Michigan county leaders pose with U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (third from left) and Gary Peters (second from right) after a special briefing arranged by MAC on Capitol Hill on March 7.

A contingent of Michigan county officials, led by MAC Board President Matthew Bierlein of Tuscola County and other board officers, made a round of visits to Michigan’s congressional delegation on Capitol Hill during the 2018 National Association of Counties Legislative Conference this week.

Taking a break from the policy and service workshops at the conference, Michigan leaders met with Reps. Jack Bergman, Debbie Dingell, Bill Huizenga, John Moolenaar, David Trott, Fred Upton and Tim Walberg on Tuesday, March 6. Michigan leaders also attended a special briefing from the state’s U.S. senators, Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, to cap the day.

“These visits are a key part of the annual NACo event in D.C.,” said Stephan Currie, executive director of MAC. “The pace of public life is such that it’s rare when you can put so many county leaders in front of our federal representatives at one time. You have to grab those opportunities whenever you can.”

County leaders attending this year’s NACo event included:

Vaughn Begick (Bay County), Alisha Bell (Wayne County), Roger  Bergman (Ottawa County), Matthew Bierlein (Tuscola County), Ken Borton (Otsego County), David Bowman (Oakland County), Emily Brieve (Kent County), Carol Crawford (Grand Traverse County), Greg DeJong (Ottawa County), Donald Disselkoen (Ottawa County),  Jerry Doucette (Alger County), Veronica Klinefelt (Macomb County), Philip Kuyers (Ottawa County), Sarah Lightner (Jackson County), Daniel Mahoney (Jackson County), Christian Marcus (Antrim County), Stephanie Moore (Kalamazoo County), Michael Overton (Jackson County), Stan Ponstein (Kent County), Julie Rogers (Kalamazoo County), Richard Schmidt (Manistee County), Michael Seals (Kalamazoo County), Eugene Smith (Iron County), Joe Stevens (Dickinson County), Jim Storey (Allegan County), Mary   Swanson (Kent County), Jim Talen (Kent County),  Shelley Taub (Oakland County), Al Vanderberg (Ottawa County) Matthew Van Zetten (Kent County) Gary Woronchak (Wayne County) and Helaine Zack (Oakland County).

Steve Currie

Steve Currie

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.”
Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs

Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs

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.

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.

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.