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.

 

Allegan County wins top national award for digital practices

Mark DeYoung (second from left) and Jon Campbell (second from right) accept Allegan County's first place award in the 2015 Digital Survey Awards. (courtesy photo)

Mark DeYoung (second from left) and Jon Campbell (second from right) accept Allegan County’s first place award in the 2015 Digital Survey Awards. (courtesy photo)

Allegan County Board of Commissioners Chairman Mark DeYoung and fellow Allegan Commissioner Jon Campbell were presented the first place award in the Center for Digital Government’s 2015 Digital Survey Awards at the National Association of Counties’ Annual Conference this week.

Allegan, which won in the under 150,000 population category, was honored for offering 27 different online services, including its online GIS Data Library, which citizens and customers can download at no cost. Judges also made note of the county’s Connect with Us social media portal and its collaboration with Kent and Ottawa counties on procurement. “This solution and the consortium created by these three counties serve as a model for other municipalities across the state of Michigan,” the judges wrote.

Commissioner Don Disselkoen accepts Ottawa County's digital award at the NACo Annual Conference in North Carolina. (courtesy photo)

Commissioner Don Disselkoen accepts Ottawa County’s digital award at the NACo Annual Conference in North Carolina. (courtesy photo)

Campbell also serves as president of the MAC Board of Directors.

Several other Michigan counties received honors at the event.

Oakland County won third place in the over 500,000 category for its suite of programs, including a countywide social media strategy, its G2G (Government to Government) Marketplace.

Commissioner Don Disselkoen of Ottawa County, also a MAC Board member, was on hand to pick up his county’s sixth place award in the 250,000 to 449,999 category.

Jackson County Commissioner Sarah Lightner poses with her county's award. (courtesy photo)

Jackson County Commissioner Sarah Lightner poses with her county’s award. (courtesy photo)

Jackson County Commissioner Sarah Lightner accepted her county’s 10th place award in the 150,000 to 249,999 category. Berrien County received fifth place in the same population category.

The 2015 Digital Counties Survey, conducted by e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government, highlights counties across the country that are digital leaders. Established in 1984, e.Republic is the nation’s only media and research company focused exclusively on state and local government and education.

“This is an outstanding example of how Michigan counties are using innovation and technology to protect and enhance public services in tight budgetary times,” said Tim McGuire, executive director of MAC. “As these results show, counties of any size can find new ways to help their residents.”

Alger, Jackson counties land Environmental Protection Agency grants to rehabilitate brownfield sites

munising pic

Downtown Munising.

Two members of the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) were informed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently that their grant applications for brownfield assessments were accepted.

Alger County will receive $196,100, while Jackson County will get $400,000. Each county was approved for “community-wide” assessments, the EPA announced.

For Alger County, the successful notice comes after several years of tweaking proposals to address longstanding contamination issues, assisted by MAC’s Grant Services Program.

“This grant took a different and creative approach by only requesting enough funds to address redevelopment problems and financial barriers at the top four highest priority brownfield sites in the county,” explained Gabriel Zawadzki, who leads MAC’s Grant Services Program. “Three of these sites are located in the heart of downtown Munising along M28 — the major northern corridor through the Upper Peninsula and the gateway to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.”

Alger County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jerry Doucette said the county is eager to get to work to bring these properties back into productive use.

“We were fortunate to have the assistance of MAC and its experts at AKT Peerless and Envirologic to ensure that, this time, we would be successful in convincing the EPA of the importance of our proposal,” added Doucette, who also serves as first vice president of MAC.

In all, the EPA approved seven of the 26 applications from Michigan in this round of funding. In addition to Alger and Jackson counties, the successful applicants were: the city of Detroit, the Downriver Community Conference, the Genesee County Land Bank, the city of Lansing and the Muskegon Brownfield Redevelopment Authority. Total funding gained via the grants exceeds $2.5 million.

MAC prez: Bring ‘dark stores’ problem to a halt

MAC President Jon Campbell is an Allegan County commissioner.

MAC President Jon Campbell is an Allegan County commissioner.

MAC President Jon Campbell took to the pages of the Detroit Free Press today (May 29) to draw more attention to the growing crisis presented to local government services by the “dark stores” property tax technique:

“This gaming of the system, known in tax circles as the ‘dark stores’ technique, must come to a halt before counties and communities across Michigan are stripped of the resources to operate basic public services.

“Here’s how it works: Lawyers for the retailers convinced the Michigan Tax Tribunal, an unelected panel with jurisdiction over property tax appeals, to drop the traditional method of valuing such property based on the cost to construct a store, and instead, they convinced the tribunal to set values based on ‘comparable sales.’ These comparable sales, however, are few and far between in the world of big box retailing, which means comparisons are often to vacant structures or buildings that have been converted to unusual or non-retailing uses.

“Retailers may also use deed restrictions to ensure that when they upgrade to a new or larger facility, their old facility can’t be purchased and utilized by a competing retailer, resulting in more boarded-up buildings in our communities.”

MAC, led by Governmental Affairs Director Deena Bosworth, has been working closely with key legislators, such as Sen. Tom Casperson, and other government officials to craft a legislative fix to the dark stores problem.

Treasury releases county-by-county liquor tax estimates

Liquor-StoreThe Michigan Department of Treasury reports that liquor tax distributions to counties will decline to $49.88 million in fiscal 2016, from $73.75 million in fiscal 2015.

The 4 percent liquor tax that gets distributed to counties across the state is set to expire at the end of 2015. Back in 2008, the Legislature refinanced the Cobo Hall facility in Detroit and extended the liquor tax. As part of that package of bills, counties would still receive the liquor tax, but would be limited to receiving only that amount that was collected in their county. Currently the liquor taxes collected in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties are distributed to the rest of the counties. In essence, the liquor taxes collected in those three counties have subsidized the amounts to the rest of the state. In FY 2015, those 80 counties are receiving approximately 200 percent of the liquor taxes actually paid in their jurisdictions.

For FY16, Treasury says, “The 80 ‘out-state’ counties will receive 101 percent of the FY 15 liquor tax collections in their county. Macomb, Oakland, and Wayne share 101 percent of the FY 15 liquor tax collections in the three counties, which is estimated to be a slight increase compared to their estimated FY 15 distribution. Macomb and Oakland counties get a portion of the liquor taxes collected in Detroit.”

To see the county-by-county figures, click here.

MAC committees to review hotel taxes, fracking fees

MAC committees on the environment and economic development are tackling some intriguing issues in their sessions on April 17.

The Economic Committee will be looking at the value of altering state law on hotel/motel taxes. The Citizens Research Council of Michigan has produced a handy one-page summary of what current law allows.

The Environmental Committee will hear from Krystle Sacavage of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission about that state’s regulations and “impact fees” on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

If you are a commissioner interested in serving on one of MAC’s committees (Environmental and Regulatory Affairs; Economic Development and Taxation; Judiciary and Public Safety; Health and Human Services; and Transportation) contact Casey Steffee at steffee@micounties.org for an application and more information.

MAC’s Bosworth talks to Port Huron paper about need for tax-capture reform

Bosworth

Bosworth

MAC’s Deena Bosworth lays out the counties’ position on the need for tax-capture reform in this story from Port Huron on the workings of downtown development authorities in St. Clair County:

These are unelected officials that are spending money on whatever they see fit … It should not be up to an unelected board to capture however much tax money they want and use it however they see fit.”

Tax-capture reform will be a priority for MAC in the 2015 legislative session. As always, please be sure to share with us your local experiences and input via email to melot@micounties.org. The more data and experience we can provide lawmakers, the more powerful our lobbying effort becomes.

For more background on tax-capture laws and MAC’s position them, review this briefing paper. (Please note you must be a registered member of the MAC website to access MAC briefing papers and other key documents. Be sure to register today at http://www.micounties.org/index.php/private-site/login?view=registration)