Millage elections, meeting mechanics, rural broadband among topics for 2018 MAC Regional Summits this summer

Each summer, MAC offers a series of one-day “mini conferences” at key locations around Michigan. These are designed for busy commissioners and administrators and include intensive briefings on trending issues in county governance.

This year’s schedule and locations are:

  • June 6: Escanaba, Quality Inn
  • June 11: Grand Rapids, Crowne Plaza on 28th Street
  • June 18: Gaylord, Treetops Resort
  • July 23: Frankenmuth, Bavarian Inn

Each summit starts at 9 a.m. and finishes at 3 p.m. Cost is $25 and includes snacks and a lunch. CLICK  HERE to register.

Topics this year are wide-ranging, offering something of interest to every county and commissioner:

Tips for Running Efficient, Effective Meetings (all sites)
Time is a precious resource, especially for elected officials. Each minute spent in an unproductive meeting is a lost minute of community outreach and engagement. Fortunately, there are tips and tricks to running an efficient and productive meeting, helping lead to optimal governance. In this session, learn about ways to handle unexpected scenarios at a county meeting, as well as best practices for chairs and vice chairs. With solid objectives, a tight agenda, and a commitment to preparation, you will be well on your way to chairing great meetings. (This session is part of MAC’s “Better Commissioner” program of continuing education for county officials.)

Managing Liability and Risks in County Government (all sites)
(UPDATED)
An attorney working with the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority, the largest provider of property and casualty insurance to counties in Michigan, will give an overview of best practices and points to consider on sexual harassment in the workplace and how public leaders can combat it.

The Mechanics of Millage Elections (all sites)
In this session, attendees will learn from Grassroots Midwest, a Lansing-based consulting firm, on the five key elements of a successful millage or bond proposal:

-Define the needs of the community
-Craft the core message
-Develop a media/communications campaign
-Contact/educate relevant stakeholders
-Get out the vote

Grassroots specializes in strategic planning to assist associations, municipalities and corporations organize and manage contact with policy makers, interest groups and voters. (This session is part of MAC’s “Better Commissioner” program of continuing education for county officials.)

The Issues of a Statewide Septic Code (all sites)
Michigan’s groundwater, rivers, lakes and streams are vulnerable to E. coli, in many cases due to failing on-site sewage treatment systems. Many counties have programs to address the inspection and the integrity of the septic tanks, but many do not. Bills in the Legislature would enact a statewide system for the approval and evaluation of these on-site sewage treatment systems. This presentation will discuss the environmental and health problems associated with the failure of these systems and the potential solutions for addressing the shortfalls.

Broadband Policies and Rural Michigan (Escanaba and Frankenmuth only)
This session will focus on rural development with an emphasis on rural connectivity. Due to the natural barriers that exist in our rural areas, access to services such as rural broadband presents an uphill challenge to our rural communities in retaining and attract businesses to create vibrant economies. Learn about ideas and ongoing initiatives and programs that may be available to help local communities be part of the global economy.

Building a Better Community “Habitat” (Grand Rapids and Gaylord only)
Habitat Oakland County teamed up with a local partnership from the church community, the chamber of commerce, a local marketing business and schools to create a community-based service project. In this session, learn from representatives on how they worked to obtain foreclosed properties and renovate them, thereby leading to higher property values and healthier neighborhoods. Presenters also will explain how any community can use their collaboration model to create a better “habitat.”

Michigan county leaders consult with federal lawmakers during Capitol Hill sweep

Michigan county leaders pose with U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (third from left) and Gary Peters (second from right) after a special briefing arranged by MAC on Capitol Hill on March 7.

A contingent of Michigan county officials, led by MAC Board President Matthew Bierlein of Tuscola County and other board officers, made a round of visits to Michigan’s congressional delegation on Capitol Hill during the 2018 National Association of Counties Legislative Conference this week.

Taking a break from the policy and service workshops at the conference, Michigan leaders met with Reps. Jack Bergman, Debbie Dingell, Bill Huizenga, John Moolenaar, David Trott, Fred Upton and Tim Walberg on Tuesday, March 6. Michigan leaders also attended a special briefing from the state’s U.S. senators, Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, to cap the day.

“These visits are a key part of the annual NACo event in D.C.,” said Stephan Currie, executive director of MAC. “The pace of public life is such that it’s rare when you can put so many county leaders in front of our federal representatives at one time. You have to grab those opportunities whenever you can.”

County leaders attending this year’s NACo event included:

Vaughn Begick (Bay County), Alisha Bell (Wayne County), Roger  Bergman (Ottawa County), Matthew Bierlein (Tuscola County), Ken Borton (Otsego County), David Bowman (Oakland County), Emily Brieve (Kent County), Carol Crawford (Grand Traverse County), Greg DeJong (Ottawa County), Donald Disselkoen (Ottawa County),  Jerry Doucette (Alger County), Veronica Klinefelt (Macomb County), Philip Kuyers (Ottawa County), Sarah Lightner (Jackson County), Daniel Mahoney (Jackson County), Christian Marcus (Antrim County), Stephanie Moore (Kalamazoo County), Michael Overton (Jackson County), Stan Ponstein (Kent County), Julie Rogers (Kalamazoo County), Richard Schmidt (Manistee County), Michael Seals (Kalamazoo County), Eugene Smith (Iron County), Joe Stevens (Dickinson County), Jim Storey (Allegan County), Mary   Swanson (Kent County), Jim Talen (Kent County),  Shelley Taub (Oakland County), Al Vanderberg (Ottawa County) Matthew Van Zetten (Kent County) Gary Woronchak (Wayne County) and Helaine Zack (Oakland County).

MAC marks its 120th birthday serving Michigan’s counties

The Michigan State Capitol, circa 1900. (courtesy of Capitol Commission)

It’s Feb. 1, 1898. A year earlier, Michigan had achieved its modern arrangement of 83 counties with the return of Isle Royal to Keweenaw County.

Ransom Olds had formed Olds Motor Works. William McKinley is president. Hazen S. Pingree is governor of Michigan.

That February day, a group of men gathered in the Senate chamber of the State Capitol. They were members of county boards of supervisors, the precursors to today’s county commissioners. They moved to form a five-member committee to study the creation of a permanent organization, the State Association of Supervisors of Michigan — then adjourned for dinner.

And so began the history of what today is the Michigan Association of Counties.

Some things haven’t changed since then. Michigan still has 83 counties, from Monroe to Keweenaw, St. Joseph to Chippewa. We still have our scenic coastlines, our forests and our reputation for making things.

The challenges of county government, though, those are quite different in the 21st century, and remind us of the wisdom of our forefathers who created an organization, “which shall be perpetual,” they wrote, so citizens elected to lead their counties could gather to learn from and aid each other.

In the coming year, MAC will be celebrating this 120th anniversary with special reports and other events. Stay tuned to micounties.org for updates.

MAC releases 2018 legislative priorities, with focus on fiscal reforms in Lansing

Michigan’s 83 counties, the state’s front-line public service agencies, enter 2018 seeking significant changes to state revenue practices to enhance fiscal responsibility across the state.

Keying off remarks made by Gov. Rick Snyder during his State of the State Address on Jan. 23, Michigan Association of Counties Executive Director Stephan Currie said, “This is the year, with Michigan’s economy showing such health, to address the consequences of decisions and trends dating back a decade. Counties, which rely heavily on property taxes to deliver key services, have not recovered from the Great Recession as the state has. Nor will they for many years under existing state policies. Reform is the order of the day in Lansing.”

To that end, MAC, which represents Michigan’s 83 counties, released its 2018 State Priorities on Jan. 24, which include:

  • Reforming Michigan’s System of Financing Local Government by addressing the artificial restrictions on property values imposed by Proposal A in the 1990s and bolstering the state’s commitment to counties by increasing revenue sharing funds. “The state was able to forgo more than $1 billion in revenue sharing payments to counties during the budgetary crisis of the mid-‘00s to tide it over during the crisis. Now that the state is in a healthy position again, it’s proper to turn the focus to the ongoing crisis in local service delivery,” Currie said.
  • Reforming the Michigan Tax Tribunal by closing the “Dark Stores” loophole that has led to Big Box retailers receiving huge property tax breaks that add even more of a burden on homeowners and mom-and-pop businesses to fund local services.
  • Reforming state law on “tax captures” by unelected development districts by blocking the diversion of funds from special millages approved by local voters for specific services, such as law enforcement or aid for veterans. “When voters tax themselves for a specific purpose, all those funds should go to that purpose,” Currie noted.

“We look forward to working with leaders in the House and Senate, and Gov. Snyder, to advance these reforms,” Currie said.

Risk arises to 911 upgrade legislation; commissioners asked to call legislators

ico911Legislation to properly fund upgrades to the 911 emergency communication system is under attack at the Capitol. Commissioners need to call their representative TODAY in support of Senate Bill 400 by Sen. Rick Jones. The bill would raise funds to improve the 911 system to Next Generation 911, thereby making the system more responsive to our citizens.

The bill is expected to be reviewed next Tuesday by the House Communications and Technology Committee, but commissioners need to call today to let House members know that the legislation must go through.

Click here for a list of representatives and their phone numbers.

For more  information on this issue, contact MAC’s Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org or 989-225-8049.

Legislature falls short on giving counties the tools they need to address retirement funding, MAC says

Steve Currie

Steve Currie

The Legislature’s decision to focus bills to adopt the recommendations of Gov. Rick Snyder’s task force on the pension-OPEB crisis leaves Michigan’s 83 counties without adequate new tools they need to address funding of retirement benefits, MAC’s executive director said.

Stephan W. Currie, who has served on both of Snyder’s task forces on this issue, said in response to the Legislature’s actions early Thursday morning, “We still need a variety of new tools to address commitments.”

“Adoption of the task force recommendations” Currie added, “is a bare minimum effort on collecting data on the problem. The other side of the coin here is, of course, revenue. Heading into Wednesday, we saw good prospects on separate, but related, legislation that would have created a secure fund for county revenue sharing and set a schedule for increased payments. Those advances now appear to be stuck.”

MAC supported the task force recommendations and, thus, supports the new versions of the bills, but Currie said that most of the work remains unfinished.

“This fell far short of the mark,” he said. “But we will continue to work with our members and the state to, first, collect the best data on the problem and convince state lawmakers of the need to equip county governments with the tools and revenue they need to handle these benefits.”

Supreme Court’s rejection of ‘Dark Stores’ appeal is recognition of problems in property tax system

Taxes-erased-xThe refusal by the Michigan Supreme Court to accept the appeal of a property tax case by the Big Box retailer Menard’s is recognition of the problems created by the “Dark Stores” theory of property valuation, the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) said today in reaction to the court’s order.

In May 2016, a unanimous panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals, in Menard, Inc. vs. City of Escanaba, expressly rejected the Tax Tribunal’s reliance on the “Dark Stores” method. Not only did the court find that the Tax Tribunal made a mistake of law, it also found that the tribunal didn’t properly perform its duty in evaluating evidence for determining value.

MAC’s Stephan Currie speaks with Frank Beckmann about Dark Stores issue.

The Supreme Court’s decision means the Court of Appeals ruling stands as precedent and must be followed. That court had ordered the Tax Tribunal to again review the case, taking additional evidence on proper valuation in doing so.

“This is a most promising development,” said Stephan Currie, MAC’s executive director. “The Tax Tribunal has to return to this matter and operate under the orders given by the Court of Appeals to properly assess the value of commercial property.” In this particular case, the tribunal had ruled the Menard property was worth 60 percent less than what Escanaba had determined via standard valuation practices.

MAC was one of several organizations filing amicus briefs in support of the city of Escanaba’s position in the case.

Under the Dark Stores method, the Tax Tribunal has reduced so many valuations of Big Box properties that local revenues to provide public services have been reduced by at least $100 million since 2013. This process is shifting more of the burden onto homeowners to fund the basic public services all Michigan communities and businesses utilize each day.

For more information on MAC, visit www.micounties.org.

Bierlein becomes MAC’s 110th president; 3 newcomers elected to MAC Board

Tuscola County's Matthew Bierlein is sworn in by Judge Amy Gierhart as his wife, Mindy, and children look on. (Rod Sanford Photography)

Tuscola County’s Matthew Bierlein is sworn in by Judge Amy Gierhart as his wife, Mindy, and children look on. (Rod Sanford Photography)

The Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) elected board officers for its 2017-18 term and added two new board members at the MAC Annual Conference, held Sept. 24-26 at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Matthew Bierlein, a Tuscola County commissioner, was sworn in as MAC’s 110th president since the organization’s founding on Feb. 1, 1898. During his first address as president to the association, Bierlein called for greater engagement with all of Michigan’s 622 county commissioners.

Joining Bierlein on the board’s executive team are: First Vice President Ken Borton, an Otsego County commissioner; Second Vice President Veronica Klinefelt of Macomb County; and Immediate Past President Shelley Taub, an Oakland County commissioner.

“Our new leadership team brings a great variety of skills and experiences to our board,” said Stephan W. Currie, MAC’s executive director. “We have a great team in place as we begin to implement our strategic plan adopted by the board at the Annual Conference.”

In board elections held at the conference, MAC members in attendance elected three new board members:

  • Joe Bonovetz of Gogebic County
  • Richard Schmidt of Manistee County
  • Jim Storey of Allegan County

Also serving as directors on the board for the 2017-18 term are:

  • Donald Disselkoen (Ottawa County)
  • Philip Kuyers (Ottawa County)
  • Christian Marcus (Antrim County)
  • Joseph Palamara (Wayne County)
  • Robert Showers (Clinton County)
  • Joe Stevens (Dickinson County)
  • Hugh Crawford (Oakland County)
  • Vaughn Begick (Bay County)
  • Stan Ponstein (Kent County)

For more information on MAC, visit www.micounties.org.

MAC’s Currie named Strategic Association Leader by Michigan Society of Association Executives

Stephan Currie addresses the audience at the 16th MSAE Diamond Awards after accepting his honor as Strategic Association Leader for 2017.

Stephan Currie addresses the audience at the 16th MSAE Diamond Awards after accepting his honor as Strategic Association Leader for 2017.

Stephan W. Currie, executive director of the Michigan Association of Counties, was honored Sept. 14 as the 2017 Strategic Association Leader by the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE).

Currie received the honor during the 16th annual MSAE Diamond Awards at The Henry Hotel in Dearborn. The award is presented to an association leader who, in MSAE’s words, “has demonstrated the ability and commitment to going beyond the expected standards of service and professionalism. The award reflects outstanding leadership and achievement in association management. Strategic association leaders serve MSAE and encourage their staff to participate in the association community; contribute to other voluntary membership organizations; and participate in various civic and community affairs.”

In a letter in support of Currie’s nomination, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans noted, “Mr. Currie and his team at the Michigan Association of Counties provided invaluable expertise and support as we sought to reinvent our purchasing process. Our new state-of-the-art system is expected to save our taxpayers millions of dollars while making it easier for qualified contractors to do business with Wayne County.”

In his acceptance speech, Currie said, “I was shocked, and humbled, to learn I had been nominated and then honored. This award reflects the hard work and commitment of the entire MAC team.

Currie became MAC’s fourth executive director since 1968 on Jan. 1, 2017.

MAC urges commissioners to call senators on property tax amendment

veteran image 10-20-14MAC urges county commissioners to call their state senators this morning (Sept. 19) and ask them to support the Casperson amendment to Senate Bill 45, a veterans property tax exemption. This amendment would not diminish existing or future property tax exemption benefits to disabled veterans, but would require the state to reimburse local units for the lost revenue associated with the property tax exemption.
In this way, the state has ownership in the tax exemption policy they enact.
For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth, bosworth@micounties.org or 517-372-5374.