual vendor fees for the East Lansing Farmer's Market, while non-residents would see a $165 increase.

At the East Lansing Soccer Complex, non-residents playing in youth and adult league games would see increases of up to $16 per game. Fees would remain the same for East Lansing residents.

These proposals come alongside last Monday's council vote to place a new income tax proposal on the Aug. 7 ballot. 20 percent of the income tax revenue is reserved to pay for parks and recreation as well as improvements to street and sidewalks and water and sewer systems.

The income tax, if approved by the voters, would bring in about $400,000 for the parks department, according to Lahanas.

Although his department will likely soon feel the impact from the city's money troubles, McCaffrey didn't want to paint the situation as pitting city departments against each other.

He named police and fire departments as already having to make substantial cuts for the good of the entire city, so the parks department is similarly willing to sacrifice.

"We pride ourselves as looking as a part of the overall city," McCaffrey said. "What we have to do is work closely with all of our departments ... on what's in the best interests of all the city organization." 

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