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Lansing's mayor says privatizing the city's power company is not going to happen on his watch

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Lansing mayor Virg Bernero’s State of the City address celebrated recent positive economic news for the capitol city.

But perhaps the biggest applause line in the speech last night involved the future of Lansing’s city-owned utility.

Last year, Mayor Virg Bernero appointed a committee to study ways of solving Lansing’s chronic budget problems.   One option the panel has been looking at is privatizing the Lansing Board of Water and Light.

But Bernero says he wants that idea off the table.

“I just want to be clear…that’s not going to happen. Not on my watch,” Bernero said, which drew large applause from those gathered to hear the mayor’s State of the City address.

After the speech, Bernero told reporters that the revenues BWL generates for the city, as well as the low utility rates it provides Lansing residents, are too great a benefit for the city to give up. 

“To trade that for a one time boost…would not stand the test of time,” says Bernero. 

David Hollister chairs the mayor’s committee looking at Lansing’s financial health.  Hollister is a former Lansing mayor himself.

Hollister says he accepts that the mayor has killed one possible recommendation even before the panel delivers its report.

“We’re realistic,” Hollister says, referring to the committee’s members, “We know not everything we recommend will be adopted.” 

As for Bernero’s very public rejection of even considering privatizing BWL, Hollister says, “If he wants to take something off the table…that’s his option.”

The committee is also looking at other ways to reduce city spending, including changing employee retirement plans and finding cost savings on city services.

Lansing is facing a projected nine million dollar budget shortfall next year.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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