Integrated Technology & Budget
Providing more efficient services for citizens through updated and integrated technology will aid in creating and sustaining a more transparent and accountable City Hall/Mayor’s Office as well as create a more pleasant experience for residents when they interact with all city services.
There are many opportunities for us to invest money on front-end processes and internal controls, which will save a lot more money on back-end compliance. For example, if we were to offer electronic filing for all income tax returns it would increase filing numbers and decrease our expenses on collections. As Mayor, I will spearhead several initiatives that will bring this and many other innovative uses of technology to the City of Lansing.
Because the City has limited funding and funding sources, we need to support regional infrastructure. It will be helpful to work with neighboring municipalities to manage their resources in order to better understand where regional collaboration makes the most sense. I’ve already communicated with Commissioner Stiver about the County’s willingness to take over administration of the River Trail. We should also look at regional bulk purchase agreements and consolidation of administrative functions to reduce costs wherever feasible.
Our citizens have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the City of Lansing
has an opportunity to make a transformational change in our economy.
Stimulus dollars should be used to provide immediate economic relief for residents and small business owners AND to make strategic investments in city operations and community services that pave the way for transformative and equitable economic growth. I won't presume to dictate where and how the remaining $24M is allocated without input and collaboration from city staff, the business community, nonprofit partners, and our residents.
Not all of our citizens fared equally in the pandemic. It has exacerbated and emphasized pre-existing inequalities and inequities, and it is the responsibility of our City government to provide services and assistance to all members of our community. The same barriers that impede minority businesses owners' access to resources and capital also hindered their access to stimulus funds. Less than one half of 1% of Black businesses received pandemic benefits, compared to 9% of non-Black businesses. It’s not enough to make funds available; we have a moral obligation to disburse them equitably.
Current recovery is polarized. Only the people who have a banker, backer or access to capital have been helped. The rest have been frozen out-especially if they were on the edges of the economy to begin with. A lot of people’s dreams were demolished during the pandemic and we need to create hope.
Equity takes effort. We need to actively recruit those who need help the most and remove barriers that prevent non-white residents, business owners, and entrepreneurs from getting to the table, much less getting a bite of what's being served.
We need to invest in physical and human infrastructure. My plan starts with safe, walkable communities. Sidewalks are an equity issue as many low income families walk and bike for transportation. We also need to provide access to the economy to folks who did not receive relief during the pandemic. A lot of small businesses have closed and won't be back and many are still struggling. We need to make sure economic recovery is enjoyed by ALL!
Our Downtown Lansing Business Model needs to be updated and re-designed.
The model we are currently working under exposes two weaknesses:
first, the immediate hit to our income tax revenue if state workers who live outside of Lansing continue to work from home, and
second, the threat to businesses who rely on state workers as their primary customer base.
We could eventually offset income tax losses with strategic efforts to diversify the economic landscape downtown, attract new business, and incentivize job creation. Thankfully, we expect a stronger property tax base this year, given the jump in real estate values and the number of development incentives due to expire.
First, we should look at how many state government functions are being performed outside of Lansing. This is contrary to the State Constitution. If the state is going to pull out of this area, they owe it to us to make up for these losses. Currently, our State Liquor Control office is housed in Grand Rapids, the Attorney General’s office is in East Lansing, and the State Secondary Complex is in Windsor Township.
For years, our downtown development has been a one-trick pony, relying on these State of Michigan tenants. We have to anticipate a changing economic landscape and be flexible and resilient. We need to plan for this NOW.
For the businesses affected by fewer state workers, we may need to work with business owners, particularly food service, to modify their business models in ways that accommodate an alternate daytime customer base including delivery options for businesses outside of downtown or an evening crowd where these businesses remain open later to accommodate more residential customers during dinner hours.
For this new vision to work, we must continue to support downtown residential development and offer more appealing amenities such as public broadband and live performance spaces that attract young professionals and empty nesters. Higher residential density, especially if those residents are also able to work from home, expands the customer base for downtown businesses, day and night.
I propose a three-pronged solution:
Diversify economy-to restore tax base
Work with business owners-mostly restaurants- to adjust their business plans to increase delivery services or to change business hours to accommodate the dinner crowd to serve downtown residents.
Redevelop the office building currently leased by the State to residential, much like we did with the Knapp’s Building. The cost would be considerable--and we would need the State to be a partner to incentivize this redevelopment--but that could be a good use of pandemic relief funds to adapt to the new economic norm.
Jobs & Workplace Safety
My 15-years’ experience on the Capital Area Michigan Works administrative board, including the Executive Committee, gives me a great deal of insight into our local job market. Local employers and job seekers have a wealth of resources available to them via CAMW, including upskill training for career advancement and youth programs to help students and young adults get their GED and subsidized work experience. I’d like to see more folks served through our HRCS department connected with services available through CAMW.
Safeguarding employee health and safety is a basic necessity for re-starting economic activity. Employers need measures in place that allow and encourage employees and customers to return. A portion of local stimulus allocations might be used to help redesign workspaces that accommodate the realities of a post-pandemic economy.
That said, we aren’t facing a problem with job creation right now. The National Federation of Small Businesses released a report showing ½ of their members have unfilled positions because they can’t find applicants. We have the same situation in Ingham County. These aren’t skilled positions which require specific qualifications… These are jobs with almost no barrier to entry, but people aren’t applying. In addition, the “quit rate” for jobs is at a 20 year high. We have the jobs, that’s not the issue.
We must acknowledge that we lost approximately 400 people to COVID and that accounts for at least a portion of the jobs we are unable to fill. We also have a shortage of people willing to work under the old system.
The pandemic caused a lot of people to re-evaluate their priorities. Many folks don’t want to risk their health and safety by returning to traditional work environments. Some have adapted well and prefer working remotely. And some, after receiving stimulus-enhanced unemployment benefits, are evaluating their options to avoid returning to prior work scenarios where they were underpaid and felt undervalued.
We should be collaborating with CAMW to help employers adapt to this changing economic landscape, to increase the appeal of types of work that our local businesses need to stay open and to thrive. Given our focus on DEI, we should also direct more resources to support entrepreneurs, especially in qualified census districts.
Unfunded Municipal Liabilities
Based on the latest report by Boomershine Consulting Group, the retirement system's unfunded liabilities are far less than presented in prior years and should be fully financed by 2041. Since the city's funding outlook can change from year to year, we still need to be prepared to make tough decisions in the event of future shortfalls, but I will do so with full transparency and in collaboration with all affected parties.
Cities in other parts of the country are taking bold measures to address their liabilities, and I'm willing to consider similar action in Lansing (e.g., one community closed the gap by bonding a significant amount at 1-2% and using an outside investment fund with a solid history of higher returns).