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.

MAC’s McGuire makes case for new revenue for roads on ‘The Big Show’

McGuireMAC Executive Director Tim McGuire used an appearance on “The Big Show” with Michael Patrick Shiels to make the case that only new revenue will propel the state out of its roads crisis.

“”Do we want dirt roads? … The point is, if you are going to fix the roads, you have to raise revenue. … We have to raise some revenues to pay for the roads. It’s just gotta be done,” McGuire said.

MAC’s Board of Directors, made up of county commissioners from across the state, has long supported a tax increase to generate the new dollars necessary to jump-start maintenance on our crumbling roads.

MAC still sees simple, direct election on 1-cent sales tax boost as best way to address roads crisis

transport funds 10-17-14The Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) reiterated today its longstanding support for a statewide vote to increase the sales tax by 1 penny, with all new funds generated dedicated to road work.

Jon Campbell, president of the MAC Board of Directors and an Allegan County commissioner, said in the wake of Tuesday’s defeat of Proposal 1:

“Voters in Michigan are telling public servants three things: They want more money for our crumbling roads. They want a direct, simple plan. They want to ensure new revenue is dedicated to roads.

“More than a year ago, the MAC Board of Directors decided the best plan for our state was a 1-penny increase in the sales tax dedicated to roads. We still see it as a simple, direct approach that raises the funds to address the crisis. And, based on the EPIC-MRA poll results released May 5, nearly two-thirds of voters would support it.

“Our membership, 622 county commissioners across the state, is eager to work with the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder to quickly and decisively handle this challenge.”

State offers grant funds for county veteran benefits jobs

The Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency is now accepting grant applications to fund new staff positions in counties to assist military veterans with benefit claims.

Under provisions of Public Act 252 of 2014, funds will be distributed with preference to counties that have not previously established a veteran services office or department.

Grant amounts will run from $3,000 to $20,000. See the filing instructions for complete details.

Click here to access a copy of the application cover sheet.

For additional information on the grants program, contact the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency at 800-MICH-VET.

House GOP plan offers opportunity to bolster county services

MAC logo blueytLANSING, Mich. – County officials across Michigan are ready to work with majority Republicans in the Michigan House on key elements of their 2015 “Action Plan,” which was released today in Lansing.

The Michigan Association of Counties, which represents the 622 county commissioners across the state, sees fertile ground to nurture reform on several issues that counties deal with on a daily basis:

  • Tax-capture reform: MAC is pleased that the House GOP noted that tax increment financing by municipalities “is leaving other levels of government collecting a fraction of what they otherwise would.” MAC has long worked at the State Capitol to bring fairness and collaboration to the tax-capture process.
  • Road commission merger authority: MAC agrees with House Republicans that, “The provisions in law that allow county boards of commissioners to consolidate their road commissions under the umbrella of general county government must be reinstated.” That authority expired at the end of 2014 and it should be a top priority for the Legislature to act on restoration in 2015.
  • Community mental health: “There is a continued need to further explore and evaluate policy and budgetary solutions to ensure that those with mental-health needs, and their loved ones, have access to quality and consistent care,” the plan states. Michigan counties know this all too well and will continue to educate policy-makers and the public on the nuances and demands of proper mental health services.
  • Sentencing reform: MAC understands and supports the need to reduce the prison budget’s huge bite on state resources, but changes in sentencing must be made in such a way that county jails and county taxpayers are not left holding the bill.
  • Veteran services: It’s vital to reverse the trends that have left Michigan near the bottom of national rankings on services to our veterans.
  • Public notices: Laws to ensure transparency written with 19th century techniques in mind should and can be updated to protect the public interest while reducing the financial burden on county coffers.

“We are generally pleased with the course being charted by the House leadership,” said Deena Bosworth, MAC’s director of governmental affairs. “And we stand ready to hammer out the details to make these goals into policy. But that requires a balancing act by lawmakers. For example, it’s great for them to urge a focus on the long-term liabilities of local governments, but they can’t, at the same time, be looking to enact more property tax exemptions that drain the very funds that local governments need to cover their liabilities.”

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For more information on MAC, go to www.micounties.org. Deena Bosworth is available to speak to the media on this topic. She can be reached at (800) 258-1152 or Bosworth@micounties.org.

GOP builds on large majority of Michigan’s county commissioner seats

parties image(Updated 12-19-14): In addition to retaining statewide elective offices and majorities in the Michigan Legislature, the Republican Party gained a small number of seats in the ranks of county commissioners, a MAC review of election results finds.

Based on unofficial election results, the Republicans now hold 396 of the 622 seats, a gain of 3 seats. Democrats hold 217 seats, a drop of 5, and candidates labeled as unaffiliated hold 9 seats, a gain of 2.

Republicans also hold a wide margin in control of county boards of commissioners:

  • 59 boards have GOP majorities
  • 23 boards have Democratic majorities
  • 1 board is tied (Alpena Co.)

Partisan control shifted in five counties due to election results: Clare (D to R); Kalamazoo (R to D); Manistee (D to R); Monroe (D to R); and Schoolcraft (D to R).

Of the 622 commissioners in 2015, 136 will be new to the office, MAC found. This turnover rate of 22 percent is consistent with historical results.

Seven county commissioners elected to Legislature

Crawford

Crawford

Cox

Cox

Seven county commissioners will soon move their public service from the courthouse to the Statehouse, thanks to decisions of Michigan voters Tuesday night.

The representatives-elect are:

Grand Traverse County Commissioner Larry Inman will represent the 104th District.

Inman

Inman

Iden

Iden

Kalamazoo County Commissioner Dave Maturen will represent the 63rd District.

Kalamazoo County Commissioner Brandt Iden will represent the 61st District.

Monroe County Commissioner Jason M. Sheppard will represent the 56th District.

Oakland County Commissioner Jim Runestad will represent the 44th District.

Runestad

Runestad

Maturen

Maturen

Oakland County Commissioner Kathy Crawford will represent the 38th District.

Wayne County Commissioner Laura Cox will represent the 19th District.

All seven will serve in the now-enlarged ranks of the Republican caucus in the Michigan House of Representatives. MAC looks forward to working with them on key state policy issues affecting counties,

Sheppard

Sheppard

ranging from unfunded mandates to sentencing guidelines to transportation reform.

MAC’s Bosworth fights flawed tax capture bill

The House Commerce Committee took testimony Wednesday on House Bill 5856 that would revamp state law on downtown development authorities — revamp, but not reform, argued MAC’s Deena Bosworth to committee members.

According to the MIRS News Service (paywall protected) Bosworth “… said the bill ‘falls far short of what we consider real reform.’

“Bosworth argued the continued idea that TIF districts can capture county tax dollars without any say from the counties is ‘fundamentally unfair.’

Bosworth

Bosworth

“‘The proponents of downtown development authorities anywhere and everywhere across the state will tell you that that increased revenue would not be there if wasn’t for their efforts,’ Bosworth told the committee. ‘I happen to disagree.’

“Bosworth used the example of a Home Depot being built outside a true downtown through a DDA. Westland apparently used its DDA dollars to build a city hall, she said.

“‘County revenue for municipal infrastructure projects, I don’t think that was the intention,’ Bosworth said.

“Over the last 10 years, Oakland County has had $70 million in tax revenue captured.

“‘Oakland County wants to have a say in how long they’re there, what projects are done and what county revenue is being captured for what purposes,’ Bosworth said.

“Bosworth also told the committee that MAC had been promised ‘significant reforms.'”

Road impasse has cost state $270 million, and counting

calculator imageThe Legislature’s refusal to fund new investments in infrastructure has cost Michigan taxpayers more than $270 million since June 12 of this year, says a coalition committed to road funding reform.

The Just Fix the Roads Coalition unveiled a calculator widget that shows how much inaction has cost residents.

“’As each day passes, that figure climbs by $2.7 million, or $1 billion per year. Faced with that cost of delay, Michigan’s legislators must find a way to invest at least $2 billion more annually on roads, or the public will continue to bear the brunt of their inaction. As legislators continue to put off road funding, the cost of repairs will escalate even further. It is a major funding dilemma that will only get worse over time,” said Mike Nystrom, executive vice president of Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, a member of the coalition, along with MAC and many others.