Lansing councilmember backs BWL effort resisting sale

Jul 16, 2015

The Lansing Board of Water and Light may embark on a study to help justify its status as a city-owned utility. City council member Carol Wood likes the idea.


Lansing city council member Carol Wood
Credit WKAR file photo

This week, Lansing Board of Water and Light commissioners  moved closer to approving a plan that would lead to a “business case” for keeping the utility a city-owned asset. Recently, the city’s Financial Health Team, led by former Mayor David Hollister, has been studying the feasibility of selling city assets, including the BWL.

In comments in the Lansing State Journal, Mayor Virg Bernero, who ordered the Hollister study, called the move “premature, inappropriate and politically motivated.”

Current State speaks with Lansing City Council member Carol Wood about the Board of Water and Light and other topics, including plans for more city police and code enforcement hiring.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

Why Wood does not support selling the Board of Water and Light

For me personally, I do not support selling the Board of Water and Light and I think it sends an irresponsible message to the public to both business and employees with the fact that as you're looking at long term investments in our community, are you looking at doing it with a privately owned utility or a publicly owned utility? There is a difference in rates for those, and will that affect their bottom line? I think that as we look to business to continue making those advancements in our community that when there's this uncertainty about one thing that all businesses need, and that's utilities, whether this makes any sense to continue this type of rhetoric.

Although the "vacancy factor" saves the city money, can it be argued that all open positions need filling?

If that were the argument, then at the beginning of each fiscal year during our budget process, we would've had the administration say that we're going to remove these off the org chart, and we've done that. (In the) police department as an example, we have reduced the police department in my 15 years on council by 100 officers. Those were positions that became unfilled. We saw that we could do without them and those positions weren't funded the next year. We've done that with a number of departments. We are now down to (the) bare minimum.

Does the vacancy factor help balance the budget? Yes. But when you look at, again, the fiscal year that we just ended, that number that we were to achieve was $800,000. We actually achieved $1.1 million with that, $300,000 more than what we thought we were going to. But are there $300,000 worth of issues that have fallen through the cracks?

Do unfilled positions create tension in the union workforce?

I think what it does (not from) necessarily a union perspective, but let's just talk about the employees themselves. The ones that are skipping lunches, and skipping breaks, and working after…and that's because they are so dedicated they want to get the job done. And knowing that those resources aren't out there to help get those jobs done…it creates tension in the workforce. It (also) creates illnesses and things like that because of the stress.

So yes, we need to get these positions filled. If the administration believes these positions should come off the charts and that the work is getting done, then explain it to council. But that's not what I'm hearing out there, that's not what I'm hearing from the workers, that's not what I'm hearing from the public.