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.

Charlotte Williams, Genesee County pioneer, remembered

charlotte williamsCharlotte Williams, the first African American to be president of the National Association of Counties’ Board and the first African-American woman to be elected to the Genesee County Board, was remembered by MAC’s Tim McGuire as “a really, really sharp lady.”

Williams passed away in January.

She served for more than a decade in Genesee County and in the late 1970s became the second woman to lead NACo’s Board.

McGuire, who recently stepped down as MAC’s executive director, shared some memories of Williams with NACo in this week’s edition of County News.

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.

Bring world-class art exhibits to your county!

callfor_insideoutMore than half of Michigan’s counties are now eligible to participate in 2017 in a program that brings exhibits from the world-renowned Detroit Institute of Arts to the four corners of the state.

List of eligible counties

Via its “Inside Out” program, DIA is partnering with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs to bring open-air exhibits to 15 qualifying communities in 2017.

Inside Out brings framed reproductions of DIA masterworks to parks and downtowns, creating an open air gallery. Fifteen reproductions will be installed from Memorial Day to Oct. 31. Participating communities will also receive a stipend to support Inside Out programming.

Applications are due by Feb. 17 and are available here.

Shiawassee County rejoins MAC

shiawasseeThanks to a vote by the Shiawassee Board of Commissioners this month, MAC will enter 2017 with all 83 counties as dues-paying members.

“This is excellent news for MAC and, more importantly, our members,” said incoming Executive Director Steve Currie. “Our collective voice will now be stronger at the State Capitol in a year when we are seeking major reforms to aid county governments on financing public services.”

Shiawassee County Board Chairman Hartmann Aue cited MAC’s services and the county’s financial improvements for the move.

“In two years, Shiawassee County has completely changed our financial condition. We have generated a record surplus of nearly $800,000, paid down long term debts by more than $850,000 and have grown our ‘rainy day fund’ from $23,000 to more than $400,000. … I felt now was the time to rejoin MAC and provide the Board of Commissioners additional resources to govern successfully,” he said. “The services and trainings provided by MAC will only help Shiawassee County continue the positive momentum from the foundation set in place by the 2015-2016 Board.”

With its membership, Shiawassee now can leverage the advocacy, educational and networking opportunities MAC offers all its members, plus special service arrangements with such business partners as Nationwide Retirement Solutions, Allstate Benefits and Lincoln Financial.

Alger’s Doucette appointed to NACo Board

jerry-doucette-sept-2015Jerry Doucette, chair of the Alger County Board of Commissioners, has been appointed a member of the National Association of Counties (NACo) Board. The appointment was made on Dec. 9 at a NACo Board session in Tallahassee, Fla.

Doucette, who also serves on the Michigan Association of Counties’ Board as Immediate Past President, was selected to replace Oceana County Commissioner Evelyn Kolbe, who passed away in November.

“With this board appointment, I will be able to continue my work on the Economic Development and Workforce Committee, the Rural Action Caucus, Veterans Committee and Membership Committee with NACO,” Doucette said. “It is so important for MAC and NACo to partner together to protect counties’ needs for funding and continue to be the voices of county government to state and federal governmental leaders.”

The NACo Board “governs the strategic goals, policies and priorities of the association, as well as oversees the association’s policies, business and property.”

“We are pleased that Jerry Doucette will be able to continue Evelyn’s fine work on behalf of Michigan at the national level,” said Stephan W. Currie, MAC’s executive director. “Jerry’s knowledge of the issues, gained from extensive service with MAC and NACo, will pay off for Michigan’s county governments.”

House takes up OPEB reform package

retirementIn an effort to address the more than $11 billion in unfunded accrued OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefits) liabilities for local governments across Michigan, the House is reviewing a package of bills aimed at changing the insurance benefits for government retirees. The 13-bill package, put forth by Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Isabella), creates the Local Government Retirement Act and amends all the relevant statutes to require compliance with the main bill, House Bill 6074.

Of Michigan’s 83 counties, 26 do not offer OPEB, while another six are currently at least 80 percent funded in the benefits, which would make them exempt from some of the requirements in the act. The remaining 51 counties have an accumulated unfunded liability of approximately $3 billion.

Breakdown of counties by OPEB commitments
(Updated 1/3/17 with corrected figures for Livingston County)

The six counties above the 80 percent mark — Barry, Cass, Clinton, Macomb, Oakland, Ottawa — would be exempt from the changes to current employee and current retiree OPEB benefits, regardless of whether or not the employees are currently vested in the benefit. These counties, however, would still be subject to the provisions for Medicare eligible retirees, Medicare supplemental policy contributions and for all new hires as detailed below.

The main provisions of the package include:

  • Requires an “unvested” retiree to contribute a minimum of 20 percent toward the cost for post-employment insurance and caps a local government’s contribution to a maximum of 80 percent.
  • Limits local governments’ contributions toward OPEB benefits for all new hires to a maximum of 2 percent of the employee’s base pay.
  • Requires all retirees to be on Medicare when eligible.
  • Caps local government contributions to Medicare supplemental policies to 80 percent of the cost of the policy.
  • Prohibits a local government, regardless of whether or not it meets the 80 percent funded threshold, from providing insurance benefits to retirees who are eligible to participate in a medical benefit plan or retirement health benefit plan offered or provided by an employer other than the local government.
  • Directs that “vested” employees will be exempt from changes in the act. To determine whether or not an employee is vested/exempt, the package states that if a collective bargaining agreement entered into before act’s adoption clearly and expressly confers a fixed, unalterable right to a vested retirement health benefit for an unambiguous duration, then the act does not impair that vested retirement health benefit for that duration.

After consulting with the Executive Committee of MAC’s Board of Directors and several county administrators, MAC took the position of “support in concept” and testified before the House Local Government Committee on that theme on Dec. 1. MAC noted in its testimony our appreciation for providing local governments with some assistance in tackling this looming obligation by taking this issue off of the bargaining table and for the state diverting legal challenges to the proposed law from the local governments that seek to amend the benefits for unvested employees and retirees.

MAC also conveyed concerns with the approach, including:

  • Many Michigan counties already have acted to change these benefits for current employees and for new hires. This should be recognized by the state.
  • Local control has been, and continues to be, a vital component of good governance, but the state needs to “untie the hands of the county so they have the tools necessary to address the issues.”
  • This approach focuses only on fixing local government budgetary issues by going after the costs associated with the employees that provide the public services we all rely upon. MAC would like to see the Legislature actually address the revenue side of the equation.

In addition to the concerns outlined above, MAC will be working with the Legislature on language changes and certain provisions that need to be addressed for specific counties. We anticipate additional hearings next week. For more information, contact Deena Bosworth at Bosworth@micounties.org

Republicans build on big majority in county commissioner seats

mac-michigan-map-partisan-board-stats-11-10-2016Michigan Republicans expanded their already large margin in county commissioner seats in the Nov. 8 General Election, a MAC review of unofficial results shows.

The GOP now holds 432 seats, with one vacancy in Ontonagon County still to be filled. That’s up from 396 seats after the 2014 elections, for a net gain of at least 36 seats.

Democrats fell to 182 seats, while independents and third-party members hold 7 seats.

Republican majorities will sit on boards governing 63 of Michigan’s 83 counties; Democratic majorities will control 19 boards, while the Keweenaw board does not have a partisan majority.

Partisan control shifted in five counties due to election results:

  • Arenac (D to R)
  • Clare (R to D)
  • Isabella (D to R)
  • Keweenaw (D to no partisan majority)
  • Lake (D to R)

Of the 622 commissioners in 2017, 160 will be new to the office, not counting the vacancy in Ontonagon. The turnover rate of 26 percent is consistent with historical results.

Republican-majority counties: Alcona, Allegan, Alpena, Antrim, Arenac, Barry, Benzie, Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Chippewa, Clinton, Crawford, Dickinson, Eaton, Emmet, Grand Traverse, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Houghton, Huron, Ionia, Iosco, Isabella, Jackson, Kalkaska, Kent, Lake, Lapeer, Leelanau, Lenawee, Livingston, Luce, Mackinac, Manistee, Mason, Mecosta, Menominee, Midland, Missaukee, Monroe, Montcalm, Montmorency, Newaygo, Oakland, Oceana, Osceola, Oscoda, Otsego, Ottawa, Presque Isle, Roscommon, St. Clair, St. Joseph, Sanilac, Schoolcraft, Shiawassee, Tuscola, Van Buren, Wexford

Democratic-majority counties:  Gogebic, Ontonagon, Iron, Baraga, Marquette, Alger, Delta, Muskegon, Kalamazoo, Ingham, Washtenaw, Wayne, Macomb, Genesee, Saginaw, Bay, Gladwin, Clare, Ogemaw

Click here to see a larger version of the partisan-control map.

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.”