The City of East Lansing’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Administrator Elaine Hardy will soon become the director of the City’s “DEI division,” as City Manager George Lahanas referred to the unit being created when announcing the last-minute tweak to the City’s next annual budget. City Council unanimously approved the Fiscal Year 2022 budget on Tuesday night, and that budget will take effect July 1, 2021.
This change to create a department dedicated to DEI work — including hiring an additional full-time staffer, with benefits — comes following feedback from Council members last week. They expressed a desire to see more funding in this realm, with Council member Lisa Babcock suggesting a department could be created.
According to the memo attached to the agenda item, there will be a $94,950 increase to the total General Fund budget compared to the first-draft budget. Part of the increase is $14,000 from the new marijuana tax, allocated to the 54B district court for drug counseling and treatment services.
As to the DEI department, the budget memo indicates that “additional resources will be budgeted for enhancements,” but doesn’t provide a specific dollar amount. The memo does say that the total budget allocation for the DEI division in FY2022 is $308,595.
“This hopefully satisfies what Council is looking for in that area,” Lahanas said.
The meeting this week took place on the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd.
This was noted by Council member Ron Bacon, Mayor Aaron Stephens, and City Manager George Lahanas. Bacon said the death of Floyd was what motivated him to become more civically engaged and apply to be appointed to Council. He added that it is important to “live out the parts of our creed that we weren’t living out.”
Stephens spoke to the “truly transformative” past year in the City and said he was especially proud of the work of the Study Committee on an Independent Police Oversight Commission, which will soon present its recommendations to City Council.
Last week, Council members talked in depth about the budget for ELPD, and spoke of their frustrations with the system of policing in East Lansing, alluding particularly to concerns about racial discrimination. But when it came time this week to pass the City’s next budget, no changes were made to the budget for the police department, and no discussion of that budget occurred.
Council also approved the closure of both lanes of a portion of Albert Ave. between M.A.C. Ave. and Abbot Rd. in June for a “pilot project to create a pedestrian centric area” downtown.
This idea originally came up in April as the “Pedlet Pilot Project,” which was popular amongst the membership of the Downtown Development Authority and Lahanas, but not as appreciated by many business owners. Some downtown business owners took issue with the original program’s plan to benefit directly only the three Center City District restaurant businesses: Jolly Pumpkin, Barrio Tacos, and Foster Coffee.
That concern is something Adam Cummins, Community and Economic Development Administrator for the City, acknowledged in the agenda item memo about the lane closure plan.
“Since the pilot project would allow the 3 businesses on the south side of Albert Ave. to expand their outdoor footprint on the south sidewalk of Albert Ave., stakeholders indicated that this pilot would only benefit those specific businesses,” Cummins wrote.
But, Cummins continued, other “stakeholders” were supportive of a project to draw pedestrian traffic downtown. He linked to an online petition in support of the project organized by the owner of Foster’s Coffee.
Cummins explained an alternative proposal, requiring no lane closures, but said it was similarly costly without many of the benefits of the original project.
The recommendation Council unanimously approved will close two lanes of Albert Ave. between M.A.C. Ave. and Abbot Rd. in June, with the potential to extend the project beyond that.
The FY2022 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) budget also got approved on Tuesday.
In response to concerns raised last week, Council was presented with two options for how to use this federal grant money.
In the end, Council approved the first option presented for the FY2022 CDBG budget. That means Haven House will obtain $28,510, Tri-County Office for Aging Meals on Wheels $10,000, EVE $12,670, Parks & Rec Youth Grant Scholarships $4,000, MSU HEP/CAMP $10,000, and Legal Services of South Central Michigan $10,000.
When discussing the alternative, Council members figured the potentially deep cut into the allocation for Haven House for potentially marginal increases elsewhere wasn’t worth it.
Council approved a resolution announcing the City’s intent to issue up to $36 million in revenue bonds to pay for waste water treatment plant improvements.
According to the agenda item memo, these bonds are to pay for the fourth set of improvements to the wastewater treatment facility that serves East Lansing, Meridian Township, and MSU. The project will replace dysfunctional and non-functional equipment that has been around since the 1960s and 70s, Director of Public Works Scott House told Council.
The changes are expected to result in a savings of $400,000 per year in electrical charges and to lead to improved environmental outcomes. These upgrades will, according to a timeline included in House’s presentation, begin this fall and be completed in the spring of 2023.
The bidding process for the work will start in a few weeks, in early June.
And in other business…
Council honored outgoing 54B District Court Chief Justice Andrea Larkins. You can watch that appreciation here.
They also approved the appointment of Michael Olabisi, Bryan Norrix, and Tom Schimpf to the new Income Tax Board of Review, passed several resolutions and expenditures, and moved several redevelopment items along in the review process, approving the entire consent agenda; see the consent agenda here.
Council also approved the special assessment that supports the Downtown Management Board, keeping the rate the same. They did not take action on the request from the owners of the original Biggby Coffee property at 270 W. Grand River Ave. to approve what would amount to a parking lot expansion, because the applicant requested that they defer consideration of that request.
There was also discussion of the possibility that the state could outlaw East Lansing’s rental-restriction overlay districts. Learn more about that in our special report.