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.

Otsego’s Borton returns from County Leadership Institute with focus on building consensus

Otsego County's Ken Borton is congratulated on his completion of the County Leadership Institute by NACo Executive Director Matt Chase and NACo Director of Strategic Relations Linda Langston. (NACo photo)

Otsego County’s Ken Borton is congratulated on his completion of the County Leadership Institute by NACo Executive Director Matt Chase and NACo Director of Strategic Relations Linda Langston. (NACo photo)

Otsego County Board Chair Ken Borton, also MAC’s second vice president, “graduated” in June from the County Leadership Institute (CLI) put on by the National Association of Counties (NACo). With the “rigorous four-day program offered in partnership with Cambridge Leadership Associates, NACo aims to enhance the capability of county officials to identify and implement innovative solutions to complex challenges facing county government. Attendees learn how to effectively address the demands of personal leadership in a new era of government. This era is characterized as a “permanent crisis” by CLI Program Developer and Cambridge Leadership co-founder Marty Linsky.”

MAC News asked Borton what lessons he drew from the training:

  1.  I learned how to better run a meeting including how to allow constructive engagement of people with opposing viewpoints. This will make for better input on issues prior to making any decisions. They used a great analogy: If you want to make great stew, you can’t just put in one or two of your favorite ingredients and expect it to turn out right. You have to put in a lot of ingredients, including some you may not think you like. Then you have to apply just the right amount of heat in order to make it meld together. On the other hand, if you have all the correct ingredients and apply too much heat, you will just boil over. If you apply too little heat, you will wind up with mush. For me, I found out that I always try to turn down the heat at meetings by using humor. I have a feeling with a little more heat my meetings will be much more productive.
  1. One of the great things about the program was that I made connections with commissioners from all of the country. There are many issues faced by all counties, regardless of which state they are in. It’s an invaluable resource to have these contacts to learn from.
  1. The training left me highly motivated to work with my fellow community leaders to help create a community-wide vision for social and economic growth.

For more information on CLI, visit NACo’s website.

MAC joins call for state attention to infrastructure crisis

roads image mliveMAC joined with a broad coalition of government and business groups at a May 30 event to highlight the ongoing, and worsening, crisis in Michigan’s physical infrastructure.

“Sound infrastructure is vital for economic growth. The drivers of our economy: manufacturing, agriculture and tourism depend on it,” said Andy Johnston, vice president of government affairs for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “Infrastructure must be a data-driven discussion, and the data is clear. The Legislature needs to keep the funding promises made in 2015 for roads and begin laying the foundation to address other vital infrastructure systems.”

MAC’s Transportation Platform calls for “the logical development, interconnection and sustained maintenance of all transportation designs and infrastructures within our state.”

For more on the issue, see the press release, or visit fixmistate.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.

April calls tackle mentally ill in county jails

stepping-up-logoThe National Association of Counties (NACo) urges counties to participate in the following call:

“Join the Stepping Up partners for the second Stepping Up Network Call: a deeper dive into the question “Do we conduct timely screening and assessments?” which is featured in the publication Reducing the Number of People with Mental Illness in Jails: Six Questions County Leaders Need to Ask. On this call, a representative from the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services will discuss specific mental health screening tools and protocols used in regional and local jails. In addition, representatives from Champaign County, IL, and Douglas County, KS, will be available to discuss their counties’ screening and assessment processes and respond to participants’ questions. Prior to the call, participants should join or review the “Conducting Timely Mental Health Screening and Assessment in Jails” webinar, which will occur on Thursday, April 6 at 2pm ET. The webinar will be recorded and posted on the Stepping Up Toolkit

Click here to register for the call.

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.

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.