FY21 budget won’t cut revenue sharing

The Whitmer administration and legislative leaders have agreed on a fiscal year 2021 deal to balance the state budget, a deal that will ensure counties will receive the same amount in revenue sharing as FY20 allocations, prior to the cancellation of the August revenue sharing payment. These funds will be in the form of the traditional General Fund dollars that do not require allocation to Covid-19 pandemic related expenses.

The Legislature set up budget for action next week through House Bill 5396, omnibus budget, and Senate Bill 927, school aid. After months of concern due to budget shortfall projects impacted by COVID-19, MAC is appreciative of the news and support of both the legislature and administration. Lawmakers are expected to complete the budget next week.

While limited detailed information has been released at this point, MAC will report as soon as possible the final budget details.

 

Bill to extend remote meeting option gets MAC support

MAC-supported legislation that would allow remote participation in board meetings after the pandemic Executive Orders expire has been introduced in the Legislature. Rep. Luke Meerman (R-Ottawa) introduced House Bill 6207 to amend the Open Meetings Act to allow a meeting be held electronically, while ensuring transparency and promoting public participation. A similar Senate Bill, 1108 by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Livingston), will be reviewed by the Senate Local Government Committee next week.

The meeting must allow for two-way communication so the public can hear and be heard, particularly during public comment periods. Additionally, the public body can allow comments to be typed and read or shared with members and participants. If a public body meets electronically, they must explain the reasoning and process for the public to participate in detail.

The bill specifies that a closed session may occur electronically as well and must be held in compliance of current closed session requirements under the Open Meetings Act.

The bill was sent to the House Committee on Government Operations. MAC encourages members whose representatives are on that committee to reach out to and voice support for this legislation. 

For more information, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

Whitmer signs court cost extension into law

The authority for trial courts to impose costs on defendants is extended to 2022 under a state law signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week. Passage of House Bill 5488 had been a top priority for MAC this year since the imposition of court costs was about to expire next month. Now that authority runs to Oct. 1, 2022.

Without the legislation, by Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Jackson), county courts would have lost this source of funding for operational needs in a few weeks.

The state’s Trial Court Funding Commission has said court costs “directly account for as high as $291 million annually in support (most of the 26.2 percent generated). Additionally, approximately $127 million of the annual funds transferred from the State originate from court assessments at sentencing. When totaled, Michigan trial courts are supported, in significant part, by over $418 million assessed to criminal defendants.”

Of course, the work on this issue is far from over. The new deadline is just two years way, and the next phase will be to finally solve the long-standing problem of a stable court funding system. MAC stands ready to continue the work with the Legislature to help streamline and improve the overall system. While a variety of reforms are needed, a key one is to rebalance state and local funds in the court system, as reported by the Trial Court Funding Commission. 

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

 

Emergency Management Department bill reviewed by committee

The House committee on Military and Veterans Affairs took testimony this week from emergency managers (EM) in support of House Bill 6148, by Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Benzie). The bill would move emergency management functions out from under the Department of State Police and into a new department that will report and communicate directly with the governor. Compelling testimony was given this week by two county emergency management coordinators indicating support for this restructuring. The reasons cited for their support include:

  • Not all emergencies are law enforcement related and should not be treated as such. With emergency management under State Police, their focus tends to be on law enforcement activities related to an emergency and not necessarily coordination of all different types of emergency response activities.
  • State Police receive an Emergency Management Planning Grant that funds 100 percent of their activities. Local Emergency management has asked for an accounting of their expenditures for many years and have not received it, therefore they are unsure of whether or not there are additional funds that should be going to support emergency management operations at the local level. .
  • The turnover in the Department in this area is high, with those in charge and those closest to the counties only lasting 2-3 years. This, according to the local emergency management coordinators, is not enough time to develop expertise and establish clear priorities.
  • It is more expensive to pay a uniformed officer to perform these functions than it is civilians, but in this structure, civilians have no advancement opportunity and usually leave to go to FEMA.
  • The State Police has failed to provide a list of resources for the local EM coordinators to utilize. Help is given but items and assistance must be directly asked for. Without knowledge of what is available, it is difficult to ask for assistance.  
  • State agencies of all types show up to emergencies without any coordination of effort. The State should be doing this but again, the focus is on deploying law enforcement and not the coordination of all the other entities with an interest in the disaster. The local EM coordinator is typically responsible for this coordination as well.
  • Michigan is only one of two states in the nation that house emergency management strictly inside a law enforcement department.

MAC’s Finance and General Government Committee voted this week to support the legislation.

If your county would like to weigh in on this proposal, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Broadband bill advances despite local control issues

A MAC-opposed bill ostensibly designed to boost broadband access cleared the House Communication and Technology committee this week.

House Bill 4288, by Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Wexford), would create the “Connecting Michigan Communities Act” to establish a statewide grant program to expand broadband in underserved areas. 

While MAC supports greater access to broadband, this bill excludes local governments from accessing the grant program. It does provide requirements to show “evidence of community support for the project with a narrative on the impact that the investment will have on community and economic development in the area.” However, MAC is unclear what “evidence” means for the process.

MAC will continue to work to ensure clear, collaboration with local and county boards to encourage better infrastructure planning and deployment of these grant funds.

Local partners such as MML and MTA were also in opposition as the bill passed committee. The bill now moves to the House Ways and Means Committee.

For questions, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

2020 Annual Conference videos now available

Video files from MAC’s recent Virtual Annual Conference are now available on MAC’s YouTube Channel

Members can view all of the seven conference workshops and two of the plenary sessions, headlined by Tom Izzo’s keynote remarks, via the conferences page on our website.

 

COVID liability shield bill clears House committee

A house bill to provide liability protections to health facilities, including Medical Care Facilities (MCFs), advanced out of the House Judiciary committee this week.

House Bill 6159, by Rep. Roger Hauck (R-Isabella), would create the “pandemic health care immunity act.” Facilities would not be liable for an injury, including death, sustained by an individual while received services at the facility. The immunity would be applied from March 9 to July 15, 2020.

The Michigan County Medical Care Facilities Council (MCMCFC) supports HB 6159, along with other health care partners such as HCAM and MHA. The bill now awaits action from the full House of Representatives.

For questions, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

Currie talks COVID impacts with Lansing Chamber panel

Michigan counties have weathered the initial fiscal crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but dangers loom on the horizon, MAC Executive Director Stephan Currie said during a panel discussion at the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Club last week.

During his remarks, Currie discussed the broad scope of county responsibilities under COVID, from public health and safety to aiding businesses to stay open via treasurer and register of deeds offices.

Asked about county innovation during the crisis, Currie noted the quick and broad adoption of videoconferencing technology, particularly in the court systems; Oakland County’s efforts to supply businesses with PPE; and even Ottawa County’s new “greeter,” a robot that meets visitors at the county building and offers touch screen services to guide residents to the appropriate office.

He added, however, that the crisis had shown a need to improve broadband services across Michigan and that counties are still wrestling with the details of filing for federal aid for COVID efforts.

Currie was joined on the “local government” panel by Summer Minnick of the Michigan Municipal League, Neil Sheridan of the Michigan Townships Association and Eric Scorsone of the Center for Local Government Finance and Policy at Michigan State University.

 

NACo town hall features election experts

America’s counties traditionally administer and fund elections, overseeing more than 109,000 polling places and coordinating more than 694,000 poll workers every two years. Faced with new election-related challenges due to COVID-19 and concerns over cybersecurity, foreign influence and aging technology, election administrators across the country have worked tirelessly to finalize preparations to conduct a free and fair election.

Join the National Association of Counties (NACo) on Sept. 22 at 2 p.m. EDT for a special virtual town hall and hear from federal and local elections officials about how they are working to ensure a safe, fair and secure election this fall.

 

Opioids town halls set for Sept. 23, 25

The Michigan Opioids Task Force and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) have announced the details of the first two virtual opioids town halls:

  • Northern Lower Michigan (previously the Gaylord Town Hall), Wednesday, Sept. 23, 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m.
  • Flint and Thumb Region (previously the Flint Town Hall) Friday, Sept. 25, 3:30 p.m.-5 p.m.

During the events, state officials will seek to learn more about how the opioid epidemic has impacted different regions of the state. To ensure information gathered reflects the experience of the local communities, residents are asked to only participate in the virtual town hall for the area in which they reside.

At the town halls, MDHHS and the Michigan Opioids Task Force will share the 2020 strategy to turn the tide on the crisis, seek feedback from the public and host a Q&A about the crisis response.

For more information about the state’s opioids response and available resources, visit Michigan.gov/opioids.

 

At the request of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) is supporting a new statewide public education campaign called “Spread Hope, Not COVID.” The goal of the campaign is to unite all in Michigan to take three simple actions that will contain the spread of the virus at levels that will enable the state to fully reopen — and stay open.

Michigan residents must:

  1. Wear a mask or face covering over your mouth and nose to reduce the spread.
    • While masks alone may not always prevent the spread of the disease, scientists, doctors and health experts agree that cloth masks and face coverings can help to reduce the spread of COVID-19 by about 70 percent.
    • Masks do not have to be worn all the time. Michiganders are required to wear a face covering whenever you are in indoor public spaces and crowded outdoor spaces where you may be in close contact with people outside of your household, or people you do know but have not been with or near recently.
  2. Practice physical distancing by staying at least 6 feet from people outside of your household.
    • COVID-19 spreads mainly among people who are in close contact.
    • A mild illness for one person, could be life-threatening for someone else.
  3. Wash and sanitize your hands frequently.
    • Don’t touch your face, nose, mouth and eyes with unwashed hands.
    • This routine practice also prevents the spread of many other viruses and illnesses.

In addition, testing and contract tracing continue to be vitally important towards reopening Michigan. To get tested, call the COVID Hotline at 888-535-6136 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday to Friday, or visit Michigan.gov/CoronavirusTest, to find testing locations near you and schedule an appointment. If you test positive, help prevent further spread by participating in case investigations and contact tracing with local or state health officials.

“Michigan counties have been on the forefront of the response to COVID-19,” said MAC Executive Director Stephan Currie. “Heroic efforts have been made by countless public servants. All of us in Michigan need to honor and amplify that work by practicing these basic public health measures so the state can beat back the virus and resume the daily activities we need to support our families and communities.”

The “Spread Hope, Not COVID” campaign is aimed at communicating with all Michigan residents through TV, radio, outdoor, digital, social, earned media, and direct communications. The campaign also includes content customized for specific audiences of Michiganders. The campaign’s content is based on extensive research with 2,047 Michigan residents. The campaign is made possible by funding approved by Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress.

Podcast 83 team to discuss state budget, fall priorities

MAC’s Podcast 83 team will lead a special live edition on Monday, Sept. 21 to field questions from county leaders on the FY21 state budget and all other legislative matters coming to a head in Lansing this fall.

Executive Director Stephan Currie will moderate the discussion that will include Deena Bosworth, governmental affairs director, and Meghann Keit, governmental affairs associate.

Click here to register for the free webinar, which will run from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. 

If the event doesn’t work with your schedule, don’t worry. A video recording will be made available on the Podcast 83 homepage on Sept. 22.

To ensure your question gets the full Podcast 83 treatment, send it in advance to Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Webinar goes over latest on COVID-19 for locals

The latest webinar in a series co-sponsored by MAC, the Michigan Department of Treasury and others reviewed the latest guidance and tips involving COVID-19 aid for local governments on Sept. 8.

To see a video recording of the session, click here.

Also, on Friday, Treasury reported that the Funding Acceptance Packet for the Coronavirus Relief Local Government Grants (CRLGG) is now available.

For more information on Treasury information on COVID-19, visit their webpage.

 

Bill would create state Emergency Management Department

A state Department of Emergency Management would be created under a bill filed last week.

House Bill 6148, by Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Benzie), would remove the emergency management functions from the Michigan State Police Department and relocate it to its own department; require an emergency management plan be submitted to the governor and the Legislature every two years; require each county emergency management coordinator to be certified and report directly to the county board chair; require distribution of federal grants to counties and municipalities; and prohibit an elected official as serving as the emergency management coordinator.

Testimony on the bill is expected next week. MAC has not taken a position on the bill yet.

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

 

New PPT bills would affect heavy equipment, solar

The House Committee on Tax Policy took testimony this week on House Bills 5778 and 5779, by Rep. Jim Ellison (D-Oakland), that would change the way rented heavy equipment is taxed in Michigan. Currently, heavy equipment is taxed as personal property (PPT) and credited to the taxing jurisdiction where it physically sits on Dec. 31 of each year. 

Since this equipment is rented and movable, neither the companies paying the taxes are clear what their obligations will be on a year to year basis nor can the local tax collecting units forecast the revenue in an efficient manner. The bills seek to eliminate PPT on this equipment and instead replace it with a 2 percent tax on the rental of the equipment. This tax would be paid by the customer, collected by the company renting the equipment and submitted quarterly to the Michigan Department of Treasury.

By May 20 of each year, Treasury would be required to send 90 percent of this revenue to the local tax collecting unit where the rental transaction originated, and 10 percent of the revenue to the other counties, cities, villages and townships not receiving a share of the distribution. Within 35 days of receiving the revenue, the tax collecting unit would be required to disburse the revenue to the taxing units (counties, et al) in the same proportion as it distributes property taxes. 

In addition to the equipment rental bills, bills affecting the PPT on solar energy facilities have been introduced. Senate Bill 1105, by Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Mason) and SB 1101, by Sen. Kevin Daley (R-Tuscola), would exempt solar energy facilities and storage systems from the PPT and instead create a PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) system. 

Proponents are seeking a standardized, statewide system that will provide predictability in the taxes owed, regardless of the jurisdiction; escape the variability in assessments and millage rates; and provide a flat stream of revenue for those communities that host this equipment. The legislation would create a PILT of $3,500 per megawatt maximum annual payment, as opposed to a tax based on an assessed value and depreciation schedule.

In order to qualify for PILT as opposed to a tax, the owner of the facility would be required to file for and receive an exemption certificate, which would not expire unless they permanently ceased production, received a judicial determination that they failed to make their payments, or upon the jointly agreed upon termination date. MAC is seeking clarification on the equitable amount per megawatt hour, the assumptions that brought them to that amount, the efforts of the Michigan Tax Tribunal to make recommendations on standardizing the assessment of the equipment and the overall financial impact to counties.

MAC has not yet taken a position on any of these bills. The legislation will be discussed at our September Finance and General Government Committee session.

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

 

State launches Futures for Frontliners campaign

County frontline workers put their own health at risk during the worst of the pandemic. That’s why Michigan has created Futures for Frontliners – to offer essential workers like you the opportunity to attend school tuition-free full-time or part-time while you continue to work. MAC is pleased to partner with the state and others on this initiative.

Who’s eligible? All essential workers in Michigan without college degrees or high school diplomas or equivalency who staffed our hospitals, nursing homes, and grocery stores, who cared for our children, provided critical police and fire services, delivered our food, picked up our trash, manufactured PPE, and other key jobs during the April-June period that kept our state running.

The application for seeking a college degree or certificate, attaining your high school diploma or equivalency, and additional program information are available now at Michigan.gov/Frontliners, with enrollment in classes available beginning January 2021.

Please share this information with your county employees.

 

NACo unveils toolkit for lobbying Congress

To help local leaders advocate for top county priorities between now and the end of the year, NACo has developed an online Advocacy Toolkit, which features in-depth information, talking points, sample advocacy emails, tweets and Facebook posts, federal legislation trackers and exclusive NACo materials to help tell the county story.

As members of Congress are in their home districts, this toolkit provides resources to communicate with them, demonstrate the impact of county programs and advocate for federal policies that support local priorities.

 

Water School webinars aimed at local officials

MSU Extension is offering a free online Michigan Water School webinar series for elected and appointed officials and staff. Elected and appointed officials often need to make important decisions regarding the future of shared water resources. The new online version of the Michigan Water School program from Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension provides decision-makers with critical, relevant information needed to understand Michigan’s water resources in order to support sound water management decisions.

This year, Michigan Water School: Essential Resources for Local Officials will be offered for free in a series of Zoom webinars from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on four Thursday afternoons (Oct. 8 and 22, Nov. 5 and 19). The program will include sessions on water quantity; water quality; water finance and planning; and water policy issues. Topics to be covered include:

  • The Blue Economy
  • Fiscal benefits of water management
  • Incorporating water into local planning and placemaking
  • Resources to help address water problems
  • Water policy at the federal, tribal, state, and local levels

Water School speakers will include educators and faculty from MSU and MSU Extension as well as other experts providing local perspectives.

Register to attend the free, policy-neutral, fact-based program at events.anr.msu.edu/WaterSchoolWebinarSeries2020. Not sure if you will be able to attend the live sessions? Each webinar will be recorded and all registrants will receive links to the recordings so you can watch them at a more convenient time, along with additional resources.

For more information, contact Michigan Sea Grant Extension Educator Mary Bohling at bohlingm@msu.edu. Follow on Twitter with #MIWaterSchool.

 

Almost 60 Michigan counties lacked the financial resources in 2017 to cover the public services they need to provide, even after accounting for state aid such as revenue sharing, says a new analysis from a Michigan State University professor.

Shu Wang, an assistant professor at MSU who has presented at MAC on local government finance issues, compared a county’s revenue-raising capacity (RRC), its expenditure need and its state aid in the years 2011 and 2017 to assess the “fiscal gap.” While 24 counties did not show a gap in 2017, after adjusting for all county and state resources, 59 did, with the largest problems concentrated in the Upper Peninsula and Southwest Michigan. (See full county-by-county results here.)

The report states the “main drivers for counties’ needs are violent crime rate, population density and distribution, and employment in the manufacturing industry.”

MAC spoke with Dr. Wang this week to learn more about the report and what Michigan counties face fiscally:

What finding surprised you the most?

Shu Wang

Wang: “I don’t have preconceived assumptions so can’t say any result to be surprising. Rather, I’d share a few noteworthy points. One is the different equalizing effects of state revenue sharing (SRS) and other forms of state aid. Figure 2 (above) shows SRS does not close fiscal gap as much as other state aids. From a policy standpoint, SRS has some sort of formula, whereas other state aids are more difficult to track or to structure. Counties may want to further investigate the roles played by other aids from state in addition to SRS.

“A second point is variations of fiscal gap between regions and within regions. Again, figure 2 shows the northern Lower Peninsula has a small fiscal gap to begin with, and additional state support actually creates a fiscal surplus, whereas the Upper Peninsula still has a wide gap after all state support. In terms of within-region variation, Oakland and Wayne counties in the southeast can have quite different challenges. The fact that state support seems to close fiscal gap for that region shouldn’t mask their differences.”

What is the greatest misconception about county finances right now?

Wang: “It largely depends on who we talk to. I’d like to remind officials (or general public) not to overestimate the role of property taxes. I don’t mean to discount the fact that it is the most stable major revenue source; however, due to prop A the taxable values have remained stagnant. Counties levy a lower mill and raise millage less frequently than cities, and that further limits their revenue-raising capacity from properties.”

What’s the no. 1 thing that county leaders should be doing to drive reform in financing?

“I’d suggest not to be tempted into easy, oversimplified formula such as dollars per capita. It is important to understand the structural needs faced by each county, including structural deficits, unfunded mandates and underlying socioeconomic issues that are driving county spending. While doing so counties should also pay attention to how state policies contribute to addressing these needs and affecting their revenue-raising capacity. This is largely what motivated my study. Fiscal gap is a thought exercise for understanding these issues. Just like treating a disease, fiscal distress is a symptom and county leaders as doctors should focus on the cause for the symptom.” 

County frontline workers put their own health at risk during the worst of the pandemic. That’s why Michigan has created Futures for Frontliners – to offer essential workers like you the opportunity to attend school tuition-free full-time or part-time while you continue to work. MAC is pleased to partner with the state and others on this initiative.

Who’s eligible? All essential workers in Michigan without college degrees or high school diplomas or
equivalency who staffed our hospitals, nursing homes, and grocery stores, who cared for our children,
provided critical police and fire services, delivered our food, picked up our trash, manufactured PPE, and
other key jobs during the April-June period that kept our state running.

The application for seeking a college degree or certificate, attaining your high school diploma or
equivalency, and additional program information are available now at Michigan.gov/Frontliners, with
enrollment in classes available beginning January 2021.

Please share this information with your county employees.

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