For this week’s blog, I will hit on a few issues that have been big in the past and came up this week.
If you have been in Ingham County for a few years, you know that we have a dedicated millage (passed a few years ago) for the purchase of development rights (PDR) for farmland and open space. Recently, the Agriculture and Open Space Preservation Board created new rules and selection criteria. Unfortunately, when they did that, they made it almost completely specific to farmland. At the time, I complained to the Board members and our consultant that they ignored the fact that the PDR program is good for urban areas because it ensures that development and redevelopment happens in places with infrastructure instead of in sprawling areas and greenfields. So, this week we rectified that. The Farmland and Open Space Board brought us new language on this which added in criteria including urban areas, and we passed it. I was very happy to see this done. We also passed an updated policy with selection criteria. After a healthy discussion to ensure that there are propert safeguards against fraud, we passed that as well.
On the Parks front, we passed a resolution that deals with improvements for the Lake Lansing band shell. We are taking money from the Friends of Lake Lansing group and combining it with a few remaining dollars in the Parks Department equipment fund in order to fix the light fixtures. If you haven’t been there, the Lake Lansing Band Shell is awesome. It draws excellent performers, and lots of residents who sit on the lawn and watch. It also attracts families with young children (mine included) where the parents listen to the music and the kids play at the park or on the donated inflatable rides (moon bounce, maze). This money will add to the important quality of life component that Ingham County residents expect and deserve.
Another important resolution passed allowed those who have not paid child-support to serve their sentence doing community service at our parks. We need parks improtvement projects done, and new boardwalks at Hawk Island and Lake Lansing, as well as parks and zoo maintenance are a good way to appropriately punish these offenders without putting them behind bars. Jailing people who don’t provide child support only clogs jails and ensures that the children will continue to not receive the child support because the parent isn’t working to make the money that they owe. This is an excellent jail alternative sentencing program.
Finally, in an interesting twist, the County Board received a letter from the 11 out-county rural townships. Anyone paying attention to Ingham County over the last few years knows that the County Board considered road patrol funding. I first led the effort to have the out-county townships pay some portion of the road patrol costs because road patrol is a service that only the out-county receives. Urban areas (Lansing, East Lansing, Lansing Twp, Meridian Twp, and Delhi) all pay for their own police and don’t receive road patrol assistance. The out-county receive road patrol but don’t hve to pay any more. So I led the effort to have them either 1) pay more to receive the safety that they want and believe they deserve or 2) receive less service. I will get into this more in future blogs, I’m sure. Anyway, that was defeated. Next the County Board considered a millage increase (.65) dedicated to the Sheriff’s office for patrols and other specific services (Metro Squad, investigations, dive team, etc). That also was soundly defeated by the Board. At the time, I said that if we do nothing, Road Patrol would be reduced to nothing in a few years anyway. Well, that seems to be coming to pass.
The out-county 11 townships are looking to form a police authority which will create police protection for their residents. I think that is a great idea. The letter they sent us, though, asks for $2.4 million in start-up funding. I am very curious about this request and look forward to the discussions that will be had around this request. I have many questions. If the county has a $5 million deficit for next year, where will this money come from? Will there be an equivalent reduction in road patrol to pay for this? There are lots of questions that need to be explored by our staff and in consultation with the Sheriff before we can commit to anything like this. I am not on the Law Enforcement Committee this year, though, so my part in this issue will come when it gets to the Finance Committee.
That’s it for this week. After taking an initial peek at the County Services and Finance agendas, next week should be another exciting week of Ingham County issues!