Bernero Proposes BWL Fee, Lawyers Argue It's Tax - WLNS TV 6 Lansing - Jackson | Your Local News Leader

Bernero Proposes BWL Fee, Lawyers Argue It's Tax

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) - As the City of Lansing tries to respond to its looming $5.5 million deficit, they may be headed for some difficulty as a result of a legal technicality.

 

Mayor Virg Bernero's proposed budget addressed the deficit by implementing new fees to all Board of Water & Light customers to pay for downtown energy services. Right now, those services come out of the city's general fund.

Some tax lawyers in Lansing say what the mayor is calling a fee is actually a tax and without a majority vote from Lansing residents, he doesn't have the authority to implement it.

Pat Gallagher, a local attorney, says the issue will likely end up in court and may set a precedent for other Michigan cities. He says he's not sure if the proposed fee is legal, but that the city is looking into it.

The city council would need to approve it if the proposal was ruled a fee, but the City of Lansing would have to vote to approve a tax.

In 1998, lawyers raised this issue in a similar situation in Lansing. The city tried to raise fees for a storm water service charge. The case made it to the Supreme Court where justices decided the fee was in fact a tax and they ruled against the city of Lansing 4 to 3.

If it's passed, it could mean a potential 18 percent increase in energy bills. The city would also legally have to provide a way for citizens to opt out of the fees.

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