NACo applauds county leaders’ help on federal aid bill

US Capitol

Much still must be clarified about the latest federal relief package awaiting House action before its full effects on counties are known, said officials with the National Association of Counties via a briefing call on Thursday, March 26.

NACo leaders, however, were pleased with the inclusion of the $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund included in the $2 trillion Senate-approved package that’s aimed at state, local and tribal governments.

Deborah Cox of NACo was able to state that:

  • 45 percent of the $150 billion is eligible for direct payments to local units with populations above 500,000; and
  • Such funds were meant for recent expenditures due to the public health emergency and unanticipated costs to local budgets that occurred on March 1 or after.

In Michigan, though, only four counties (Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Kent) exceed the population threshold.

Cox and the NACo briefers said clarity was needed about aid to smaller counties and that there already were “100 different interpretations” of what the relief fund language actually meant.

Cox praised the calls from local county officials during the drafting process for helping to ensure counties would be specifically included in the relief fund.

Also critical is that under the economic stabilization sections of the bill, the U.S. Treasury can purchase debt from state and local units, while the Federal Reserve can participate in the secondary bond market for municipal debt, thereby reducing borrowing costs for counties.

Other key elements to the “CARES” Act identified in the call:

  • $1.32 billion is allotted to community health centers for COVID response – “a definite win for counties,” NACo said
  • Previously planned cuts to hospitals serving the uninsured and underinsured were pushed back to Nov. 30
  • $1 billion for agencies for aging to help them deliver meals, provide home-based services, support care-givers and provide equipment nursing homes to protect residents
  • $400 million for election assistance in the 2020 cycle
  • $56 million for airports in the Essential Air Service program
  • $5 billion for CDBG
  • $45 billion for FEMA disaster relief fund

NACo’s comprehensive analysis of the bill can be found here. As for eventual timing of the funds, the House passed the bill on Friday afternoon, President Trump is expected to sign it later today.

 

Damage from rising water levels will mount, state warns

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) hosted an hour-long seminar Thursday evening to highlight the vulnerability of our natural resources and infrastructure due to record high water levels across Michigan and the Great Lakes.

Presentations by the Army Corp of Engineers and EGLE provided viewers with charts and graphs reporting record levels during 2019 and 2020 for all of the Great Lakes, and the current trajectory for water levels in the coming spring and summer months. The trend is calling for significantly higher water levels and the potential for greater and more costly damage to Michigan’s shorelines, farmland, parks, roads and other critical infrastructure.

The Michigan Department of Transportation estimates it has spent more than $5 million mitigating damage and anticipates that number to reach near $100 million before it’s all over. The Michigan Department of Agriculture reported that more than million acres of farmland could not be planted due to flooding last year, and its projections for the 2020 growing season are just as stark. 

What is most concerning is damages inflicted on municipal infrastructure. These high water levels have affected stormwater systems and sewer systems and caused discharges from combined stormwater and sewer systems. EGLE sent a letter to each entity in possession of a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit asking that they submit a vulnerability analysis to minimize the impact this anticipated rise in water levels will have on existing infrastructure.

The city of Detroit is spending $2 million on temporary dams to help prevent an overload of their combined stormwater and sewer systems. Work is under way to map the potential effects of a one-foot rise in Great Lakes levels, analyze where all of that water is going to go and figure out how best to notify residents of the potential for flooding.

A copy of the presentations will soon be up on EGLS website.

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

 

Urge your county to reply to census today

By now, you’ve probably received the 2020 Census in your mailbox. While national attention is properly focused on COVID-19, it is important to encourage your county residents to count themselves. The census determines congressional representation, as well as federal funding for public health and disease prevention, Medicaid and Medicare, health care centers statewide and other essential services.  

So far, Michigan ranks sixth in the country for census responses at 30.6 percent, compared to 26.2 percent nationwide (you can find an interactive map that includes all 50 states’ response rates here.) In 2010, Michigan had a response rate of 68 percent and our goal this year is 82 percent.

To date, more than 25 percent of census responses in Michigan have been done online, an option available for the first time this year. It is important to underscore that the census only has 9 questions and shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to fill out to completion.

Census takers were scheduled to begin canvassing households that hadn’t yet responded in early April, but COVID-19 has, of course, disrupted that timeline. In the interim, please urge your constituents to fill out the census at their earliest convenience. This can be done online at www.my2020census.gov, over the phone at 844-330-2020 or through the physical form that comes in the mail.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder why it’s never been more critical that all Michigan residents fill out their census form in order to get our fair share of funding for emergency services, police and fire funding, senior programs and more. Help us keep Michigan near the best in the nation!  

For more information on this issue, contact Michael Ruddock at ruddock@micounties.org.

 

Maintenance is essential activity; counties must facilitate utility work, etc.

MAC is issuing another advisory to all counties regarding your code and permit operations that affect businesses such as utilities doing maintenance work.

Here is what the Governor’s Office says on this issue under her EO:

“Q: Is construction allowed under the executive order?

“A: Some limited forms of construction are permissible, including construction to maintain and improve essential public works like roads, bridges, the telecommunications infrastructure, and public health infrastructure. Construction workers may also undertake such projects as necessary to maintain and improve the safety, sanitation, and essential operations of residences. In addition, businesses may designate construction firms to provide necessary support to the work of the businesses’ critical infrastructure workers. All construction work that is carried out while the order is in effect must be done in accordance with the mitigation measures required under section 5(c) of the order.”

We have received reports of county offices telling callers that they are blocked by the EO from operating the normal coordination process on maintenance work. One example: “Point of call (to MAC) is to discuss some issues the telecom and energy issues are having as local units of government are limiting workforce hours and availability. This has impacted critical projects and emergency repairs around the state when permits are sought or 811 staking is required.”

Please review with your teams to ensure operational/staff support to these activities.

If you have questions on this, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

County leaders, look for survey info in email, mailboxes

With the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak placing tremendous stress on so many of our communities, we’re hoping you might find time to share your experiences through the upcoming round of the Michigan Public Policy Survey (MPPS) program is coming soon to your mailbox.

The MPPS is an annual statewide survey of local government officials conducted by the University of Michigan in collaboration with the Michigan Townships Association (MTA), Michigan Municipal League (MML), and Michigan Association of Counties (MAC).

On March 30, you’ll receive an email link to the new MPPS questionnaire, which asks about the public health and economic challenges your county may be facing because of COVID-19. It also continues the annual tracking of counties’ fiscal health.

The U-M survey team plans to quickly share responses to the COVID-19 questions with other leaders to help the state respond to the crisis, all while carefully protecting your anonymity and confidentiality. Your participation is crucial to the success of the MPPS program.

If you have questions about this research study, you can contact Dr. Debra Horner, Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, University of Michigan, 5309 Weill Hall, 735 S. State St., Ann Arbor, MI 48109, 734-647-4091, closup-mpps@umich.edu.

Please keep an eye out for your email invitation to take the survey next week. Thank you so much for supporting this effort.

 

State adjutant general details crisis response

On Thursday, the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs released a letter from Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, the state adujant general, on efforts by the National Guard to assist communities during the coronavirus crisis.
 
Rogers noted, “The Michigan National Guard has approximately 300 personnel already supporting the State of Michigan’s COVID-19 response. Since March 18th, guard members have supported relief activities across the state, with missions including relief planning, assembling and loading critical personal protective gear, and staffing at distribution centers across Michigan.”
 

 

DTE outlines actions taken in coronavirus crisis

DTE has taken the following actions to aid customers and keep employees safe during this challenging, unprecedented time:

  • DTE has all employees who can work remotely doing so, and we’ve kept those essential employees needed at facilities in their roles to maintain both gas and electric service for our customers
  • We are also suspending shutoffs and extend senior programs in response to the coronavirus through April 30
  • DTE has suspended all non-essential work as of March 23 – news release with details below
  • Updates for customers, including Q&A, can be found by visiting dteenergy.com/covid19.

 

MAC is collecting reports from our 83 members about their initial and going responses to the coronavirus crisis:

Menominee County: Organizing a community supply drive

Menominee County announced a community campaign on March 25 to collect personal protective equipment to be redistributed to emergency responders and healthcare personnel in our community.

“Our first responders and health care personnel are on the front lines of this battle — they can’t help the rest of us if they get sick. As a community we can help by donating any extra personal protective equipment we may have in our homes or businesses to help keep our first responders and healthcare personnel safe and healthy as they work relentlessly to do the same for us,” said Jason Carviou, Menominee County administrator.

The drive is focusing on medical/surgical masks, N-95 respirators, gloves, gowns, aprons and hand sanitizer. “If you have any extra of these items in your home or business, please consider donating them to help our community fight the COVID-19 outbreak,” Carviou said.

 

Grand Traverse County: Daily calls with community stakeholders

On March 13, Grand Traverse County stood up our own Joint Operations Center (or community task force if you would prefer) to address issues surrounding COVID-19. We have approximately 100 community stakeholders in the group. We hold daily meetings at 10 a.m. with this group that is geared towards receiving updates, addressing issues and pushing out unified information. To that end, Grand Traverse County engaged a web provider and stood up our own COVID-19 response website that you can see HERE and our own Facebook page that you can see HERE.

 

Allegan County: Collaboration with neighboring counties

Like many counties, we have set up web resources off our home page (allegancounty.org) for both organizational information and COVID-19. We always appreciate regional efforts. We have been in contact with our surrounding neighbors. We have been sharing ideas with Ottawa and Kent regularly. We thank them both and our other neighbors for their collaboration.

 

Livingston County: The 1/3 principle

About 1/3 of the workforce were mandated to stay home and about 1/3 are working remotely or rotating so there is at least one person in the office. The other 1/3 are our first responders, and they are working business as usual. We are doing our best to keep people at home and getting our most essential work done. Our Health Officer and Emergency Manager are providing daily updates to the Board Chair and county administrator.

 

Branch County: Virtual tools keep county engaged

Branch County in south-central Michigan has taken the following actions:

  • Implemented Physical Distancing and Enhanced Sanitation measures effective beginning of March 2020.
  • Canceled and-or instituted virtual meetings effective March 12, 2020.
  • Closed to public effective March 17, 2020.
  • Stood up virtual EOC effective March 18, 2020.
  • Reinstated Working and Board Meeting using Zoom on March 19, 2020.
  • Transitioned to “Essential Services” on March 23, 2020.

 

Osceola County: County buildings closed to public through April 21

Osceola County has information and a link on our website. We have activated our Emergency Management Department and have updates issued through Nixle. The Board of Commissioners closed the county buildings to the public March 18-April 21. Offices are holding limited work hours for staff in order to maintain functions but limit person-to-person contact. Information is being processed through emails, phone conversations and over online services.

 

Macomb County: Coordinating with businesses on economic issues

Macomb County began formulating a community response to Coronavirus during the second week of March by activating its Emergency Operations Center. When the first COVID-19 case in Michigan was announced, the Joint Information Center was as prepared as possible to begin communicating with the public and our employees. One of the first activities to keep our community safe and informed was to activate a special Health Department helpline which is answered seven days a week by public health professionals. Other activities to date have included:

  • Created a COVID-19 resource page which is easily found from the county’s website featuring information for individuals, businesses and communities.
  • Activated a warning banner on the county website to advise residents about COVID-19 testing and to reduce the number of people visiting the Health Department to request a test.
  • Created and shared daily videos featuring the County Executive via social and traditional media. The videos provide updates on the situation in Macomb County along with helpful information to keep the public safe.
  • Developed and sent several emails to all employees to keep them informed.
  • Hosted twice-weekly virtual department leaders meeting to share pertinent information about COVID-19 and ask that each review and update their Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) to ensure that the county continues to provide vital services as needed.
  • Created a dedicated email address for employees with questions or comments about COVID-19 and their role as an employee. Each is reviewed by a team comprised of Health, Emergency Management, Human Resources and IT employees to ensure that an appropriate and accurate answer was provided as quickly as possible.
  • Created a dedicated page on the employee Intranet to convey information about the county’s response to COVID-19. The page is updated regularly and features a FAQ section where commonly asked questions are sent to the dedicated email address to share the most commonly asked questions received through the dedicated email address.
  • While many departments have modified their hours and reduced access to services by asking residents to call first and make an appointment, idled staff are being redeployed to assist in providing critical services.
  • The County’s economic development team continues to share relevant information to businesses via email and social media. We are currently collecting information from Macomb County manufacturers that are stepping up to produce desperately needed medical supplies for our health care providers and first responders.

Kent County: Daily videos, surveys of needs to nonprofits

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kent County has worked with our community and has:

  • Produced and distributed daily videos via social media channels about COVID-19 from the Kent County Health Department offices
  • Coordinated communitywide COVID-19 testing protocols with the three major hospital systems via the Kent County Population Health Consortium
  • Coordinated countywide law enforcement guidance regarding social distancing practices
  • Established a process whereby local manufacturers begin making necessary health supplies like face shields, gowns, swabs, and ventilators
  • Conducted surveys of nonprofit organizations seeking feedback on necessary supplies and finances
  • Identified grocery bags to deliver food throughout the Essential Needs Task Force food pantry network
  • Distributed 2,000 food boxes to senior residents and at-risk families through the Kent County Community Action program

Today (March 25), the State Court Administrative Office, the Michigan Association of County Clerks and the Michigan Association of Counties announced steps they are taking to coordinate their response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. All three organizations are working together to make sure that plans to protect the public, safeguard employees, and provide essential services are consistent across jurisdictions. Leaders from the judiciary, county boards of commissioners, and County Clerks also announced they are creating a task force with the help of the State Bar of Michigan to enhance virtual services by identifying and sharing best practices.  

“Judges and court staff statewide are grateful for the dedicated service of County Clerks and the support of county government,” said State Court Administrator and former District Court Judge Tom Boyd. “Working together in response to this crisis can put us on a path to building the courtroom of the future – one that is more transparent, more accessible, and more efficient.”

“Consistent policies statewide help staff in every county know that their work in difficult conditions is supported and appreciated,” said Laura Brandon-Maveal, Gladwin County Clerk and President of the Michigan Association of County Clerks. “The end result is that the public is better served and the safety of all can remain our top priority.”

“Public employees at the local level play a critical role in responding to this unprecedented crisis,” said Stephan Currie, Executive Director of the Michigan Association of Counties. “Strengthening our cooperation now will set the stage to improve how we provide services and take advantage of technology to serve more people.”

Essential services provided by courts include functions involving the health and safety of children and vulnerable adults and meeting due process rights of individuals accused of crimes. For example, judges must be available to arraign criminal defendants and hear bond motions, to grant personal protection orders, or appoint a guardian when someone’s health or safety is in jeopardy, to protect children who are being abused, to incarcerate those who threaten public safety, and to issue emergency orders to address this public health crisis. Court clerks must be present to record these proceedings.

County Clerks are on the front line in dealing with parties when filing.  This could be as simple as opening a new case or filing a motion, or as a complex as dealing with a victim of assault that is filing a personal protection order or preparing themselves to face their alleged attacker in the courtroom.  The Clerks and their staff need to define their assistance to the public as fair and equitable regardless of their feelings of the case and be careful not to overstep their boundaries in giving legal advice.  County Clerks must have a solid working relationship with their judges to ensure that communication is easy, rules are clearly identified and that both groups have a core practice in providing the best and equitable results for any case.

 

LANSING, MICH.  – County leaders welcomed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s order today to bolster public health efforts to disrupt the transmission of COVID-19 via a new Executive Order.

Whitmer’s EO 2020-21 to direct Michigan residents to “stay at home” unless involved in essential work or conducting essential trips to acquire food or medical supplies.

“As the governor said this morning, Michigan could face widespread infection if more isn’t done to disrupt transmission,” said Veronica Klinefelt, president of the Michigan Association of Counties’ Board of Directors and a Macomb County commissioner. “We have to get ahead of this and previous efforts have, sadly, not been enough to disrupt the spread. All of our members will be working closely with our local health departments and the state to keep operations to essential ones only.”

MAC issues committee, conference updates in response to coronavirus

With coronavirus confirmed in Michigan, MAC has announced several steps to respond to the coronavirus situation in the interests of minimizing risk to members and staff alike.

First, we have created a resource page for county leaders in responding to the crisis. This page will be updated regularly.

Second, for members of our policy committees, we are shifting all upcoming meetings to teleconference-only sessions until further notice. Our staff will be in contact with committee members on the details of these sessions. As we already routinely offer a teleconference option to committee meetings, you should see a seamless transition.

Third, we have prepared for the option of MAC staffers to work at home, rather than in our Lansing offices. Each staffer will have a laptop that connects to our file system and phone access will be maintained via cell lines. You will still be able to call our main number, 517-372-5374, and a MAC staffer will answer your call.

We have NOT yet taken this step, but it is important to be ready to do so as events dictate. If we do shift to working at home, all members will be alerted by email.

Fourth, we are consulting with MAC Board leadership and our venues and monitoring advisories from county and state health officials as we continue planning for our 2020 Legislative Conference in Lansing April 15-17. As of this moment, the conference is still set to go forward as scheduled. As in all things, our decisions will be driven by what is in the interest of public health. Gov. Whitmer has ordered a halt to large gatherings until April 5.

We have advised all registered attendees that they may cancel with a full refund.

 

Legislative approves $312 million in immediate spending

An additional $312.3 million in state spending was passed by the Legislature this week and sent to the governor’s desk for signature.

Senate Bill 151 contains adjustments for FY 2019-20, including:

  • $10 million for coronavirus public health emergency state and local preparedness and response activities
  • $15 million for the Coronavirus Response Fund
  • $5 million for High Water Infrastructure Repair grants
  • $1 million for county fairs, shows and expositions
  • $128,000 for the Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council’s IT system
  • $500,000 for court-appointed special advocates
  • $3.2 million for behavioral health system redesign
  • $11.3 million to replace the MiSACWIS (child welfare IT system)
  • $16 million to support Pure Michigan
  • $37 million for 85 Michigan enhancement grants (specific special projects outline here

Muskegon County also was appropriated $2 million for the Muskegon Federally Qualified Health Center.

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

 

UP Natural Resources Commission bills introduced in House

A package of bills that would give more local control to the Upper Peninsula in how they regulate hunting and fishing has been introduced in the House. House Bills 5592-5594 and Joint Resolution Q would create the Upper Peninsula Natural Resources Commission and grant authority to the commission on decision-making concerning the UP’s vast hunting and fishing landscape.

Joint Resolution Q would alter the state constitution to create the UP Natural Resources Commission and supplant the authority of the Natural Resources Commission for the Upper Peninsula. The current Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) was created by Proposal G of 1996 when it passed overwhelmingly by over a million votes from Michiganders. The intent of the NRC was to “use sound scientific management in making decisions regarding the taking of game” and to set some Department of Natural Resources (DNR) policies and procedures. The Commission consists of seven members who are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Michigan Senate.

The commission has come under fire in recent years legislators for the approved ban on deer and elk baiting. Under the current ban the entire lower peninsula and parts of the upper peninsula are disallowed from using baits like corn or other vegetables in order to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). A bill that would’ve overturned the controversial order was vetoed late last year by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The UP Natural Resources Commission, just like the NRC, would consist of seven members, all of whom must be residents of the UP and all shall be appointed as follows: 1 appointment by each member of the House of Representatives that represent the UP; 2 appointments by the member of the Michigan Senate that represents the UP; and 2 appointments by the governor. The UP NRC would have the authority to make rules regarding the taking of game or sportfish that have any an impact on the UP. This resolution would go to the vote of the people.

The House bills, by Reps. Beau LaFave (R-Dickinson) and Greg Markkanen (R-Houghton) both from the UP, would make necessary changes to the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. HB 5592 would grant the new commission the ability to regulate all game, and HB 5593 would grant the commission the ability to regulate all fish. HB 5594 would create the commission statutorily. 

The three bills are tie-barred, which means they must all pass in order for them to go into effect. MAC has not yet taken a position on the bills.

For more information on this issue, contact Michael Ruddock at ruddock@micounties.org

 

MAC launches #ParticipationIsPower campaign on salary data

The Michigan Association of Counties, in partnership with Munetrix, a Michigan firm specializing in government data, has developed a new salary survey database and tool. The first phase of this tool will focus solely on sheriff deputies and their pay and benefits. This tool is designed in response to our members voicing their concern about the increasing cost of salary surveys. This our first step in providing a more robust salary survey tool that covers all departments and will be consistently updated.

“This cloud-based system was developed for ease of use by participating members,” said Stephan Currie, MAC’s executive director. “And MAC and Munetrix are committed to providing staff and training support to ensure our members get the maximum value from their participation. Our motto is #ParticipationIsPower.”

Munetrix already has conducted multiple training webinars on how to upload data to the system. If you did not participate in one, you can view a recording of a session below.

Salary Survey Training Webinar

Please check the Munetrix page on the MAC website regularly for additional updates as the Salary Survey is rolled out to members.

 

 

Voters give broad approval to county millage requests

Voters showed strong support for county millage requests in elections this week, with 35 of 38 county requests gaining approval in unofficial results tallied by the MIRS News Service in Lansing.

Requests were primarily renewals of existing levies to support everything from public health and veterans services, to public transportation and 911 services.

In Dickinson County voters rejected a public health millage increase but did renew an existing PH levy. Voters in the same county rejected a new levy for conservation districts.

And Saginaw County voters rejected a new levy for MSU Extension.

 

 

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