Thousands of Ingham County voters will decide the fate of seven local ballot proposals at next month’s presidential primary election — including whether more taxpayer funds are needed to help support school districts, public transportation options, local road repairs, parks and trails maintenance and more.
Everything (as always) could use some extra cash, officials said. But how do voters decide what deserves their vote? The following primary election guide (in two parts, this week and next) is designed to inform readers on those issues, but as always, City Pulse encourages local voters to do their own research and view proposals in their entirety before the election.
Polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on March 10. No-reason absentee ballots have already been made available.
CATA Millage Renewal
The Capital Area Transportation Authority is asking voters throughout Lansing, East Lansing, Meridian, Delhi and Lansing townships to renew the same millage they approved in 2014. If the renewal passes, the 3.007 mill levy would again be extended — this time through 2025 — and will generate about $19 million in 2021.
Officials said the millage funding essentially serves as the backbone for public transportation throughout Greater Lansing, supporting the fuel, parts, electricity, wages and just about anything else required to keep rider fares affordable and to ensure buses stay rolling smoothly and efficiently down hundreds of local streets.
A failed millage would almost certainly equate to a reduction in local routes, but it’s a bridge that CATA won’t likely have to cross anytime soon. Voters — especially those who reside in the denser and more urbanized areas of Greater Lansing — have a lengthy history of support for proposals to help bolster public transportation.
Ingham County Trails and Parks Millage Renewal
The Ingham County Board of Commissioners wants to renew a millage to help fund the creation and maintenance of a countywide system of recreational trails and adjacent parks — including along Lansing’s River Trail — and find new ways to connect and extend existing trailways throughout Greater Lansing and beyond.
If approved and levied in its entirety, the 0.5-mill renewal would be extended for another six years and raise an estimated $3.84 million within the first year. And officials said its passage is vital for recreational opportunities.
“We have a lot of trails that are slated to be finished this year,” Ingham County Parks Commissioner Matthew Bennett said previously to City Pulse. “It’s going to be a lot more apparent that the trails are getting done.”
The funding helped repave long swaths of the aging Lansing River Trail last fall, including a new $1.8 million bridge over a flood-prone section of the Red Cedar River and the oldest parts of the trail both downtown and in the forested area between the Potter Park Zoo and Kalamazoo Street. Additionally, eroded river banks have been shored up with a seawall near Moores River Park. Four bridges on East Lansing’s Northern Tier Trail have also been replaced. The trail itself has since been repaved too. Outside of Lansing, trails improvements surrounding the city of Mason have also been supported through the millage funding since the measure first passed in 2014.
Last February, the Board of Commissioners passed a resolution to fast-track remaining trail projects and to double the amount of money given to local municipalities up front to pay for them. “It was time to give residents something to show for their money,” Morgan said previously. “I couldn’t support putting it back on the ballot again if we’re not using the funding that people so graciously provided.”
Ingham ISD Special Education Millage Restoration
Officials at the Ingham Intermediate School District are requesting additional taxpayer funding to help bolster its special education programming for local students, and as a result, free up some more cash to spread across local public schools across Ingham County, according to Ingham ISD Superintendent Jason Mellema.
“We truly believe in the success and achievement of all of our learners,” Mellema added. “This funding restoration would allow us to continue to be future-focused and ensure that all learners have these opportunities through additional equipment, support, resources and supplies that teachers in every local district can use.”
Michigan’s Headlee Amendment — passed in 1978 — caps property taxes at the rate of inflation. When the taxable values of those properties rise faster than inflation, the actual tax levy is rolled back. As a result, schools, like those served through Ingham’s ISD, are forced to collect less revenue than initially approved by local voters.
Mellema said this millage request, if approved, would restore the 0.2438 mills for special education to the original amount of 4.75 for a period of 20 years. And the total millage would capture about $2.3 million in its first year to put toward equipment and upgraded facilities for more than 6,000 special education students in the county.
“This funding restoration will also allow us to invest in some capital projects to ensure all of our students are adequately supported,” Mellema said. “These dollars make a difference.”
Every registered voter who lives in the school districts of Dansville, East Lansing, Haslett, Holt, Lansing, Leslie, Mason, Okemos, Stockbridge, Waverly, Webberville and Williamston, whether a property owner or not, is eligible to vote on the issue. If it passes, Mellema estimates each household would pay an extra $1.27 per month.
Williamstown Township Road Improvements Bond Proposal
Williamstown Township is looking to borrow $7.5 million and issue a series of general obligation bonds designed to improve, replace and reconstruct public roadways within its boundaries. If approved, the estimated millage to be levied in 2020 would be 2.97 mills and it would help clear potholes from miles of local pavement.
“Unfortunately, it appears state funding is not going to have an impact on our local roads,” said Township Supervisor Wanda Bloomquist. “It became obvious that we cannot keep up on needed improvements. This is an investment into a major asset of our community and residents need to decide if it’s worth the investment.”
Bloomquist noted that Williamstown Township voters turned down a 1.5 mill levy to invest in local roads back in 2014 but, in the meantime, the township has gone from 1.5 miles of failed roads to 8.5 miles. The declining condition of streets within the township will only become worse without an immediate cash infusion, she said.
“This is a difficult issue for neighbors to agree on and does have an impact on property values,” Bloomquist said.
Data shows out of the 47.3 miles of local township roads, only about 14% would be classified by the state as “good” or “fair.” Many roads — including those within local subdivisions — haven’t seen any maintenance at all in almost 20 years. Officials warned that costs will only increase as streets continue to deteriorate without fixes.
If the measure passes, Bloomquist said the township will work with consultants to choose which roads would be bid out for improvement during any given year. County officials would also help review the recommendations.
City of East Lansing Property Sale
Under charter, the East Lansing City Council needs explicit permission from local voters to sell off city-owned property. This proposal allows the city to offload a 13,250-square-foot parking lot at the northwest corner of Albert Avenue and Abbot Road, possibly to Michigan State University Federal Credit Union for $810,000.
“This is an opportunity for both us and for East Lansing to have another business downtown,” said April Klobes, MSUFCU’s president and CEO. “This would allow us to extend our credit union operations and would also bring some additional tax revenue — as well as many new market-rate jobs — back into the community.”
Plans call for MSFCU to dig up Parking Lot #4 and construct in its place a 5-8 story commercial office building up to 112 feet tall that includes a credit union office branch, an intern center, additional office space and a community room that could eventually be used to host MSUFCU, MSU and other non-profit events.
“We plan to have a call center there and host some other operations too,” Klobes added. “We invest in the community. We support local events and programs. In addition to that, we take great care of our facilities.”