Lansing Budget Sees Rare Surplus

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Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is starting with a surplus as he makes his recommendations for the 2015 Fiscal Year Budget.

The $118.5 million plan is a 2.5 percent increase from last year -- a budget the mayor branded as "shared sacrifice." This year, the note is a more positive one.

"The budget is balanced, cautious and fiscally responsible," said Bernero ahead of his budget presentation. "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."

There are no significant cuts to the budget, Bernero said, and he's not launching any new, "costly" initiatives. Instead, Bernero is proposing new cars and equipment for the fire and police departments, a School Watch program and a new social media manager.

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.

"We're not going on some sort of spending spree," Bernero said. "But it's kind of nice that we're out of the storm and we can again look at those long range issues. And of course we know the elephant in the room is those unfunded liabilities."

Those unfunded liabilities include pensions and retiree healthcare, the costs of which Bernero said are rising faster than revenues.

That discrepancy makes it harder for the city to devote resources to essential services like police, fire and most notably, the roads.

The spending plan calls for $1.5 million from the city to patch damaged pavement. The state would contribute $500,000. Lansing's public service director says that won't get a job done.

"It's a drop in the bucket," said Public Service Director Chad Gamble. "It's not enough money for what we need to do for roads. But we're making the best of what we have."

Gamble estimates the city would need $15 million a year over a decade to repair all the roads.

"We have to get state support for our infrastructure," Bernero said. "There is no way Lansing or any city can meet the demand that is there. We have decades of disinvestment from the state that must be corrected. It will affect the quality of life. It will affect economic development here and around the state."

Lansing City Council Member Carol Wood agreed, although she had not yet seen Bernero's recommendations. Roads are her priority too.

"I think we have to look at the quality of life issues that are out there," she said, referencing code compliance, police and fire, and roads. "Those are extremely important and make a difference when people are looking at purchasing homes in our area as well as retaining people and businesses. If I have a vacant house. If I have somebody living in it I'm not only collecting property taxes, but I'm also collecting income taxes. Those allow us to do more in our community."

Bernero will formally present his budget recommendation to the City Council at 7 p.m. The budget is approved in May, in time for the beginning of the fiscal year July 1.

Stay with News 10 for coverage of tonight's presentation.

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