Comments sought on indigent defense standards

megaphone imageThe Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) is seeking public comment on the minimum standards now under consideration. Those standards involve education and training, the initial client interview, experts and investigators and counsel during critical court appearances.

Deadline to comment is March 9.

Once the public comment period has ended, LARA will make a decision on approval. If the standards are approved, a 180-day clock for counties to submit their local operational plans will begin.

NOTE: Implementation of those plans does not have to begin until the plans are approved and any additional costs are paid for by the state.

The Michigan Supreme Court conditionally approved these standards, but had constitutional concerns regarding their oversight of the commission. Legislation passed last year addressed this concern by moving the commission from the judicial branch to the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to ensure MIDC is independent of the judiciary. Due to this move, MIDC was required to resubmit the proposed standards to the LARA for approval, which it did the week of Feb. 6.

Comments should be submitted by March 9, 2017, to comments@michiganidc.gov. All comments will be posted on the MIDC website.

Bring world-class art exhibits to your county!

callfor_insideoutMore than half of Michigan’s counties are now eligible to participate in 2017 in a program that brings exhibits from the world-renowned Detroit Institute of Arts to the four corners of the state.

List of eligible counties

Via its “Inside Out” program, DIA is partnering with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs to bring open-air exhibits to 15 qualifying communities in 2017.

Inside Out brings framed reproductions of DIA masterworks to parks and downtowns, creating an open air gallery. Fifteen reproductions will be installed from Memorial Day to Oct. 31. Participating communities will also receive a stipend to support Inside Out programming.

Applications are due by Feb. 17 and are available here.

Shiawassee County rejoins MAC

shiawasseeThanks to a vote by the Shiawassee Board of Commissioners this month, MAC will enter 2017 with all 83 counties as dues-paying members.

“This is excellent news for MAC and, more importantly, our members,” said incoming Executive Director Steve Currie. “Our collective voice will now be stronger at the State Capitol in a year when we are seeking major reforms to aid county governments on financing public services.”

Shiawassee County Board Chairman Hartmann Aue cited MAC’s services and the county’s financial improvements for the move.

“In two years, Shiawassee County has completely changed our financial condition. We have generated a record surplus of nearly $800,000, paid down long term debts by more than $850,000 and have grown our ‘rainy day fund’ from $23,000 to more than $400,000. … I felt now was the time to rejoin MAC and provide the Board of Commissioners additional resources to govern successfully,” he said. “The services and trainings provided by MAC will only help Shiawassee County continue the positive momentum from the foundation set in place by the 2015-2016 Board.”

With its membership, Shiawassee now can leverage the advocacy, educational and networking opportunities MAC offers all its members, plus special service arrangements with such business partners as Nationwide Retirement Solutions, Allstate Benefits and Lincoln Financial.

Alger’s Doucette appointed to NACo Board

jerry-doucette-sept-2015Jerry Doucette, chair of the Alger County Board of Commissioners, has been appointed a member of the National Association of Counties (NACo) Board. The appointment was made on Dec. 9 at a NACo Board session in Tallahassee, Fla.

Doucette, who also serves on the Michigan Association of Counties’ Board as Immediate Past President, was selected to replace Oceana County Commissioner Evelyn Kolbe, who passed away in November.

“With this board appointment, I will be able to continue my work on the Economic Development and Workforce Committee, the Rural Action Caucus, Veterans Committee and Membership Committee with NACO,” Doucette said. “It is so important for MAC and NACo to partner together to protect counties’ needs for funding and continue to be the voices of county government to state and federal governmental leaders.”

The NACo Board “governs the strategic goals, policies and priorities of the association, as well as oversees the association’s policies, business and property.”

“We are pleased that Jerry Doucette will be able to continue Evelyn’s fine work on behalf of Michigan at the national level,” said Stephan W. Currie, MAC’s executive director. “Jerry’s knowledge of the issues, gained from extensive service with MAC and NACo, will pay off for Michigan’s county governments.”

House takes up OPEB reform package

retirementIn an effort to address the more than $11 billion in unfunded accrued OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) liabilities for local governments across Michigan, the House is reviewing a package of bills aimed at changing the insurance benefits for government retirees. The 13-bill package, put forth by Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Isabella), creates the Local Government Retirement Act and amends all the relevant statutes to require compliance with the main bill, House Bill 6074.

Of Michigan’s 83 counties, 26 do not offer OPEB, while another six are currently at least 80 percent funded in the benefits, which would make them exempt from some of the requirements in the act. The remaining 51 counties have an accumulated unfunded liability of approximately $3 billion.

Breakdown of counties by OPEB commitments
(Updated 1/3/17 with corrected figures for Livingston County)

The six counties above the 80 percent mark — Barry, Cass, Clinton, Macomb, Oakland, Ottawa — would be exempt from the changes to current employee and current retiree OPEB benefits, regardless of whether or not the employees are currently vested in the benefit. These counties, however, would still be subject to the provisions for Medicare eligible retirees, Medicare supplemental policy contributions and for all new hires as detailed below.

The main provisions of the package include:

  • Requires an “unvested” retiree to contribute a minimum of 20 percent toward the cost for post-employment insurance and caps a local government’s contribution to a maximum of 80 percent.
  • Limits local governments’ contributions toward OPEB benefits for all new hires to a maximum of 2 percent of the employee’s base pay.
  • Requires all retirees to be on Medicare when eligible.
  • Caps local government contributions to Medicare supplemental policies to 80 percent of the cost of the policy.
  • Prohibits a local government, regardless of whether or not it meets the 80 percent funded threshold, from providing insurance benefits to retirees who are eligible to participate in a medical benefit plan or retirement health benefit plan offered or provided by an employer other than the local government.
  • Directs that “vested” employees will be exempt from changes in the act. To determine whether or not an employee is vested/exempt, the package states that if a collective bargaining agreement entered into before act’s adoption clearly and expressly confers a fixed, unalterable right to a vested retirement health benefit for an unambiguous duration, then the act does not impair that vested retirement health benefit for that duration.

After consulting with the Executive Committee of MAC’s Board of Directors and several county administrators, MAC took the position of “support in concept” and testified before the House Local Government Committee on that theme on Dec. 1. MAC noted in its testimony our appreciation for providing local governments with some assistance in tackling this looming obligation by taking this issue off of the bargaining table and for the state diverting legal challenges to the proposed law from the local governments that seek to amend the benefits for unvested employees and retirees.

MAC also conveyed concerns with the approach, including:

  • Many Michigan counties already have acted to change these benefits for current employees and for new hires. This should be recognized by the state.
  • Local control has been, and continues to be, a vital component of good governance, but the state needs to “untie the hands of the county so they have the tools necessary to address the issues.”
  • This approach focuses only on fixing local government budgetary issues by going after the costs associated with the employees that provide the public services we all rely upon. MAC would like to see the Legislature actually address the revenue side of the equation.

In addition to the concerns outlined above, MAC will be working with the Legislature on language changes and certain provisions that need to be addressed for specific counties. We anticipate additional hearings next week. For more information, contact Deena Bosworth at Bosworth@micounties.org

Republicans build on big majority in county commissioner seats

mac-michigan-map-partisan-board-stats-11-10-2016Michigan Republicans expanded their already large margin in county commissioner seats in the Nov. 8 General Election, a MAC review of unofficial results shows.

The GOP now holds 432 seats, with one vacancy in Ontonagon County still to be filled. That’s up from 396 seats after the 2014 elections, for a net gain of at least 36 seats.

Democrats fell to 182 seats, while independents and third-party members hold 7 seats.

Republican majorities will sit on boards governing 63 of Michigan’s 83 counties; Democratic majorities will control 19 boards, while the Keweenaw board does not have a partisan majority.

Partisan control shifted in five counties due to election results:

  • Arenac (D to R)
  • Clare (R to D)
  • Isabella (D to R)
  • Keweenaw (D to no partisan majority)
  • Lake (D to R)

Of the 622 commissioners in 2017, 160 will be new to the office, not counting the vacancy in Ontonagon. The turnover rate of 26 percent is consistent with historical results.

Republican-majority counties: Alcona, Allegan, Alpena, Antrim, Arenac, Barry, Benzie, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Clinton, Crawford, Dickinson, Eaton, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Houghton, Huron, Ionia, Iosco, Isabella, Jackson, Kalkaska, Kent, Lake, Lapeer, Leelanau, Lenawee, Livingston, Luce, Mackinac, Manistee, Mason, Mecosta, Menominee, Midland, Missaukee, Monroe, Montcalm, Montmorency, Newaygo, Oakland, Oceana, Osceola, Oscoda, Otsego, Ottawa, Presque Isle, Roscommon, St. Clair, St. Joseph, Sanilac, Schoolcraft, Shiawassee, Tuscola, Van Buren, Wexford

Democratic-majority counties:  Gogebic, Ontonagon, Iron, Baraga, Marquette, Alger, Delta, Muskegon, Kalamazoo, Ingham, Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb, Genesee, Saginaw, Bay, Gladwin, Clare, Ogemaw

Click here to see a larger version of the partisan-control map.

About 1 in 4 Michigan county commissioners will be new in 2017

Michigan’s corps of county commissioners will greet 160 new members* come January, based on a preliminary review of unofficial results from Tuesday’s General Election. (*Updated 11-10-16)

The newcomers represent 26 percent* of the state’s 62michigan-county-map2 county commissioner seats.

Based on MAC reviews, turnover rates in county commissioner seats range between 20 percent and 25 percent in any given election. Commissioners serve two-year terms.

Among the notable changes stemming from Tuesday’s vote and earlier primary results from August:

  • Emmet County will welcome six new members to its seven-member board.
  • Lake County in west-central Michigan will have five new members on its seven-member board.
  • Branch County in south-central Michigan will have three newcomers on its five-member board.

As the statewide association that represents county governments in Michigan, MAC is gearing up for a series of “New Commissioner Schools,” in partnership with MSU Extension, to give newcomers an intensive look at their responsibilities.

“New commissioners don’t have a great deal of time to prep before their county responsibilities fall on them in January,” explained Tim McGuire, long-time MAC executive director, who will be leaving at the end of 2016. “These programs play an essential role in aiding public servants.”

Why Dark Stores reform matters so much

Attorney Jack Van Coevering discusses the legal issues with Dark Stores during a segment of the documentary "Boxed In."

Attorney Jack Van Coevering discusses the legal issues with Dark Stores during a segment of the documentary “Boxed In.”

A new documentary from students at Northern Michigan University tackles the “Dark Stores” property valuation crisis in Michigan. “Boxed In” is an ambitious project, in that it seeks to explain an extraordinarily complicated tax and public policy issue.

Take a look.

But recent coverage from Bloomberg News highlights why this is so important for the entire community.

Wal-Mart’s out-of-control crime problem is driving police crazy” focuses mainly on the travails of the Tulsa, Okla., Police Department, but the dynamic exists across Michigan:

“Big Box” retailers make big demands on local public services.

“Last year police were called to the store and three other Tulsa Wal-Marts just under 2,000 times,” the story noted.

An analysis of 22 Wal-Mart outlets in Michigan has found that their per-square-foot (PSF) property valuations ranged from $5.26 in Sault Ste. Marie to $33.94 in Wayne County’s Woodhaven.

For comparison, the average PSF value for Wal-Marts in its home state of Arkansas is $53.04.

This is the reality of the Dark Stores valuation loophole that “Big Box” retailers like Wal-Mart have been exploiting since 2013 to vastly reduce their values.

And, since lower property values equal lower property taxes, local governments have lost at least $100 million in revenue since 2013 due to this loophole.

Nevertheless, retailers — and residents — expect local governments to continue to provide those services vital to a safe, high-quality community. Michigan counties, for one example, spent $1.5 billion on security-related tasks in 2015 alone.

So, if Big Box retailers put demands on public services, yet figure out a way not to pay their fair share of the local property taxes to fund them, who is left holding the bill?

Yep, homeowners and small businesses.

Rep. Dave Maturen (R-Kalamazoo County) drafted House Bill 5578 to ensure a fair and reasonable system of valuing property based on its “highest and best use” in the marketplace. The bill soared through the Michigan House last spring on a 97-11 vote and awaits action by the Michigan Senate this fall.

We can’t think of a better epilogue to “Boxed In’s” tale than the enactment of HB 5578 before 2016 ends.

Report: Petroleum industry backs 47,000 jobs in Michigan counties

michigan-oil-rigThe oil and gas industry is credited with more than $47,000 jobs and more than $13 billion in economic activity in Michigan, according to a recent report by a Lansing research firm.

Michigan’s Oil and Natural Gas Industry: Economic Contribution,” released by Public Sector Consultants, Inc. in May, found that oil and/or natural gas were produced in 62 of Michigan’s 83 counties, and that the industry had economic effects in 82 counties.

“Employment  in  the  Michigan oil  and natural  gas  industry  has  doubled  since  2005,  from  11,089 jobs  to 22,781 jobs. Jobs are forecast to increase an additional 46 percent over the next ten years, although the outlook for employment will be weaker if the recent drop in oil prices is sustained,” the report stated.

To see the economic effects on your county, click here.

Primary results ensure at least 130 new commissioners take office in January

At least 137* of the 622 county commissioner seats in Michigan in January 2017 will have new occupants, a MAC review of the unofficial Aug. 2 primary results has found.

That number could grow in November, too, as 146 incumbent commissioners who advanced out of this week’s primary face general election foes.

Right now, though, the turnover in this election cycle will be at least 22 percent, a figure that would be in line with Michigan history, said MAC Executive Director Tim McGuire.

“Based on our reviews, the turnover rate hovers between 20 percent and 25 percent. In 2014, the rate was about 22 percent,” said McGuire, who has served at MAC for more than 35 years and been executive director since 1994. “You will see that commissioners who retire and create open seats are the source of many of these changes.”

Thirty incumbentmichigan-county-map commissioners, however, did not advance out of the primary this year, according to MAC’s review.

Two northern county boards will look substantially different come January, as Emmet County will welcome six new members to its seven-member board, while Luce County in the U.P. will have four newcomers on its five-member panel.

In preparation for the new commissioners, MAC already is working with MSU Extension on training programs via “New Commissioner Schools” the agencies will co-host at several locations in November and December.

“New commissioners don’t have a great deal of time to prep before their county responsibilities fall on them in January,” McGuire explained. “These programs are our way of helping them get off on the right step.”

*Figure updated and corrected on Aug. 9.