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.

County vendors: Reserve your copy of the 2018 MAC Membership Directory today

MAC logo blueytThe 2018 MAC Membership Directory is your single stop for information on county decision-makers. And with the directory in final stages of production, MAC is offering a special pre-release price for those businesses and others who need all the details about the people who make county government in Michigan great.

To reserve your copy of the directory, simply fill out this special order form and return to us.

In February, we will ship you the directory, along with the password giving you access to a digital flipbook version, complete with a search function.

MAC also offers email lists for county officials. See the order form for more details.

ACT NOW, though, since this special directory pricing ends on Jan. 31, 2018.

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.

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.

MAC joins call for state attention to infrastructure crisis

roads image mliveMAC joined with a broad coalition of government and business groups at a May 30 event to highlight the ongoing, and worsening, crisis in Michigan’s physical infrastructure.

“Sound infrastructure is vital for economic growth. The drivers of our economy: manufacturing, agriculture and tourism depend on it,” said Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “Infrastructure must be a data-driven discussion, and the data is clear. The Legislature needs to keep the funding promises made in 2015 for roads and begin laying the foundation to address other vital infrastructure systems.”

MAC’s Transportation Platform calls for “the logical development, interconnection and sustained maintenance of all transportation designs and infrastructures within our state.”

For more on the issue, see the press release, or visit fixmistate.org.

April calls tackle mentally ill in county jails

stepping-up-logoThe National Association of Counties (NACo) urges counties to participate in the following call:

“Join the Stepping Up partners for the second Stepping Up Network Call: a deeper dive into the question “Do we conduct timely screening and assessments?” which is featured in the publication Reducing the Number of People with Mental Illness in Jails: Six Questions County Leaders Need to Ask. On this call, a representative from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services will discuss specific mental health screening tools and protocols used in regional and local jails. In addition, representatives from Champaign County, IL, and Douglas County, KS, will be available to discuss their counties’ screening and assessment processes and respond to participants’ questions. Prior to the call, participants should join or review the “Conducting Timely Mental Health Screening and Assessment in Jails” webinar, which will occur on Thursday, April 6 at 2pm ET. The webinar will be recorded and posted on the Stepping Up Toolkit

Click here to register for the call.

Charlotte Williams, Genesee County pioneer, remembered

charlotte williamsCharlotte Williams, the first African American to be president of the National Association of Counties’ Board and the first African-American woman to be elected to the Genesee County Board, was remembered by MAC’s Tim McGuire as “a really, really sharp lady.”

Williams passed away in January.

She served for more than a decade in Genesee County and in the late 1970s became the second woman to lead NACo’s Board.

McGuire, who recently stepped down as MAC’s executive director, shared some memories of Williams with NACo in this week’s edition of County News.

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.”