As Election Day (Nov. 2) draws near and absentee voting is now underway, ELi is bringing you another look at East Lansing City Council candidates’ views, this time about City finances.
ELi has been asking the seven candidates to answer questions that have arisen from the survey in which we asked our readers to name the election issues that matter to them. We are developing questions that reflect relatively frequently named issues by survey respondents.
The twin questions we posed this time are:
What specific steps do you think the City Council needs to take in terms of financial management of the City of East Lansing? What are your priorities in terms of the City’s financial management?
A relatively high number of respondents to ELi’s survey said the City’s financial future and budget and financial transparency are important election issues for them.
Several readers said they are concerned about how the City is handling the pension debts and generally called for more transparency in how financial decisions are made. Others expressed concern over the high taxes that they face living in East Lansing, including the income tax, the BWL franchise fee, and property taxes.
Some wanted to see more funding routed toward policing and public safety. Others wanted money redirected away from policing toward other initiatives. (You can find out more about ELPD’s budget here.)
There were also various opinions about how City Council should handle Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and regulate or deregulate businesses both small and large.
ELi sent the questions noted above to the candidates during the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 1, and asked for a response of no more than 200 words by Monday, Oct. 4, at noon. All were under the word-count limit, and two submitted slightly after the deadline as noted below.
The answers from the candidates are shown below. ELi has not edited the responses in any way other than to add quotation marks. We are splitting them into the 4-year and 2-year races, and, within those groupings, we are presenting them in the order received.
As a reminder, voters can choose up to two candidates for the 4-year race (two seats are open), and one candidate for the 2-year race.
Ron Bacon (candidate for the two-year seat)
“Like most municipalities, I would consider our critical areas of financial responsibility encompass reducing unfunded legacy costs and funding necessary and proactive improvements to critical infrastructure. We must continue to reduced those unfunded liabilities and keep a close eye on how the assumptions like early retirements and life expectancy impact the rate of reduction. The income tax thus far has effectively began reducing our long term liabilities, but it will require continued scrutiny as assumptions change annually. Secondly, solving our major infrastructure needs systematically and preventatively is paramount as broken infrastructure is impossible to budget for effectively. Allocation of federal, state and local dollars intelligently and intentionally is the key to avoiding wastes and redundancies. Overall, I am pro-growth, I feel the primary way forward involves smart development, supporting small business and finding areas of regional cooperation to reduce costs as we grow.”
Mikey Manuel (candidate for the two-year seat)
“The key words are balance and citizen involvement. We’ve had the same successful small business (Blondies Barn) for 15 years; I know how important it is to stay balanced and fiscally responsible. I know how important it is to get to know and communicate with your costumers (citizens). And I can let the people of East Lansing in on something I’m sure most of them already know, in order to have a successful business you need to be creative. I look forward to discovering creative ways to fund city initiatives and projects. I plan on discovering new ways to save money and invest/reinvest in the projects our residents actually care about, rather it be through forming an ideas committee, reviewing data and the successes from other cities, or working directly with the people of East Lansing.
“Prioritizing issues before taking office seems counterproductive. Financial priorities, in particular, can change in a moment’s notice and the cities financial decisions need be handled responsibly, not politically.”
George Brookover (candidate for a four-year seat)
“Prudent annual budget management.careful planned use of any ‘windfall’ Covid monies received from the federal government.Retirement of pension debt as expeditiously as possible.Continuing attention to insuring that citizens/taxpayers get the maximum return in city services and responsiveness for their tax dollars.Curb unnecessary and expensive litigation.Minimize City financial support of new development.”
Adam DeLay (candidate for a four-year seat)
“I think there are some common-sense steps council can take to address city finances. I want to focus on reducing waste and increasing our revenue stream. Examples of what I would do include:
“I would reduce the number of surveys and studies that the city does. We are spending tens of thousands of dollars on feasibility studies when we should be able to do that ourselves, and are conducting surveys that use questionable methodologies.
“Long term I would seek to hold stagnant or even lower the pay of our top administrators as contract renewals come up. The fact that the city manager makes more than the mayor of Lansing and the library director makes almost as much as the CADL director does not make sense to me.
“I would sell assets such as military grade police equipment, unneeded vehicles, etc. This would be money in our pocket and also cut down on the cost to maintain these assets.
“To increase revenue, I would like to reduce our use of tax incentives on developments, and also reduce our use of TIF financing, as that severely limits how we can spend the dollars generated from these developments.”
Daniel Bollman (candidate for a four-year seat)
“As a member of Council, I will continue regular budget review, with the assistance of Department and Division leaders. I have repeatedly reinforced that city staff are our local experts. They will be best suited to identify areas where budget adjustments would be most effective and would have the least detrimental impact.
“We should also update, review and, when appropriate, implement the 2017 recommendations of the city’s Financial Health Review Team (FHRT). The seven areas identified by the FHRT remain relevant and are suitable for further consideration.
“Furthermore, we need to reduce development regulations while maintaining reasonable public review and input in the process. This is one of the facets of the draft form-based code that I find most compelling. If a property owner is interested in undertaking a development project, they are much more likely to assume the significant upfront costs if they have a clear idea of the requirements expected to achieve a successful outcome.
“Finally, Council must maintain and improve ongoing outreach to the public. Communication was a strong component of the FHRT recommendations and is an undertaking that requires constant attention. Many of the voters I met with during this summer’s canvassing simply needed clearer information.”
Dana Watson (candidate for a four-year seat; response received 19 minutes after the requested deadline)
“Flood support. Identifying and categorizing the reasons. Some people might benefit from easier changes and the city and county will have to identify their roles for help, as well.
“Pensions. Council can continue to understand our percentage ratios for the pensions. Since city income tax collection, the ratio percentage is better, these are positive steps.
“Owners pay larger percentages for property taxes here. I’ll be supporting the amounts as is or suggesting reductions while keeping revenues higher in other areas.
“Next, I want to support more music and arts, in the city, in financially responsible ways.
“Public safety represents a larger budget percentage. It is important to be supportive of the amount, ask for the budget and/or make different recommendations. Amounts can move within public safety or out of to serve our community differently.
“Cannabis tax revenue will grow. I see offering opportunities for negatively impacted groups when cannabis was not legal. Also, wealth can be redirected for individuals who could not live here when discriminatory practices kept BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities away.
“Support for social services with CDBG funds. A small percentage of money is carved out for this therefore, maintaining or increasing this is a priority.”
Chuck Grigsby (candidate for a four-year seat; response received 16 minutes after the requested deadline)
“A couple of steps the Council can take in terms of financial management is to first, reevaluate our approach to the pension debt crisis that we are obligated to fulfill both morally and Constitutionally. East Lansing City Council and the City Manager have the ability to get a lot of things right in relation to our current financial management policies, but I would be interested to see additional data. I think that it would be helpful to analyze data from other comparable cities to East Lansing in an effort to increase the percentage of success to both our short and long-term plans regarding our financial management policies and decisions. Another step City Council can make is to take a closer look at our monthly spending that falls within the Consent portion of the City Council meeting agenda. There seems to be a history of spending in this area that can add up very quickly from the General Fund, that in my opinion, could benefit from more scrutiny and transparency. Some of my main financial management priorities are infrastructure, energy, and debt.”
Find lots more information about this election and the candidates via ELi’s nonpartisan Voter Guide.