Counties skirt fiscal danger in FY21 budget deal

Ending a long period of behind-the-scenes work by key legislators and the Whitmer administration, the Legislature moved rapidly today to pass budget bills for the state fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

In all major program areas, counties avoided cuts in funding that were once feared, and would have badly hampered members’ ability to provide key local services:

  • Counties will receive their revenue sharing at levels established in fiscal year 2020, which totals more than $226 million.
  • The deadline to pay hazard pay to first responders is extended to Oct. 31 (from the previous Sept. 30).
  • Indigent Defense grants are funded for $117.5 million.
  • About $4.2 million is provided for behavioral health training and crime victim support, as recommended by the Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration.
  • The County Jail Reimbursement Program will receive $14.8 million.
  • The Secondary Road Patrol program will receive $13.1 million.
  • The Community Corrections program will receive $13.2 million.
  • Counties will have access to $4 million for Veteran Service Fund grants.
  • Local road agencies will receive a $35 million increase from FY20 levels from the Michigan Transportation Fund.
  • About $13 million is cut, however, from General Fund appropriations for the local bridge program.
  • An increase of $27 million in federal funds is included for local public airports.
  • Local public health funding was kept at FY20 levels: $51.4 million.
  • The Child Care Fund will receive $254.3 million.
  • Includes $3.5 million in Child Care Fund indirect cost payments.
  • Match requirements for non-Medicaid community mental health (CMH) services will continue in a way that saves counties $5 million.

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

 

Expungement bill gets final legislative approval

Legislation that expands expungement of convictions and creates an automatic process for such actions is on its way to the governor after the Senate approved House Bill 4980 by a vote of 29-8. Under the bill, and beginning in two years (subject to an appropriation), certain offenses will be set aside without the filing of an application. 

The bill directs the Department of Technology, Management and Budget to develop a computer-based program for setting aside of records. The Department of State Police must also have an accessible record of each conviction and ensure it is accessible to each court in the state. The governor is given authority under the bill to postpone implementation by 180 days if it determined there are technological limitations.

Additionally, a fund will be created for implementation costs, necessary systems upgrades and any staffing needs that may be required as the automatic process is developed.

MAC advises county commissioners to work with court administration and clerks, as systems vary among courts. System changes that the state implements over the next two years may affect local systems in different ways and should be covered by the state as to avoid a Headlee Amendment violation.

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

 

Webinar offers budget expertise, certification credit to county commissioners

MSU Extension and the Michigan Department of Treasury will cover the fundamentals of budgeting during uncertain economic times, tracking long-term fiscal health and operational best practices in “Fiscally Ready Communities: Budgeting for Fiscal Sustainability.”

Commissioners who participate in this session would earn 3 credit hours in MAC’s County Commissioner Academy.  As of Sept. 1, nearly 40 commissioners were 3 hours or fewer short of their qualification as “certified” under the CCA program. So, this is an excellent opportunity for members to earn either their certification or build up hours toward it. The first “graduates” of CCA will be honored at MAC’s Legislative Conference in Lansing in April 2021.

MSU Extension encourages all elected and appointed officials in local government, administrators and staff to attend one of the three sessions, which will occur on:

  • Oct. 27, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Nov. 19, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • Dec. 3, 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

To register, click here.

The webinar will provide best practices for local government fiscal health, including budgeting, long-term planning, dealing with uncertainty, and financial policies and procedures. Participants will learn about key financial variables, such as the “rainy day fund; understanding how the tax base provides revenue; understanding volatile revenue; forecasting revenue and expenditures; and how to track your budget performance, including reviewing and amending your budget.

There is no cost to attend a session, but each session is limited to 50 attendees. (If necessary, additional dates and times will be added.)

For questions on the webinar, contact MSUE’s Eric Walcott at walcott3@msu.edu. For questions on County Commissioner Academy, contact MAC’s Derek Melot at melot@micounties.org.

 

Ballot pre-processing measure headed to governor

Legislation to allow time pre-election to process mail-in ballots cleared the House this week on a 94-11 vote. The measure is supported by the Michigan Association of Municipal Clerks and the Council of Election Officials.

Senate Bill 757, by Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Oakland), allows clerks in cities or townships with a population of at least 25,000 to perform certain absent voter (AV) ballot pre-processing activities prior to Election Day, as long as they give notice of that action to the Secretary of State (SOS) at least 20 days before Election Day. This provision would apply only for the Nov. 3, 2020, general election.

The bill would also allow election inspectors on AV counting boards in cities or townships to work in shifts. Additionally, it would provide requirements for AV ballot drop boxes and notification requirements for AV ballot applications and ballots that were rejected for missing a signature or having one that did not match the signature on file.

The bill now goes to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is expected to sign it.

 

Criminal justice reforms pass House, get Senate hearings

A legislative package spurred by recommendations from the Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration were approved by the House this week, while the Senate began its own deliberations related to task force ideas.

House Bills 5844 and 5854-57 remove mandatory minimum jail sentences for certain offenses. Removal of mandatory minimum sentences would mean a court could impose any term of imprisonment, up to the statutory maximum specified for an offense. For certain driving while intoxicated offenses, it prohibits a judge from waiving the minimum, unless the offender successfully completes a specialty court program, such as a drug treatment or sobriety court.

Additionally, bills removing driver’s licenses sanctions for non-related driving offenses were also passed by the House. HBs 5846-5852 would eliminate various license suspensions unrelated to dangerous driving, such as failure to appear for court or failing to pay child support.

MAC, along with the Michigan Sheriffs Association and the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, supported the bills as passed the House.

The Senate, meanwhile, began hearings on bills recommended by the task force that address alternatives to arrest, such as issuance of appearance tickets and allowing resolutions to low-level warrants without being arrested. Review of Senate Bills 1046-51 will continue before the Senate Judiciary Committee in upcoming weeks. 

While a full fiscal analysis is not done projecting county savings, it is assumed that these changes will save counties money by ensuring funds are not spent on housing those in county jails for reasons that are not a threat to public safety. MAC’s policy platforms support the task force, in which MAC members were represented, and smart criminal justice reforms, while maintaining public safety.  

The task force appointments expire, under the current Executive Order, on Sept. 30. MAC expects the governor to extend the group’s make-up through the end of the year.

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

 

Legislative burst brings good news for skilled nursing facilities

Michigan’s 34 county-owned skilled nursing facilities received good news in the fiscal 2021 state budget approved Wednesday, along with other parts of the state’s health field.

In the budget now awaiting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s signature:

  • The nursing facility rate escaped a $85 million reduction that had been sought by Whitmer.
  • Section 1775 maintains the status quo: (1) Requires the Department to report on the progress in implementing the MI Health Link Waiver on March 1. (2) Requires the existence of an independent ombudsman to help assist with complaint and dispute resolution mechanisms.
  • Section 1857 “requires the Department to explore the implementation of a managed care long-term support service by July 1.”
  • A new line was included for $20 million to Nursing Home PPE grants that is funded through federal CARES Act funds. The new section reads, “(1) Appropriates $20.0 million of Federal Coronavirus Relief Fund revenue to nursing homes to help cover the cost of PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic. (2) Directs that funds under this section be allocated on a per licensed skilled nursing facility bed basis, with each nursing home receiving a fixed amount per licensed skilled nursing facility bed equal to $20 million divided by the total number of the licensed skilled nursing facility beds in the state. (3) The funds under this section must be allocated by Oct. 31.”
  • CARES Act funding of $150 million is included to continue the $2 per hour direct care worker wage increase, as provided in the previous fiscal year originally approved under SB 690 in July. MCMCFC understands this will continue through the end of December and, according to budget sources, the eligibility remains the same for direct care workers, including those at skilled nursing facilities, that were eligible under SB 690.

In other legislative news related to medical care facilities, House Bills 4098 and 6159 were passed by the full House this week and now await action in the Senate Health Policy and Human Services Committee.

HB 4098, by Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Shiawassee), would allow the training and permitting of medication aides. MCMCFC supports the bill as a way to relieve the strained nursing profession by allowing specially trained CNAs to administering routine medication Under supervision of a nurse.

HB 6159, by Rep. Roger Hauck (R-Isabella), creates the Pandemic Health Care Immunity Act to provide protection from liability to health care facilities, including MCFs, that provided health care services related to the COVID-19 from March 9 to July 15 this year. MCMCFC supports this bill.

For more information on MCMCFC-related legislation, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

Flawed broadband measure gets House approval

A bill that creates the “Connecting Michigan Communities Act” to establish a statewide grant program to expand broadband in underserved areas passed the House this week. House Bill 4288, by Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Wexford), however, leaves locals out of the running to apply for the grant funds, leaving MAC no option but to oppose this legislation in current form.

While MAC supports the concept of greater access to broadband, this bill excludes local governments or educational institution from accessing these grants, which in some cases, may be the only viable entity to provide services. This could result in leaving some residents unserved in areas where a private provider has no plans to expand but could otherwise be served by a local unit.

Local partners such as the Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association were also in opposition as the bill passed the House. The bill now moves to the Senate Energy and Technology committee, chaired by Sen. Dan Lauwers (R-St. Clair), and is expected to receive a vote next week.

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

 

Bill on lake level bonds advances in House

Legislation allowing certain special assessment districts, filed in response to the Sanford Dam failure, cleared another legislative hurdle this week by advancing out of the House Committee on Natural Resources. MAC supports the legislation.

Senate Bill 1080, by Sen. Rick Outman (R-Montcalm) already has Senate approval and would allow a special assessment district, with the approval of the County Board of Commissioners, to issue notes or bonds for up to 40 years to finance lake level projects. While a direct response to the Sanford Dam failure, the bill also provides greater financing options for the multitude of other lake level projects across the state in dire need of repair. 

The bill would extend time a district could issue bonds from 10 years to 40 years, allowing the property assessments that pay for the work to be spread out over a much longer period and thereby make the payments more affordable for property owners. The bill now awaits action in the House Ways and Means Committee.

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

 

Tax shift for heavy equipment clears House committee

A new method to tax heavy construction and earth-moving equipment in Michigan cleared a House committee this week.

House Bill 5779, by Rep. Jim Ellison (D-Oakland) and voted out of House Tax Policy Committee, would end the current system for taxing rented heavy equipment, which is assessed in the jurisdiction where the property is physically located on Dec. 31 each year, regardless of where the property originated from or where it was for the rest of the year. This system has created difficulties for assessors, who have to track down the equipment within their jurisdictions on one day out of the year; creates uncertainty for the business owners who will have to pay multiple jurisdictions each year based on where the equipment is on that one day; and it can create unpredictable revenue issues for tax collecting units year to year.

Ellison’s bill, instead, would establish a 2 percent levy on the rental price of the heavy equipment. The levy would be collected by the Department of Treasury on a quarterly basis. Late penalties, audits of submissions and additional disqualifications penalties would also apply. Of the money collected by Treasury, up to $250,000 per year would go to the department for administering the program; the remaining funds would be distributed to the taxing jurisdictions.

Ninety percent of the funds would be sent to the tax collecting units where the businesses are located, who would then have 35 days to distribute the funds to the other taxing jurisdictions in the same proportion as it distributes property taxes. The remaining 10 percent would go to those local units of government not receiving any of the 90 percent distribution in the same proportion as distributions of the personal property tax reimbursement funds under the Local Community Stabilization Authority.

This bill is tie-bared to one that would exempt this equipment from personal property taxes under the General Property Tax Act. MAC is neutral on the legislation.

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

 

Controversial ‘Dark Stores’ advocate regains Tax Tribunal seat

A former member of the Michigan Tax Tribunal who served when the panel adopted the “Dark Stores” theory of property assessment will rejoin the tribunal after a Senate committee failed to reject her nomination by the Whitmer administration.

Victoria Enyart will be seated after the Senate Advice and Consent Committee turned aside a move by Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Dickinson) to reject her reappointment. MAC and others had opposed Enyart’s reappointment due to her role in the adoption of the “Dark Stores” assessment ideology, which has stripped local governments statewide of more than $100 million in revenue, thereby increasing the local tax burden on homeowners and small businesses.

The day before, a different Senate committee, Finance, took testimony on legislation, Senate Bill 39, by McBroom, which ban one of the Dark Stores techniques – the use of deed-restricted parcels as comparable properties for assessment purposes. MAC supports the bill, which did not receive a committee vote but is gaining traction in the Legislature.

For more information, contact Deena Bosworth at Bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Webinar to aid law enforcement with autism, DD communities

A webinar designed to provide participants, particularly law enforcement, with the knowledge and skills required to provide effective, equitable service to people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, will be held Oct. 27 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

The content presented in this course is a culmination of information from a partnership of mental health and law enforcement professionals. The webinar is co-sponsored ty the state Department of Health and Human Services and the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA).

County commissioners may wish to encourage colleagues and partners in law enforcement to attend this free training session, which is MCOLES-approved and meets with MCOLES recommended annual officer trainings.

To register, click here. The class is limited to 50 slots. Deadline to register is Oct. 25.

To register groups or for additional course information, contact J. Eric Waddell at jericwaddell@thecardinalgroup2.com.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Key trial court costs bill to become law

Legislation to extend the authority of trial courts to levy costs to defendants will soon be law, after the Senate this week approved House Bill 5488 and sent it to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for her expected signature.

The bill, a major priority for MAC in 2020, extends cost authority 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 final Senate vote on HB 5488 was 29-8, with all “no” votes from Democratic senators. 

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.

 

Nursing home report: Create more aid for staff, look to ‘recovery centers’

A new report on combating COVID-19 in Michigan’s nursing homes has 28 recommendations, including an emphasis on training and support for frontline care workers and the replacement of the state’s current regional “hubs” for COVID-positive nursing home residents with “care and recovery centers.”

The report came from a gubernatorial task force which has been meeting twice a week this summer. Renee Beniak, executive director of the Michigan County Medical Care Facilities Council (MCMCFC), chaired the task force’s staffing work group. She called nursing assistants’ jobs, which involve the most interaction with residents, “one of the most difficult. To take good care of the residents and do the best job possible, I think the staff have to be happy and fulfilled and not overwhelmed and burn out.”

MCMCFC represents 34 county-owned facilities scattered across the state from the western Upper Peninsula to Macomb County.

 

Next local finance webinar is Sept. 8; register today

The seventh in an ongoing series of webinars co-sponsored by MAC and the Michigan Treasury will be held on Sept. 8, starting at 2 p.m.

County leaders can sign up now for the webinar, which will include an update on state budget process and the CARES Act programs, information about local government unclaimed property.

Each webinar is limited to 1,000 attendees. Participants are strongly encouraged to register early.

Treasury also has developed a webpage with numbered letters, memorandums, webinars, and resources regarding COVID-19 updates for local governments and school districts. This webpage was created to ensure that Michigan communities have access to the most up-to-date guidance and is updated frequently with information and resources as they become available.

For the latest updates, please review the COVID-19 Updates for Local Governments and School Districts’ webpage

 

State launches health IT input campaign

A new effort by the state Health and Human Services Department (DHHS) to create a “roadmap” for health information technology will include a series of 16 virtual engagement sessions on a variety of topics such as care coordination, racial disparities in health, coronavirus response, and behavioral health. The sessions get under way on Sept. 15 and will continue into November.

Click here for full schedule

“These sessions will provide an opportunity to collect input from stakeholders across Michigan on using data from health IT systems to address business needs as well as the needs of individuals they serve,” the department stated.

For more information, visit the MDHHS Health IT Commission web page.  

 

Revenue sharing replacement funds to hit accounts on Monday

Replacement dollars for the cancelled August revenue sharing payments will reach county accounts on Monday, Aug. 31 as scheduled, MAC was told this week by state officials. Although the amount listed on the SIGMA website is correct, the name of the municipality is wrong, and is a glitch that if fixed will cause more problems than it fixes.

For exact amount and accurate county name, please see this list from the Department of Treasury

Hazard pay premium payments are still being processed and will not be ready for another week. Additional staff has been assigned to this division of the Treasury Department to speed up the processing of applications. Those local units that have requested advanced payment of these funds before expending them should receive the funds within the next two weeks, long before the Sept. 20 deadline to make the payments to eligible employees.

As far as the payroll reimbursement program goes, those figures are still being calculated at Treasury. As reported last week, the number of applications received will greatly exceed the amount allocated for the program. The appropriation was for $200 million, but Treasury anticipates the requests will total about $350 million.

Therefore, each payment to locals for this program will be prorated based on the amount your locality requested as a percentage of the total amount requested. Those figures are not available yet. Once the hazard pay applications have been fully processed, department resources will be redirected to the payroll reimbursement program.

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

 

Conference concludes with workshops and platform and board elections

MAC concluded its 2020 Virtual Annual Conference this week with members easily approving policy platforms for the coming year and the election of unopposed candidates for five Board positions.

Ingham County’s Bryan Crenshaw is the only new addition to the Board, elected to fill a vacant seat in Region 4. Incumbents Stan Ponstein (at-large), Joe Bonovetz (Region 1), Richard Schmidt (Region 2), Jim Storey (Region 3) and Veronica Klinefelt (Region 5) were re-elected without opposition at virtual caucuses held Wednesday. Ninety MAC members were eligible to vote in elections via their registration for the Annual Conference.

On Thursday, the Board members were sworn in for their new terms at a MAC Board meeting.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Board voted in June to extend officer terms for one year, so for the coming year President Klinefelt, First Vice President Phil Kuyers of Ottawa and Second Vice President Ponstein will hold their positions.

Workshops during week 2 of the virtual event focused on such issues as:

“We appreciate our members’ participation, and patience, as we explored new ways to provide information and transact association business,” said Stephan Currie, MAC executive director. “It all worked pretty well and we can build on this success as needed for future events.”

All of the conference sessions were recorded. MAC will be placing video files on the micounties.org website at some point in September. Watch for alerts in future Legislative Update emails for details on this.

MAC’s next scheduled conference is the Michigan Counties Legislative Conference, set for April 27-29, 2021, in Lansing.

 

Urban Institute seeks upward mobility partners

The Urban Institute, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is looking to partner with up to eight counties to compose an Upward Mobility Cohort.

Awardees will receive $125,000 and 18 months of tailored technical assistance from Urban Institute experts to help county leaders use a set of 25 evidence-based mobility metrics to inform decision-making and develop a “mobility action plan.” This plan will reflect a comprehensive approach to upward mobility from poverty and will identify key challenges across policy areas that inhibit local mobility. The plan will also highlight strategies to improve local conditions for mobility and outcomes for residents, as informed by data and community voices.

Interested counties should complete the Request for Information (RFI) by Sept. 16, 2020. The researchers will select up to 25 finalists who will be invited to submit a full proposal due in November 2020, ultimately inviting eight counties to participate in the Upward Mobility Cohort. The cohort and technical assistance process will launch in January 2021.

An updated list of frequently asked questions will be posted at this link on Sept. 1.

 

Registration is now open for the Great Lakes PFAS Summit

The Great Lakes PFAS Summit has been moved to a virtual, week-long event to be held Oct. 26-30, 2020. The goals of this conference are to provide the most current and reliable science and policy, facilitate networking and information sharing, and explore current and future research topics related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

One of the biggest stories in chemical contamination emerging over the past several years has been PFAS. States throughout the nation, including the Great Lakes region, are finding PFAS contamination in a growing number of locations where these persistent chemicals pose a threat to people and the environment. The Great Lakes Virtual PFAS Summit will bring together environmental program managers, policy experts, researchers, and contractors from around the Great Lakes region to share the challenges of addressing this contamination and present innovative technical solutions developed to address these “forever” chemicals.  

Participants may include local, state, and federal government officials; environmental consultants and vendors; academic researchers and students; industry managing PFAS contamination; and community organizations. The cost is $50 and professional development hours will be available.

 

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