The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle (Elizabeth Conley / AP)
Lansing— Senate Appropriations Chairman Roger Kahn blasted the proposed state lease of Belle Isle as “pretty dubious” in a speech during the chamber’s session Tuesday morning.
Kahn, R-Saginaw, said the Department of Natural Resources, which would operate the island as a state park, was recently “skittish” about funds being spent on improvements at the Michigan Capitol because that might compete with money needed for overdue repairs at state parks.
The Capitol “has a leaky roof that needs to be funded and repaired,” Kahn said. He added new carpeting installed during the summer was the first Capitol maintenance project “this century” because state money has been tight.
Gov. Rick Snyder and Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr want Belle Isle to become a state park for at least 30 years as part of their strategy to ease Detroit’s bankruptcy.
The current state budget appropriates $2 million to operate the island this fiscal year, removing that expense from the city’s troubled finances.
But Kahn said there are estimates another $10 million to $20 million are needed for a backlog of repairs to facilities on the island and questioned how the state would come up with that money.
At a Tuesday press conference to announce his new state treasurer, Snyder said he expected money for Belle Isle repairs and updates to come from several sources, including grants and funds raised by organizations that want to see it restored.
DNR officials have said bond sales and a fund containing income from state oil and gas rights leases also could be tapped.
Snyder said Tuesday his goal is to bring the storied island up to the standards of quality the state has set for its other parks.
“Most people would agree there are (several) options for improving Belle Isle,” he added, describing it as “a jewel that we respect.”
Kahn also noted both mayoral candidates Mike Duggan and Benny Napoleon and several City Council members oppose the 30-year state lease Orr and Snyder have proposed.
The council on Monday rejected a 30-year agreement and instead voted 4-2 to lease the island to the state for 10 years. The state’s emergency financial assistance loan board will decide which proposal is best for Detroiters.