Five Lansing City Council candidates responded to a questionnaire sent out by the Greater Lansing DSA. The primary will be held August 8, 2017, and the general election will be November 7.
AR: Alex Rusek [at-large] (https://www.rusekforlansing.com/)
YJ: Yanice Jackson [at-large] (https://yanicejackson.com)
MR: Michael Ruddock [at-large] (https://ruddockforcouncil.com/)
GL: Guillermo Lopez [at-large] (https://citizensforglopez.wordpress.com/)
JD: Jim DeLine [2nd Ward] (https://www.lansingsjimdeline.com/)
- What should the city council do to ensure that companies receiving tax breaks for economic development projects bring commensurate public benefits to city residents?
AR: Lansing City Council must closely scrutinize any plan that will give economic incentives to ensure that the project will in fact benefit the City and its residents. City Council must also include conditions on incentives that require developers to reach certain goals or face the termination of future incentives being provided. Projects that will likely result in smart growth for the City must be supported, but the City is not in a position to support every project imaginable. Council must wisely choose the projects it will support.
YJ: I believe there should be an incentive for developers that build in the city of Lansing especially in instances where vacant real estate is being utilized. Tax breaks are a good incentive as long as they are properly measured and do not put a strain on the city budget. New development will help attract new people to our city. In addition, it will address the issue of unemployment if local residents are employed during construction and after the venues are built and open for business.
MR: When we give tax breaks to companies that promise to bring benefits into our communities, we need stronger clawback to ensure mutual benefits between business and resident. That’s why I support passing a Community Benefit Ordinance. We need to ensure that community residents, neighborhood residents, and neighborhood associations have a seat at the table when discussing how a business is going to invest into the neighborhood; after all, we are investing in them. With this legislation we will ensure that there are strong and strict clawback contract stipulations that ensure our communities and neighborhoods are benefitting from economic development.
JD: This responsibility should rest with council’s Committee on Development and Planning. Every time a tax incentive is granted, Council staff should be directed to put a follow-up on the calendar for a future agenda. Developers must appear before the committee and be held responsible.
GL: To insure that commensurate public benefits for residents we need to have adequate oversight of the tax abatements or other tax breaks given. We need to hold the companies accountable for the promises made.
- How can the city council ensure that affected neighborhoods have a voice in economic development projects?
AR: City Council members must reach out to the neighborhoods and incorporate the voices of residents in their Council votes. As a Council Member, I will hold regular meetings across the City to learn what concerns residents have and will have an ‘open door’ policy when residents want to reach out to me about an issue.
YJ: I believe that new developments should be made public so that the community is aware of what is happening and have an opportunity to provide feedback before any construction begins. It also allows our local tradesmen aware of what new development projects are in the works.
MR: I’ll work with the current City Council, neighborhood leaders, the faith community, business leaders, and activist groups to pass a Community Benefits Ordinance. We need to empower neighborhoods and community residents to decide what they want to see happen in their own backyards. City Council and other business interests should and cannot be the only entities making decision for the citizens of Lansing. A CBO will ensure that neighborhoods are given the power to negotiate for what they need.
JD: Opportunities for input must be communicated to affected neighborhoods. They should be encouraged to participate in the process. The appropriate ward councilmember must reach out to them. Can we mandate their participation? No, we can’t. It is then up to the ward councilmember to be their voice and represent their constituents just as they were elected to do.
GL: Council has oversight of the appointments made by the mayor, so council should insure that those individuals recommended for appointment are not only qualified, but are genuinely committed to representing the best interest of the neighborhoods.
- What can the city council do to provide affordable housing, remove blight, and enhance livability across the entire city, and not only in those areas of heightened private investment? What are your thoughts on mixed-income housing?
AR: Lansing City Council must be open to supporting projects for both high-income residents and low-income residents across the City. Council should continue to promote and expand beautification projects such as Neighborhoods in Bloom that provide a direct and immediate increase in the beauty and livability of Lansing. In regards to mixed-income housing, Lansing is blessed with a diverse community that should be embraced, and part of that is developing areas of the City adjacent to each other that serve different socio-economic groups.
YJ: I believe promoting section 3 will assist with removing blight and enhancing the livability of neighborhoods across the country. For example, HUD creates thousands of jobs across the country annually. The section 3 act creates opportunities for low income residents in regards to housing and the businesses that employ them. Furthermore, PILOTS(tax deferral benefits) can serve the Lansing Community by subsidizing developments that may have been built elsewhere. Although the local taxpayers are subsidizing the development PILOTS can make it more attractive for developers to create affordable housing options for low income residents. As a result low income residents will have more employment opportunities and training in addition to more housing options.
MR: I’m extremely in favor of mixed-income housing in Lansing. We need to create accessible and affordable housing for residents across the city. In order to provide affordable housing we should move towards widening the breadth of programs we have in Lansing that enhance unused housing and offer attractive financing programs for Lansing residents. We don’t need anymore market-rate apartment complexes; and we definitely don’t need to be giving tax breaks to a saturated market.
In order to enhance livability and remove blight we need to reaffirm our commitment to neighborhoods. To me that means creating a collaboration between City Council and School
Board to ensure creative solutions to our decaying public schools and vanishing neighborhood schools, ensure stronger protections for parks, protect and preserve our historic assets, produce a tangible and public plan to address our decaying infrastructure, and increase fines and penalties for negligent renters and slumlords in our neighborhoods.
JD: City Council entertains proposals brought to it by the administration. The disconnect between council and the administration must cease. Ward councilmembers have an obligation to be an advocate for their ward. That has been missing from the second ward. Councilmembers need to get involved as projects are in the early stages and not just hear of them when they finally appear on an agenda for approval. Diversity not only strengthens the city, but also neighborhood by neighborhood. I am a proponent of mixed-income housing.
GL: The tools are there through the various council committees, specifically Development and Planning Committee, General Services Committee, and Ways and Means Committee. Through committee work the council can or may be able to redirect resources to resolve or address some of these issues.
As to mixed-income housing, I support its development.
- What should the city council do to protect the pensions and health care benefits of active and retired city employees?
AR: City Council must take immediate action to protect the future financial health of the City. Future unfunded liabilities, such as pensions, must be addressed now and not kicked down the road for another administration to cope with. City employees who gave years of service to the City deserve the pension and benefits they worked for, and City Council must find means of funding over the coming years to meet its obligations and avoid bankruptcy or emergency manager control.
YJ: My approach to dealing with the City of Lansing the protection of pensions and health care benefits would first be to learn the entire scenario and what exactly we are dealing with before trying to move forward with a plan of action. I would learn the specifics by sitting down with each department within the city to review the challenges that are being faced between the businesses and the neighborhood while balancing that with the needs of the city. It is never easy with a budget shortfall but we would want to make sure to continue to fund the needs of police and fire. We may have to look at cutting the City Council and Mayor Budget to see if we could make more cuts there before moving forward with any additional cuts that may be damaging to the city.
MR: Protecting the livelihoods of our city employees is paramount. The legacy costs that face Lansing’s budget(s) should not be taken lightly, but should not be overthought. We’re not going to bounce a check tomorrow and go bankrupt as a city and so we don’t need to do something asdrastic as sell our Board of Water and Light. We need to pay our city employees what they were promised.
JD: The commitments made to our retirees must be honored. Contributions to our pension and retiree healthcare liabilities must be increased. Active employees and their bargaining units have an obligation to negotiate in good faith in order to prevent exorbitant future liabilities.
GL: This is a major challenge and the council will need to continue to study this matter, hopefully, with the participation of the various employee representative groups so that they are involved in a resolution that is best for their members as well as city residents.
- What should the city council do to address the lack of after-school programs available to children in the city?
AR: City Council must work to develop partnerships across the City and region to make after school programs available to children in the City. By partnering with nonprofits, the business community, and regional partners, the City can offer programs that have never existed before. Further, the City should itself create after-school programs, such as internship opportunities in municipal offices.
YJ: The entire scenario should be viewed before anything is addressed. It may be a question of reallocation funding that is already in place. Furthermore, the City could explore the option of partnering with private foundations/corporations for additional funding options.
MR: There is nothing more important than ensuring that kids in Lansing are engaged in positive extracurricular activities when they’re not in school. For a long time in Lansing we had a thriving Parks and Recreation system and earmarked funds to provide programs for kids.
When we don’t invest in our kids: our parks, greenspaces, and after-school programs, we’ll be inversely investing in jails and in police departments. Moving forward we need to examine what kind of programs that kids would be most interested in whether it’s sports, arts, music, etc. Without the input of the kids and community we can’t provide the most far-reaching programs for kids.
I’d move to involve our School Board in securing funding for the programs that are decided on. With involvement from community, children, City Council, and School Board we will be able to more confidently secure federal funding to help fill in holes in the budget gap.
JD: Again, it is important for council to work with the administration to address programmatic needs. Ward councilmembers in particular should have a good sense of the needs in their neighborhoods and advocate with the Parks & Recreation Department to address those needs. This advocacy has been missing in the second ward.
GL: There are any number of afterschool programs for children in the city. What we may need are summer programs that can keep them focused on learning. Additionally, we may also need to focus on transportation needs for children to attend both afterschool and summer programs. Council could look at redirecting funds to help cover these costs. Additionally, a strong partnership with the Lansing School District would go a long way in addressing these needs. Partnerships with other entities would also contribute to addressing these needs.