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).

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.”

General Fund trends have state in jam, Bosworth tells Bloomberg News

Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs

Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs

State leaders have put Michigan, county leaders and themselves in a difficult position after years of failing to invest resources in local services, MAC’s Deena Bosworth told a Bloomberg News reporter this week.

In a story detailing the coming crunch on Michigan’s General Fund, Bosworth said, “You can cut services, you can say you’re no longer going to have a court system, foster care. But there’s really not a lot more you can do without more revenue.’’

Bosworth was speaking in the context of the limitations in Proposal A and Headlee that have made it virtually impossible for counties to recover the property revenue crash of the Great Recession, even as Michigan property values are recovering.

“We’re running at 60 percent of what tax revenues were 10 years ago,’’ Bosworth said, referring to the inflation-adjusted revenue figures for a typical county in Michigan.

To read the entire piece, reproduced with permission from Daily Tax Report (Copyright 2017 by The Bureau of National Affairs, http://www.bna.com), click here.

Pension-OPEB report shows need for state to adopt tailored, long-term approach to complex liability issues

Steve Currie

Steve Currie

Michigan needs to tailor long-term solutions to the specific circumstances of local governments struggling to cover pension and OPEB liabilities said the Michigan Association of Counties in response to the new report of a gubernatorial task force.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s Task Force on Responsible Retirement Reform for Local Government met over the winter and spring to study unfunded liabilities exceeding $14 billion for pensions, health and other benefits for employees. The group’s report properly notes that:

  • “As local units across the state are unique and at different stages in dealing with this problem, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution – we must be flexible in our approach.” (page 3)
  • “Attention should focus on the local units experiencing the greatest fiscal stress as it relates to pension and OPEB liabilities.” (page 3)

“It’s important for legislators and citizens to understand that there’s no overnight fix to this issue,” said Stephan W. Currie, MAC’s executive director.

Currie, who served on the 23-member panel, added, “A ‘one-size-for-all’ approach will not work for everyone, which the report rightly highlights. For example, most of our 83 county members either are in solid shape in setting aside money for these commitments or did not extend them in the first place. We need to start with a system that identifies the governments struggling with legacy costs, as is urged in the report.

“MAC is appreciative of the opportunity to participate with a diverse group of stakeholders and looks forward to working with the governor, legislators and others in the ongoing pursuit of stable funding.”

The full report and additional details are available at the governor’s website.

For more information on the Michigan Association of Counties, visit www.micounties.org.

First 4 standards for indigent defense approved; 180-day compliance clock started

indigent defenseThe first standards from the state’s Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) were approved late Monday (May 22) by the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. This decision now begins a 180-day clock for counties to submit their compliance plans for these four particular standards:

  • Education and training
  • Initial client interviews
  • Experts and investigators
  • Presence of counsel in front of a judge

Remember, once a compliance plan has been approved, counties still do not have to comply with the standards (if they are not already complying) until state funding for those measures has been appropriated. After receipt of the funds, counties will have another 180 days to implement the changes.

Additional information can be found on the MIDC website. The complete text of the order is here.

If you have questions, contact Elizabeth Gorz, gorz@micounties.org or 248-330-2288.

MAC praises Rep. VerHeulen for leading effort to resolve court funding questions

federal courtoom detroitLegislation filed today by Rep. Rob VerHeulen (R-Kent) that would keep funding for local trial courts stable and create a special commission to study best practices is an important move toward permanent reform, the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) said today.

MAC, representing Michigan’s 83 counties, which have responsibility for local trial courts, has been working diligently with legislators and other stakeholders on an improved court funding model since a 2014 Michigan Supreme Court ruling through the traditional funding system into disarray.

In People v. Cunningham in June 2014, the court ruled a lack of statutory authority invalidated the use of fees routinely imposed on convicted defendants. That meant local courts were looking at operating fund losses in the tens of millions of dollars. MAC helped lead a coalition of stakeholders to draft legislation to restore the fee authority, which became law in fall 2014. That fee authority, though, expires this October.

Rep. VerHeulen’s bills, House Bills 4612 and 4613, would again extend the fee authority, this time to Oct. 17, 2020, plus direct the formation of a commission to analyze court funding models and make a recommendation to the Legislature for action. The bills were assigned to the House Appropriations Committee.

“This is a difficult issue, so we are thankful Rep. VerHeulen is, first, ensuring stable operations for our trial courts and, second, putting together a process to enact a better, permanent funding system,” said Deena Bosworth, MAC’s director of governmental affairs. “Since the proverbial clock is ticking, it’s vital for the Legislature to review and advance this legislation to Gov. Snyder’s desk by September.”

For more information on the Michigan Association of Counties, visit www.micounties.org.

MAC praises new report on vital role of county services

michigan-county-mapA new report unveiled at MAC’s 2017 Legislative Conference could help the state take a broader view of the importance of proper funding for county services, MAC’s Deena Bosworth told MIRS News Service Thursday.

The study, Counties in Michigan: An Exercise in Regional Government, details the advantages that counties already offer in the pursuit of greater collaboration on public services and improved efficiency.

“(CRC) is not advocating a one-size-fits-all solution to  regional  government  in  Michigan,  but  rather  a  move to thinking of local government more in terms
of the region and what county government can do in a more effective and economical manner than a city, village, or township can do,” the report concludes.

Speaking at the MAC conference Tuesday, Gov. Rick Snyder said Michigan should look to invest more in local services. MAC will be urging the governor and his administration to work with the Legislature to translate that concept into tangible changes in state budgets and regulations as the legislative session continues in 2017.

MAC supports reintroduced bill to reform Tax Tribunal, resolve Dark Stores crisis

Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs

Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs

A bill that restores fairness to Michigan’s property tax appeals system was reintroduced in the House March 21 with the strong support of MAC and other local government leaders throughout the state.

House Bill 4397, sponsored by Rep. David Maturen, R-Brady Township, is already backed by a bipartisan group of 54 House members. Officials discussed the legislation and issue at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

“Deed restrictions that prevent commercial property from being utilized by another commercial retailer not only prevent true competition, but also artificially drive down demand for the property, thereby lowering the value.” said Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs for MAC in a statement released Tuesday. “That’s the key problem here. Rep. Maturen drew on his experience as a county commissioner and as an appraiser to identify a solution to this and the other problems the Tax Tribunal has created with its Dark Stores rulings.”

HB 4397 would require Tax Tribunal members to apply standard appraisal procedures when reaching their findings of facts and conclusions of law in larger property tax cases. The bill is a reintroduction of legislation that was approved in the state House of Representatives in June 2016 by a 97-11 margin.

To read the complete statement, click here.

MAC details need for action on funding to House committee

deena TV 3-8-17MAC’s Deena Bosworth provided an overview of the funding crisis besetting counties across Michigan during an appearance Wednesday before the House Local Government Committee.

“The Great Recession really hurt our property tax values … you need to understand property tax values can drop as fast as the market drops, but we can’t recover when the value of your home is going up, it takes a long time for that taxable value to go back up,” Bosworth explained. “The demand on our services hasn’t gone down, but the revenue has, when you adjust for inflation.”

Funding reform is a top legislative priority for MAC in 2017.

You can see Bosworth’s complete testimony here.

Bosworth’s presentation also can be found in the members section of MAC’s website.

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.