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EL budget guides funding of businesses, housing assistance amid COVID-19 uncertainty

May 14, 2020
<p>East Lansing City Hall on Aug. 29, 2015. Courtney Kendler/The State News</p>

East Lansing City Hall on Aug. 29, 2015. Courtney Kendler/The State News

Photo by Courtney Kendler | The State News

The East Lansing City Council discussed its preliminary fiscal year 2021 budget, outlining sources of funding and revenue in developments at its May 12 meeting.

The budget proposes $135.8 million total, with a general fund of $40.6 million. According to the outline, this allows for a net three additional positions and 2,445 hours of contingent employee time. The largest allocation of revenue would be received by sewage disposal funds at $30.3 million. 

At the time of review for budget submissions, COVID-19 found the state in a multi-week shutdown. Council members said the fallout from the pandemic will be hard to predict and that additional amendments could be made as more information is made available.

“At this point, we have to pass some kind of budget on a timeline by charter. We can’t really ask our department heads to go back and speculate just because the situation is so far out of anybody’s experience” Council member Jessy Gregg said. "Rather than a binding document, which is what the budget usually is, this is going to be a guiding document. It’s a summary of what our department heads would do if we had the money, and we can respect that for what it is.”

Mayor Ruth Beier said City Council members will not lose sight of their priority commitments to pensions, infrastructure and public safety in the form of police and fire department resources but that it may not be possible to restore positions needed elsewhere within the span of one year.

The city of East Lansing operates as a Community Development Block Grant Entitlement Community, with funds allocated to provide resources for income-eligible residents, City Staff Liaison Amy Schlusler-Schmitt said. 

Public infrastructure projects will account for $352,440 of the CDBG 2021 budget. 

Changes in the budget include plans outlining the funding of a small business grant relief program in the amount of $121,820 with the intent that income-eligible business may apply for two rounds of funding. The first round would be made up of the CDBG CV funds, and the second would be apartment of the entitlement budget running from July 2020 to June 30, 2021, Schlusler-Schmitt said. 

Schlusler-Schmitt said the current recommendation of staff is that allocation of funds would be based upon things such as payroll, utilities and support to adjust the immediate need of businesses remaining open rather than being geared toward any reconstruction. 

Gregg said she expressed concern over the well-being of part-time employees at the most devastated sector of the current economy, hoping to distribute as much money to those continuing to work as possible.

In March, Congress approved the coronavirus relief bill, providing East Lansing the opportunity to receive an additional $289,484 in block grant funds, Schlusler-Schmitt said. These funds must be used to prevent, repair and respond to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Current recommendations to the City Council outline two project areas for funding — a housing relief program in the amount of $121,820 and a business grant support program in the amount of $167,664.

The remainder of CDBG funds would be geared toward housing projects, making up $80,000 of the proposed CDBG budget.

Schlusler-Schmitt said this would primarily support the home ownership assistance program the city has had in place for 26 years, which allows for East Lansing residents to apply to receive funding for home improvements.

Housing assistance grants may be available to residents in need of rental and mortgage assistance, at an approximate baseline of $1,000 per resident for nearly 100 households. Individuals would apply and receive the equivalence of one month’s rent, after which they have the ability to apply for additional months.

According to the budget outline, capital outlay in the budget is $357,210, including election equipment, fire rescue equipment, and a large amount of sidewalk improvements, with $100,000 funded by CDBG and $17,000 funded by the income tax. 

The outline also states that a one-time amount of $40,000 will be provided for critical repairs to the Hannah Community Center building.

For parks and recreation, $1,095,800 would be spent on capital projects. These funds come from the Ingham County Trails and Parks Millage and the Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, as well as various fundraising campaigns and council approved transfers from other funds.

These projects include the White Park trail extension and natural area enhancements—which have already come underway—Patriarche Park pavilion and restroom renovations, softball complex improvements, an aquatic center liner project and Northern Tier Trail improvements.

Council members also voted to approve a Mural Funding Agreement for the installation of a mural by artist Lauren Asta on the eastern wall of the Center City development. An expenditure of $19,800 from the Public Art Fund would be allocated for this purpose.


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