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.