Archive for January, 2020

Locals waiting at starting line on road funding

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s road bonding plan, highlighted in her State of the State address Wednesday night, will leave counties without the additional resources they need.

“We’re disappointed it’s not a comprehensive plan to deal with infrastructure,” said Stephan Currie, executive director. “Counties are responsible for 74 percent of the road miles in our state, yet the proceeds from her bonding proposal would go only to state roads.”

Counties are responsible for the lion’s share of Michigan’s 120,000 miles of paved roads – 74.4 percent. In Kalkaska, Lake and Montmorency counties, more than 90 percent of road miles are under county control.

And the most acute needs for road repair are local roads. As of 2018, 47 percent of county lane miles were in poor condition, compared to 27 percent in poor condition for state trunklines, says the Transportation Asset Management Council.

And in a recent poll, far more Michigan residents trusted their local governments to spend any new road dollars (59%) than the state (23%).

“We recognize the governor’s options are limited, but this option leaves locals out of the equation entirely,” Currie noted.

On Thursday, the State Transportation Commission voted to authorize the Michigan Department of Transportation to issue $3.5 billion in bonds for state road work.

Infrastructure investments, from roads to water control, are among MAC’s legislative priorities in 2020.

“Our members stand ready to work with Gov. Whitmer and legislators of both parties to identify best practices and secure funding so county governments can do the work that Michigan residents expect,” Currie said. “We have a great deal of work ahead of us.”

For more information on MAC’s infrastructure advocacy, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

MAC joins coalition against mining bill that guts local control

MAC has joined with six other organizations representing local governments, environmental causes and schools to urge defeat of a bill that guts local oversight over the location and operations of sand and gravel mining in Michigan.

The Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held its second hearing on Wednesday on Senate Bill 431, which would allow sand and gravel pits to operate essentially whenever and wherever they would like. The unnecessary and overreaching bill, sponsored by Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Wayne), would eliminate zoning authority and oversight capability from local governments—regardless of where the operation is located or its impact to nearby residents, schools, businesses, hospitals or others.

“The bill has two fundamental problems,” explained Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs with the Michigan Association of Counties. “It engages in pre-emption of local control, so that’s a ‘no’ right there. Also, it’s built on a dubious market study purporting to show a looming gravel shortage. We don’t know where all the different types of aggregate are in the state and where they would be needed. You don’t usurp local authority if you don’t even know there is a crisis.”

Bosworth’s remarks were echoed by leaders of other opposition groups.

“Senate Bill 431 is a wholly unwarranted piece of legislation that eliminates local officials’ ability to have any say in the impact of sand and gravel mines in their communities,” said Neil Sheridan, executive director of the Michigan Townships Association. “While MTA supports access to materials necessary to fix Michigan’s roads, the existing process allows for local governments to balance those needs, along with those of their residents and the impact of mining operations in their borders. This bill, however, removes local authority and all safeguards to ensure that balance.”

The legislation would essentially allow the aggregate industry to operate unfettered, with virtually zero oversight at any level of government, unfairly favoring the industry over our residents, students and the environment. It places profit before people, requiring only that an applicant for mining operations prove the operation would be profitable and the extraction will not pose a risk to public health, safety or welfare that cannot be avoided.

“This bill would have a devastating impact on our cities and villages,” said Jennifer Rigterink, legislative associate for the Michigan Municipal League. “SB 431 is all about profit for the industry and has no regard for people, communities or the environment.” See the complete coalition statement.

The bill remains in committee.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

MAC testifies for tweaks to competency process

County Commissioners across the state have been hearing for years of the backlog at the state’s Center for Forensic Psychiatry. Defendants are sitting in county jails waiting to be evaluated to determine competency to stand trial, and even if they are deemed incompetent, they could then be sitting in jail for long periods of time before they are moved somewhere to get treatment. Not only does this strain county jail resources, it can lead to defendants’ further mental health deterioration and delays the process for victims.

House Bill 5325, by Rep. Julie Calley (R-Ionia and a former county commissioner), would require a competency exam to be scheduled within 30 days if the defendant is being held in jail. If the exam is not completed in 30 days, the court could appoint independent qualified personnel to complete the exam. MAC is supportive of the bill in concept, but a workable funding mechanism must be identified. The county would pay for an independent evaluation under the current language and then deduct that cost from money it sends to the state through court fine and fee transmittals.

However, MAC testified in the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee this week that while a deduction process is well-intended and preferred by counties over waiting on payments from the state, the transmittal money it sends to the state is already spoken for in a variety of fine/fee statutes. Deduction of dollars from the transmittals would violate the statutory fee/assessment designations and would affect funding for those designated purposes.

MAC appreciates Rep. Calley’s willingness to find a resolution to the funding language in order to move this good policy forward. The bill is also supported in concept by the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan.

For more information on this issue, contact Meghann Keit at Keit@micounties.org.

 

Let us know if you are coming to Lansing

Few actions can be as effective for county advocacy as local officials coming to Lansing to talk with legislators or testify before legislative committees. MAC encourages county commissioners and administrators to use every opportunity they can to participate this way in the policy-making process.

In those situations where you decide to testify or are invited to do so by a legislator, please contact the MAC offices in advance of your committee date. Such notice allows MAC to:

  • provide details on the current state of legislation;
  • promote the appearance, thereby encouraging your colleagues to be more involved; and
  • offer suggested talking points or themes from a multi-county perspective.

As soon as you know you are coming to Lansing, please contact Governmental Affairs Assistant Michael Ruddock at 517-372-5374 or ruddock@micounties.org.

 

Learn about county’s responsibilities under E911 law

On Jan. 1, 2021, counties must have a plan and changes in place to comply with the law on E911 (Enhanced 911 services).

A March 24 webinar, sponsored by MAC and Abilita, will help answer your questions concerning E911 compliance.

Consider this: An employee at your office has a medical emergency after normal working hours with nobody around. He or she dials 911 from a desk phone and the ambulance arrives at your location. However, since it is after hours and the building is more than 20,000 square feet on multiple floors. The first responders are delayed finding the individual that dialed 911. This is a possibility; and the situation can be even more complicated if there are multiple buildings tied to one phone system through VoIP technology.

The E911 law was enacted to change this.

Among questions explored in the 45-minute webinar will be:

  1. What is E911 and why a new law in Michigan?
  2. What is required for compliance?
  3. Who does this apply to?
  4. Is there any ongoing maintenance involved with this?
  5. What if we don’t do anything?

The webinar will run from 11 a.m. to noon on March 24. It is free and open to staffers at any MAC member county. To register, click here. 

After the March 24 presentation, a recorded version will be placed on the MAC website for 24/7 viewing through the rest of 2020.

 

National news from NACo

MAC has joined with six other organizations representing local governments, environmental causes and schools to urge defeat of a bill that guts local oversight over the location and operations of sand and gravel mining in Michigan.

The Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is holding its second hearing today (Jan. 29) on Senate Bill 431, which would allow sand and gravel pits to operate essentially whenever and wherever they would like. The unnecessary and overreaching bill, sponsored by Sen. Adam Hollier (D-Detroit), would eliminate zoning authority and oversight capability from local governments—regardless of where the operation is located or its impact to nearby residents, schools, businesses, hospitals or others.

“The bill has two fundamental problems,” explained Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs with the Michigan Association of Counties. “It engages in pre-emption of local control, so that’s a ‘no’ right there. Also, it’s built on a dubious market study purporting to show a looming gravel shortage. We don’t know where all the different types of aggregate are in the state and where they would be needed. You don’t usurp local authority if you don’t even know there is a crisis.”

Bosworth’s remarks were echoed by leaders of other opposition groups.

“Senate Bill 431 is a wholly unwarranted piece of legislation that eliminates local officials’ ability to have any say in the impact of sand and gravel mines in their communities,” said Neil Sheridan, executive director of the Michigan Townships Association. “While MTA supports access to materials necessary to fix Michigan’s roads, the existing process allows for local governments to balance those needs, along with those of their residents and the impact of mining operations in their borders. This bill, however, removes local authority and all safeguards to ensure that balance.”

The legislation would essentially allow the aggregate industry to operate unfettered, with virtually zero oversight at any level of government, unfairly favoring the industry over our residents, students and the environment. It places profit before people, requiring only that an applicant for mining operations prove the operation would be profitable and the extraction will not pose a risk to public health, safety or welfare that cannot be avoided.

“This bill would have a devastating impact on our cities and villages,” said Jennifer Rigterink, legislative associate for the Michigan Municipal League. “SB 431 is all about profit for the industry and has no regard for people, communities or the environment.”

See the complete coalition statement.

 

On Jan. 1, 2021, counties must have a plan and changes in place to comply with the law on E911 (Enhanced 911 services).

A March 24 webinar, sponsored by MAC and Abilita, will help answer your questions concerning E911 compliance.

Consider this: An employee at your office has a medical emergency after normal working hours with nobody around. He or she dials 911 from a desk phone and the ambulance arrives at your location. However, since it is after hours and the building is more than 20,000 square feet on multiple floors. The first responders are delayed finding the individual that dialed 911. This is a possibility; and the situation can be even more complicated if there are multiple buildings tied to one phone system through VoIP technology.

The E911 law was enacted to change this.

Among questions explored in the 45-minute webinar will be:

  1. What is E911 and why a new law in Michigan?
  2. What is required for compliance?
  3. Who does this apply to?
  4. Is there any ongoing maintenance involved with this?
  5. What if we don’t do anything?

The webinar will run from 11 a.m. to noon on March 24. It is free and open to staffers at any MAC member county. To register, click here.

After the March 24 presentation, a recorded version will be placed on the MAC website for 24/7 viewing through the rest of 2020.

Protecting and improving funding for Michigan’s 242 trial courts and ending the diversion of critical local funds via state-mandated property tax exemptions are among eight legislative priority areas for Michigan’s 83 counties in 2020.

The state priorities were released by the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC), which represents county governments in Lansing, in advance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s State of the State address, set for Wednesday, Jan. 29.

“The major themes you see in these priorities are that counties are responsible for vital public services, yet the funding for that work is insufficient, tenuous or directly under attack,” said Stephan Currie, executive director of MAC. “While Michigan’s economy is doing well, provision for public services has lagged. We have to invest in public health, in infrastructure, in public safety, but our members can’t do so if state leaders limit or reduce our resources.”

The eight priority areas are:

  • Ensuring stable, proper funding for trial courts
  • Reforming Michigan’s system of financing local government
  • Addressing roads, underground infrastructure and threats to Michigan’s waters and shorelines
  • Ensuring viability and responsibility in public mental health systems
  • Ensuring the state covers costs for property tax exemptions
  • Working to combat the opioid crisis
  • Prohibiting the use of deed restrictions in property valuations
  • Extending county commissioner terms to four years

“For most counties, property taxes provide the majority of the General Fund,” Currie noted, “yet only last year did taxable property values reach the level they were in 2008. Local resources haven’t recovered from the Great Recession; state leaders need to understand that and act accordingly.”

Bills to alter property tax foreclosure process introduced

After months of behind the scenes discussions, Sen. Jim Runestad (R-Oakland) and Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Oakland) have introduced Senate Bills 725 and 726. The bills seek to codify many of the best practices followed by county treasurers across the state, while also authorizing in law additional opportunities for property redemption that don’t exist now.

For several years now, media coverage has focused on select cases where a homeowner has lost the equity in their home to the foreclosing governmental unit. Upon taking a closer look at the bulk of these cases, and at the success treasurers have had in collecting back taxes and keeping the homeowners in their homes, it was revealed that the county treasurer did everything in their power under the law to notify the homeowner and work with the homeowner on a payment plan, and provided ample opportunities for redemption of the property.

SB 725 requires the following additions to the notice that is sent to homeowners entering the foreclosure process:

  • A statement that payment plans may be available
  • A schedule of all additional interest, penalties and fees that will accrue through the immediately succeeding March 1
  • A statement warning the owner that payments made to the local tax collecting unit and not to the foreclosing governmental unit, may not be applied to the delinquent account that put them in foreclosure in the first place
  • The name and contact information for an individual in the county treasurer’s office with whom the taxpayer may discuss options for payment plans, avoidance agreements and any other means by which the taxpayer may be able to prevent additional interest, penalties and foreclosure

SB 726 allows for the redemption of property after a foreclosing governmental unit has filed a petition for a judgement with the circuit court, if a payment on subsequent taxes for a principal residence was applied to subsequent tax bills but could have been applied to redeem the property and the property owner requests the payment be reapplied to the delinquent taxes.

MAC does not have a position on these bills yet but is encouraged that the bills seek to codify best practices, provide greater opportunities for people to stay in their homes and do not compromise the responsibility of property owners to pay their taxes.

 For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Senate committee delves into unfunded mandates

Ottawa Administrator Al Vanderberg testifies before the Senate Oversight Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 21.

The Senate Oversight Committee took testimony Tuesday on what committee Chair Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Dickinson) termed “a discussion on unfunded mandates.”

Among the witnesses was Eric Lupher of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, who noted the enforcement mechanism under the Headlee Amendment, which bars new unfunded mandates by the state on local governments, has not “borne fruit” for locals contesting state actions.

Al Vanderberg, administrator of Ottawa County, provided examples of unfunded mandates in public health, mental health, the Child Care Fund and the court system. “We’re still $800,000 below the state meeting its requirement under public health,” he stated. 

Asked by McBroom about fixing the situation, Vanderberg said, “A good way to start would be to put together a workgroup that would work on this that would include all 3 branches of state governments and local governments. … Let’s fix this going forward.”

 MAC appreciates the efforts of Sen. McBroom for continuing to raise this issue, and thanks Vanderberg for his testimony in support of reform.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth at micounties.org.

 

Local authority threatened under mining bill in Senate

Senate Bill 431, by Sen. Adam Hollier (D- Wayne), would create a statewide standard for mining of certain natural resources and take local decision making out of the process. This issue stems from a long-standing battle in Metamora Township, where the township does not want additional mining operations in its community.

Proponents of the legislation argue the aggregate material should be mined as close as possible to where it is going to be used to cut down on the additional expenses associated with trucking the materials long distances. MAC and the Michigan Townships Association are opposed to the measure because it would take decisions about where to allow aggregates to be mined out of the hands of the local units that have to contend with the noise, traffic and wear and tear on their roads and their residents.

The bill has not yet been voted on in committee but further consideration on the matter is anticipated.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

Governor signs bills to restore road commission merger authority            

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed two bills this week that remove any legislative “sunset” on the authority of county boards to pursue authority over county road commissions.

Senate Bills 322-323, by Sen. Roger Victory (R-Ottawa), were strongly backed by MAC.

The bills remove the previous statutory deadline by which a county could opt to absorb its county road commission and make it a county road department.  Since 2012, counties have had the option of absorbing appointed road commissions or, in the cases of an elected road commission, put the question up to the voters. That authority, however, had expired on Dec. 31, 2019. The new bills reverse that expiration and restore the authority permanently.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Legal advice: Be present for board meetings

MAC has received inquiries from several members about what’s allowed under the Open Meetings Act (OMA) regarding remote participation in a board meeting.

Last year, the firm of Cohl, Stoker and Toskey issued a memo on changes to the OMA that went into effect on March 29, 2019.

As noted in the memo: “The statutory change does not address whether a quorum must be physically present. However, there is a strong legal argument that a ‘physical’ presence is required for a quorum. The OMA states at Section 2(a): “Meeting” is defined as “the convening of a public body at which a quorum is present for the purpose of deliberating toward or rendering a decision on a public policy.” While we could not find any Michigan case law on point, generally present means a physical presence.” (emphasis added)

MAC encourages members to seek legal guidance whenever there is uncertainty about board actions or operations under the OMA.

House committee takes testimony on coastal lake levels, erosion and flooding

Impending record high water levels in the Great Lakes, crashing waves, high inland lake and river levels and a high water table are wreaking havoc in many counties across the state. Rep. Sue Allor (R-Cheboygan) took testimony in a House subcommittee this week from the Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Environment (EGLE), several city managers, the Saginaw public works director and the Ottawa County water resources commissioner on the impact of these trends.

Dean Kapenga, an Allegan County commissioner, also attended the hearing and provided written testimony to the committee regarding the major impact the lake level is having on his communities along the Lake Michigan coast. Faced with houses and other structures falling into the lake, road washouts, flooded homes and streets and the exhausted efforts to control the water, communities and the state are trying to figure out how to mitigate the damage happening now and predicted to happen in the spring. Although no resolution to the problems facing these communities was reached, several areas around the state are working with their local elected officials, emergency managers and public works professionals to notify the public, protect municipal assets and preserve as much infrastructure as possible. This will be an ongoing conversation over the next several months with EGLE taking the lead on expedited permitting and communications strategies.

For more information on this issue, contact Deena Bosworth at Bosworth@micounties.org.

 

State sets town halls on housing issues for farm workers

Public input is being sought on housing issues for farm workers in Michigan at six town halls set by a new Food and Agriculture Housing Task Force, led by Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).

“With an increased demand for hired labor in the food and agriculture sector, housing has become a major issue in Michigan. The new Food and Agriculture Housing Task Force … will be delving into housing needs throughout the state,” MDARD noted in a recent release.

MDARD will be hosting six regional town hall meetings across the state to hear from community leaders, economic development representatives and food and ag-based businesses to garner input about their individualized needs. To RSVP for these meetings, click this link.

The meeting dates and communities are:

  • Feb. 5 in Taylor
  • Feb. 11 in Grand Rapids
  • Feb. 12 in Kalamazoo
  • March 10 in Frankenmuth
  • March 30 in Traverse City
  • March 31 in Escanaba

Individuals interested in offering feedback about housing also may take a survey through the following website: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/C2CYPTG

Results from town hall meetings, survey, and one on one meetings will be used to develop a final report this summer to identify solutions and an implementation plan.

 

National news from NACo

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