The Michigan State Capitol, circa 1900. (courtesy of Capitol Commission)
It’s Feb. 1, 1898. A year earlier, Michigan had achieved its modern arrangement of 83 counties with the return of Isle Royal to Keweenaw County.
Ransom Olds had formed Olds Motor Works. William McKinley is president. Hazen S. Pingree is governor of Michigan.
That February day, a group of men gathered in the Senate chamber of the State Capitol. They were members of county boards of supervisors, the precursors to today’s county commissioners. They moved to form a five-member committee to study the creation of a permanent organization, the State Association of Supervisors of Michigan — then adjourned for dinner.
And so began the history of what today is the Michigan Association of Counties.
Some things haven’t changed since then. Michigan still has 83 counties, from Monroe to Keweenaw, St. Joseph to Chippewa. We still have our scenic coastlines, our forests and our reputation for making things.
The challenges of county government, though, those are quite different in the 21st century, and remind us of the wisdom of our forefathers who created an organization, “which shall be perpetual,” they wrote, so citizens elected to lead their counties could gather to learn from and aid each other.
In the coming year, MAC will be celebrating this 120th anniversary with special reports and other events. Stay tuned to micounties.org for updates.
Michigan’s 83 counties, the state’s front-line public service agencies, enter 2018 seeking significant changes to state revenue practices to enhance fiscal responsibility across the state.
Keying off remarks made by Gov. Rick Snyder during his State of the State Address on Jan. 23, Michigan Association of Counties Executive Director Stephan Currie said, “This is the year, with Michigan’s economy showing such health, to address the consequences of decisions and trends dating back a decade. Counties, which rely heavily on property taxes to deliver key services, have not recovered from the Great Recession as the state has. Nor will they for many years under existing state policies. Reform is the order of the day in Lansing.”
To that end, MAC, which represents Michigan’s 83 counties, released its 2018 State Priorities on Jan. 24, which include:
Reforming Michigan’s System of Financing Local Government by addressing the artificial restrictions on property values imposed by Proposal A in the 1990s and bolstering the state’s commitment to counties by increasing revenue sharing funds. “The state was able to forgo more than $1 billion in revenue sharing payments to counties during the budgetary crisis of the mid-‘00s to tide it over during the crisis. Now that the state is in a healthy position again, it’s proper to turn the focus to the ongoing crisis in local service delivery,” Currie said.
Reforming the Michigan Tax Tribunal by closing the “Dark Stores” loophole that has led to Big Box retailers receiving huge property tax breaks that add even more of a burden on homeowners and mom-and-pop businesses to fund local services.
Reforming state law on “tax captures” by unelected development districts by blocking the diversion of funds from special millages approved by local voters for specific services, such as law enforcement or aid for veterans. “When voters tax themselves for a specific purpose, all those funds should go to that purpose,” Currie noted.
“We look forward to working with leaders in the House and Senate, and Gov. Snyder, to advance these reforms,” Currie said.
Legislation to properly fund upgrades to the 911 emergency communication system is under attack at the Capitol. Commissioners need to call their representative TODAY in support of Senate Bill 400 by Sen. Rick Jones. The bill would raise funds to improve the 911 system to Next Generation 911, thereby making the system more responsive to our citizens.
The bill is expected to be reviewed next Tuesday by the House Communications and Technology Committee, but commissioners need to call today to let House members know that the legislation must go through.
The Legislature’s decision to focus bills to adopt the recommendations of Gov. Rick Snyder’s task force on the pension-OPEB crisis leaves Michigan’s 83 counties without adequate new tools they need to address funding of retirement benefits, MAC’s executive director said.
Stephan W. Currie, who has served on both of Snyder’s task forces on this issue, said in response to the Legislature’s actions early Thursday morning, “We still need a variety of new tools to address commitments.”
“Adoption of the task force recommendations” Currie added, “is a bare minimum effort on collecting data on the problem. The other side of the coin here is, of course, revenue. Heading into Wednesday, we saw good prospects on separate, but related, legislation that would have created a secure fund for county revenue sharing and set a schedule for increased payments. Those advances now appear to be stuck.”
MAC supported the task force recommendations and, thus, supports the new versions of the bills, but Currie said that most of the work remains unfinished.
“This fell far short of the mark,” he said. “But we will continue to work with our members and the state to, first, collect the best data on the problem and convince state lawmakers of the need to equip county governments with the tools and revenue they need to handle these benefits.”
The refusal by the Michigan Supreme Court to accept the appeal of a property tax case by the Big Box retailer Menard’s is recognition of the problems created by the “Dark Stores” theory of property valuation, the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) said today in reaction to the court’s order.
In May 2016, a unanimous panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals, in Menard, Inc. vs. City of Escanaba, expressly rejected the Tax Tribunal’s reliance on the “Dark Stores” method. Not only did the court find that the Tax Tribunal made a mistake of law, it also found that the tribunal didn’t properly perform its duty in evaluating evidence for determining value.
The Supreme Court’s decision means the Court of Appeals ruling stands as precedent and must be followed. That court had ordered the Tax Tribunal to again review the case, taking additional evidence on proper valuation in doing so.
“This is a most promising development,” said Stephan Currie, MAC’s executive director. “The Tax Tribunal has to return to this matter and operate under the orders given by the Court of Appeals to properly assess the value of commercial property.” In this particular case, the tribunal had ruled the Menard property was worth 60 percent less than what Escanaba had determined via standard valuation practices.
MAC was one of several organizations filing amicus briefs in support of the city of Escanaba’s position in the case.
Under the Dark Stores method, the Tax Tribunal has reduced so many valuations of Big Box properties that local revenues to provide public services have been reduced by at least $100 million since 2013. This process is shifting more of the burden onto homeowners to fund the basic public services all Michigan communities and businesses utilize each day.
For more information on MAC, visit www.micounties.org.
Tuscola County’s Matthew Bierlein is sworn in by Judge Amy Gierhart as his wife, Mindy, and children look on. (Rod Sanford Photography)
The Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) elected board officers for its 2017-18 term and added two new board members at the MAC Annual Conference, held Sept. 24-26 at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.
Matthew Bierlein, a Tuscola County commissioner, was sworn in as MAC’s 110th president since the organization’s founding on Feb. 1, 1898. During his first address as president to the association, Bierlein called for greater engagement with all of Michigan’s 622 county commissioners.
Joining Bierlein on the board’s executive team are: First Vice President Ken Borton, an Otsego County commissioner; Second Vice President Veronica Klinefelt of Macomb County; and Immediate Past President Shelley Taub, an Oakland County commissioner.
“Our new leadership team brings a great variety of skills and experiences to our board,” said Stephan W. Currie, MAC’s executive director. “We have a great team in place as we begin to implement our strategic plan adopted by the board at the Annual Conference.”
In board elections held at the conference, MAC members in attendance elected three new board members:
Joe Bonovetz of Gogebic County
Richard Schmidt of Manistee County
Jim Storey of Allegan County
Also serving as directors on the board for the 2017-18 term are:
Stephan Currie addresses the audience at the 16th MSAE Diamond Awards after accepting his honor as Strategic Association Leader for 2017.
Stephan W. Currie, executive director of the Michigan Association of Counties, was honored Sept. 14 as the 2017 Strategic Association Leader by the Michigan Society of Association Executives (MSAE).
Currie received the honor during the 16th annual MSAE Diamond Awards at The Henry Hotel in Dearborn. The award is presented to an association leader who, in MSAE’s words, “has demonstrated the ability and commitment to going beyond the expected standards of service and professionalism. The award reflects outstanding leadership and achievement in association management. Strategic association leaders serve MSAE and encourage their staff to participate in the association community; contribute to other voluntary membership organizations; and participate in various civic and community affairs.”
In a letter in support of Currie’s nomination, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans noted, “Mr. Currie and his team at the Michigan Association of Counties provided invaluable expertise and support as we sought to reinvent our purchasing process. Our new state-of-the-art system is expected to save our taxpayers millions of dollars while making it easier for qualified contractors to do business with Wayne County.”
In his acceptance speech, Currie said, “I was shocked, and humbled, to learn I had been nominated and then honored. This award reflects the hard work and commitment of the entire MAC team.
Currie became MAC’s fourth executive director since 1968 on Jan. 1, 2017.
MAC urges county commissioners to call their state senators this morning (Sept. 19) and ask them to support the Casperson amendment to Senate Bill 45, a veterans property tax exemption. This amendment would not diminish existing or future property tax exemption benefits to disabled veterans, but would require the state to reimburse local units for the lost revenue associated with the property tax exemption.
In this way, the state has ownership in the tax exemption policy they enact.
State leaders have put Michigan, county leaders and themselves in a difficult position after years of failing to invest resources in local services, MAC’s Deena Bosworth told a Bloomberg News reporter this week.
In a story detailing the coming crunch on Michigan’s General Fund, Bosworth said, “You can cut services, you can say you’re no longer going to have a court system, foster care. But there’s really not a lot more you can do without more revenue.’’
Bosworth was speaking in the context of the limitations in Proposal A and Headlee that have made it virtually impossible for counties to recover the property revenue crash of the Great Recession, even as Michigan property values are recovering.
“We’re running at 60 percent of what tax revenues were 10 years ago,’’ Bosworth said, referring to the inflation-adjusted revenue figures for a typical county in Michigan.
To read the entire piece, reproduced with permission from Daily Tax Report (Copyright 2017 by The Bureau of National Affairs, http://www.bna.com), click here.
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.”