Attorney Calls Budget Proposal Fee, Not Tax - WLNS TV 6 Lansing - Jackson | Your Local News Leader

Attorney Calls Budget Proposal Fee, Not Tax

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) - It's a fee - not a tax.

That's the ruling by the Lansing city attorney as city officials look to balance the budget.

Lansing faces a shortfall of about $5 million. Mayor Virg Bernero proposed a fee for fire hydrants and streetlights to help make up the difference. But the proposal - which amounts to about $46 per household per year - faced questions about whether it was truly a fee, or if it was a tax.

If it's a tax, the public would have to vote on and approve the proposal before it could take effect.

The election wouldn't happen before Monday, May 20th - when the city if supposed to have a budget adopted.

Several of the Lansing city council members had looked to the city attorney for an opinion before casting a vote.

And with the clock ticking, Janine McIntyre ruled late Thursday afternoon that the proposal is not a tax.

In a press release sent by the city, she says the hydrant fee is legal and could take effect immediately by the Board of Water and Light. She also said the city could levy a special assessment to help pay for the operation and maintenance of the streetlights. But she says council members would need to amend a city ordinance to give them the authority to make that happen.

"I'm open to different ways to accomplish the goal of keeping our streetlights on and ensuring that our fire hydrants are in good working order when they are needed to protect property and life," Bernero said. "I appreciate the City Attorney's guidance in this matter and will reflect on her findings before I take a formal position on how we should proceed."

While the decision gives the mayor and council some legal cover, the decision - if approved - could be reviewed by a judge if someone were to file suit.

Stay tuned to 6 News as we follow this story. We'll have reaction from council members tonight and follow the budget debate all the way through.

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