Financial Health Team to Play Renewed Role in Future Budget Decisions

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It's a $118 million budget that for the first time in nine years won't include major cuts to services or the city's workforce.

Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero, who presented his 2015 fiscal year budget proposal to city council during Monday night's meeting, is calling it balanced but cautious.

"For the first time in nine years, we start off this year without a deficit," he said.

After years of deep cuts that reduced the city's workforce by more than a third, the city is now seeing a slight uptick in revenues thanks to an increase in property and income tax revenue for the first time in years.

Bernero is proposing adding three new positions including a social media manager, a new position in the city attorney's office, and a new full-time position in the city's Human Services and Community Relations Department.

"I would say that after nine very long, very tough years, we've arrived at a place where we can now say we've achieved short term fiscal stability," he said.

Helping to lead the charge will be the newly revived Financial Health Team that'll work to delve into bigger issues given the shaft after the first go-around of recommendations more than a year ago.

The focus will be on long-term challenges, looking at making what the mayor says will be "50-plus-year decisions."

"We're putting question marks on all those things that in the past were sort of 'we don't have time or we're not going to get to that,'" Bernero said while meeting with reporters after his presentation.

The team will also be tasked with evaluating properties and buildings the city could potentially dump for some extra cash, and that includes city hall.

Council member Kathie Dunbar says she's feeling confident about what the team will be able to accomplish.

"Many of the members of the Financial Health Team are actually meeting with the members of the council on a regular basis," she said.

"Before the budget was even announced they were getting us ready for some long-term projections, to get folks on board with strategic planning and look at the bigger picture."

The bigger picture also includes long-term liabilities, like pensions and retiree healthcare costs which makes up more than 20 percent of Lansing's general fund.

The city is pre-funding retiree healthcare to the tune of roughly $2.2 million for fiscal year 2015, nowhere near the $16 million needed annually to properly fund it, according to Bernero.

Another priority is the state's rainy day fund, which sits at $5 million this year, according to the mayor's office, $7-10 million lower than it should be.

The spending plan also calls for $1.5 million from the city to patch damaged pavement. The state would contribute $500,000.

That however is a drop in the bucket. The city estimates it would need $15 million a year over a decade to repair all the roads.

The budget will be approved in May, in time for the beginning of the fiscal year July 1.

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