The budget cuts mentioned in City documents rely excessively on cuts to public safety and merely tinker around the edges of other city services and staff reductions at City Hall. Kriss Ostrom and I propose the following cuts to the East Lansing budget. We have both been East Lansing residents for more than thirty years. Daphne served on the East Lansing School Board and on the School Board Finance Committee during several years of intense budget cutting. Kriss was the Head of Circulation in the MSU Libraries for more than thirty years and accomplished many staff and program reductions while maintaining services.
East Lansing must remain a place people want to live. The reduction in the write-off for state and local taxes in the recent federal tax law may well increase East Lansing’s competitive disadvantage in taxes vis-a-vis surrounding areas. In addition, quality schools play a vital role in city desirability. The City budget should not undermine the schools’ ability to raise money, in particular through the up-coming ELPS sinking fund renewal. Thus, any increase in taxes should be a last resort taken only after a long and careful look at the granular details of the proposed budget. Perhaps we have looked in the wrong places, but we have been unable to find a budget with this granular level of detail.
To be desirable, a city must be, and be perceived to be, safe. In addition, East Lansing residents believe strongly in the library and some recreational opportunities for residents of all ages.
CUTS NOT INCLUDED IN CITY PROPOSALS
We think most saving can be found in these cuts. They are in rough priority order.
1) Cut funding related to the City Council by 2/3, and eliminate Councilmember salaries and any benefits. These cuts would demonstrate to the community that Council is very serious about implementing hard choices to achieve budget savings.
2) Bid out janitorial, mowing, legal assistance, maintenance, and other similar functions in an open, competitive bidding process.
3) Reduce utilities and heating/cooling in City buildings – revert to 68 degrees in winter, 76 in summer.
4) Per Eliot Singer’s recommendation, reduce DDA to a pro forma group holding loans, etc.
5) In general, except for public parks, ensure that staff for Parks, Recreation, and Arts are paid for exclusively by program fees. Child care-related programs and staff should be fully paid for by fees from that program; the same applies to staff involved in event planning, etc. Move Parks, Recreation, and Arts staff to Hannah Community Center and consolidate responsibilities. Study overtime costs and change staff hours or offering hours.
6) Reduce hours at Hannah Community Center, reduce staff by consolidating responsibilities to enable fewer staffed points and fewer people at the staffed points. Charge programs like Prime Time, the transition classroom, and others to cover costs of staffing associated with those programs, for example, cleaning, etc.
6) Combine Treasury with Assessing and Finance; consolidate responsibilities to reduce the need to staff each office during open hours.
7) Reduce City Manager assistant to shared position.
8) Implement at least a 10% reduction in the supply budget per department, for example, eliminate color printing, decrease margin size to reduce number of pages, use email and PDFs to reduce paper usage, etc.
9) Reduce Engineering staffing and bid out some functions
10) Combine Assessment with Inspection and Permitting
11) Reduce planning staff and bid out some reports or functions – have only one office open to the public — Permits or Planning.
12) As implied above, combine City public service offices to reduce number of public service points that must be staffed during all open hours. If a question can’t be handled, set up an appointment for the questioner to meet with appropriate city personnel. Most questions don’t require an immediate answer. Post regularly-updated FAQ posters by the remaining staffing points and also make them easily-findable on the City website.
13) Move all service for yard waste bags and similar items to the satellite locations where they are now provided. Provide FAQ sheets to staff in these locations so they can answer more questions. Because the library is open better hours for residents and has more parking, the library should become the resource for obtaining routine information and bags and stickers. However, this increased responsibility should not be an obstacle to reducing library staff.
14) Reduce overtime costs by changing working hours/job descriptions of some staff. (Cost of overtime was not clear in total or by department in the City budget documents.)
15) Track costs associated with City Commissions and consider ways to reduce, particularly for advisory commissions and groups that are not reacting to outside proposals and so do not require attendance by developers and others.
16) At the East Lansing Public Library, consolidate staff responsibilities and reduce the number of administrative and specialized librarian/staff positions. Hire all pages as work-study, not just two of them.
17) When any City position becomes vacant through attrition, do not fill without analyzing how responsibilities could be absorbed into other existing position or positions. Give priority to eliminating positions over refilling.
18) Eliminate all advances, buy-ins, and other ways for City staff to accelerate retirement or accelerate payment of retirement benefits for all retirement and/or pension accounts.
ALREADY PROPOSED CUTS IN ORDER OF PRIORITY
Many of these cuts are not likely to be made, but we include them anyway. We have modified some of the proposed cuts. We do not think any cuts should be made to public safety.
1) Eliminate Public Art funding
2) Eliminate Community Agency Funding (listed on pages 43-45 of “City of East Lansing
FY 2018 Budget & Program of Services”)
3) Reduce Aquatic Center hours and increase fees to make self-sustaining. Close Center if not self-sustaining.
4) Reduce sidewalk snowplowing to only city owned sidewalks.
5) Reduce leaf pick up to one final week a year. (It is already usually extended.)
6) Reduce subsidy to EL Art Festival and increase participation fees. Consider soliciting contributions from attendees (like the Folk Festival).
7) Reduce PACE staffing by 50%; most of the problems are not time-sensitive and, sadly, don’t go away.
8) Mail only one City document per year. Otherwise, direct people to the website. Reduce printing and production cost of this single document.
9) Do a rough user count and eliminate all but one or two community events. Charge for others. Remove paid City non-police presence at events, for example, at Farmers Market.
10) Reduce Police cadet presence at City Hall to times that public is likely to interact in a non-emergency way with police, determined through data collection. Or cut entirely and use dispatch as MSU libraries do. Also, eliminate the police cadet at the library; it is not the city’s responsibility to “police” teen behavior.
11) Assess Helping Hands Contribution on the basis of its use by EL residents.
12) Reduce Park Stewardship costs and make into a volunteer organization via Neighborhood groups. Reduce the position associated with this. Reduce costs and increase aesthetics by creating a volunteer organization via local gardening clubs.
13) Charge all users of the City Softball and Soccer Complexes full cost of City staffing and maintenance.
14) Improve cityofeastlansing.com website, especially by keeping pages updated and increasing the utility of the SEARCH function. For example, if searching provided most recent results first AND provided department links, citizen phone and in-person inquires to the City would be reduced significantly.
Some of the above are actually ways to increase revenue. In general, users of specialized programs should pay some or all of the costs of those programs and services.
Consider offsetting the loss of contributions from the City to many worthwhile organizations and events by implementing a contribution option on tax documents that would remind and allow residents to contribute and, perhaps, also qualify for a tax deduction partially offsetting what will be a rise in federal tax for many residents.
Do not approve any new developments that require City funding or that are paid for in part by reduction in taxes paid to the city (whether the reduction benefits the developer or another entity).