The East Lansing ballot proposals had a mixed result yesterday. A proposal to cut property taxes was approved, but a measure to create an income tax in the city failed. Because of that, the property tax cut will not go into effect unless an income tax gets voter approval in the future.
Officials had hoped to net $5-million a year if both proposals had passed. That means budget cuts are on the way. Mayor Mark Meadows says "The options that were out there were set out by the Financial Health Team, and we talked about them throughout this campaign. We'll have to start planning to reduce our budget by about 10-percent."
Mayor Meadows doesn’t think the options for replacing that revenue are good. Options include going back to voters for a Headlee Amendment override, which would allow the city to raise property taxes by 2.5-mills. That would bring in about $2.5-million, but $3-million is needed to begin meeting pension obligations. Other ballot options include a roads tax or a public safety tax. East Lansing already has the fifth-highest property taxes in Michigan.
So…what to cut? According to Meadows, personnel reductions won’t get the job done. Options include closing the community center on weekdays, the swimming pool might not open, and trash might be picked up every two weeks instead of weekly. Meadows says personnel cuts alone won't get the job done, even cuts to public services, adding that the state standard for police is about 1.5-officers per thousand in population. "We're below one," he states. "We aren't going to get above that. We'll probably have to go below that more."
Fire protection will also face reductions. Meadows concludes "That fire station on campus? It's got to go. We can't afford to keep it open anymore. We'll continue to provide fire protection to campus, but it's going to take a little while to get there. Even under the plan we saw before, we were cutting seven firemen."
Planning for cuts starts with a council meeting tonight and at an upcoming retreat. Soon, it will also involve a new city council member. Aaron Stephens was elected to the council, so Susan Woods will be leaving.