GOP retains control of Michigan House; ballot props pass easily

Republicans retained their majority in the Michigan House of Representatives in the Nov. 3 General Election. The GOP will control the chamber 58-52 after picking up seats in the 96th and 48th districts, Bay and Genesee Counties respectively, while Democrats won formerly GOP seats in Oakland and Kalamazoo counties.

On Thursday, House leadership elections took place and, as expected, Rep. Jason Wentworth (R-Clare) was elected as speaker to replace the term-limited Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Emmet) in January. Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Shiawassee) will be majority floor leader and Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Macomb) will be speaker pro tem in January. Democrats elected Rep. Donna Lasinski (D-Washtenaw) as the party leader and Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Washtenaw) will remain in his current role as floor leader in January.

Tuesday was a big night for county commissioners bidding to join the House, with seven new members (see list below) joining MAC’s County Caucus at the State Capitol in January. The MAC County Caucus will now include 23 members of the House and retain 8 members of the Senate, meaning former commissioners now constitute more than 20 percent of the entire Legislature.

Commissioners winning House seats on Nov. 3

  • Robert Bezotte (R-Livingston)
  • Felicia Brabec (D-Washtenaw)
  • Ken Borton (R-Otsego)
  • David Martin (R-Genesee)
  • Christine Morse (D-Kalamazoo)
  • Amos O’Neal (D- Saginaw)
  • Julie Rogers (D-Kalamazoo)

Bios of the newly elected representatives have been compiled by the MIRS News Service.

The current legislative cycle has 11 session days remaining before Dec. 31. There are many issues MAC will be focused on during this “lame duck” session, including 4-year terms, personal property tax exemptions and solid waste management regulations. Please stay engaged through our updates and action alerts as we approach final session weeks.

In the judicial branch, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack won re-election to the Michigan Supreme Court and will be joined by fellow Democratic Party nominee Elizabeth Welch, replacing the departing Justice Stephen Markman. This now gives Democrats a 4-3 majority on the state’s highest court.

And two state ballot proposals won easily on Tuesday:

  • Proposal 20-1 allows the State Parks Endowment Fund to continue receiving money from sales of oil and gas from state-owned lands to improve, maintain and purchase land for State parks and for Fund administration, until its balance reaches $800,000,000. It also requires subsequent oil and gas revenue from state-owned lands to go into the NRTF, at least 20 percent of Endowment Fund annual spending go toward State park improvement, and at least 25 percent of Trust Fund annual spending go toward parks and public recreation areas and at least 25 percent toward land conservation.
  • Proposal 20-2 amended section 11 of Article 1 of the Michigan Constitution to prohibit unreasonable searches or seizures of a person’s electronic data and electronic communications.

 

2020 class of new commissioners will be close to historical average

In unofficial results so far, there will be 134 new commissioners serving on county boards starting in January after voters had their say on Tuesday.

MAC’s data going back numerous election cycles show an election brings in an average of 125 new people to county boards. However, MAC is still awaiting data from a handful of unresolved seats, so the freshman class could grow.

Once MAC has full unofficial reports from all counties, we will post the lists and data to our website, micounties.org.

“We are looking forward to working with all of our new members, starting hopefully with their participation in the New Commissioner Schools, which start next week,” said Stephan Currie, MAC’s executive director.

On the financial front, counties were highly successful in their appeals to voters, with 40 of 47 county-related millages gaining approval on Tuesday. Click here for a list of those results compiled by the MIRS News Service in Lansing.

 

Solar PILT in place of PPT passes Senate Finance Committee

Two bills that would eliminate the Personal Property Tax (PPT) on qualified solar equipment and replace it with a payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) passed out of  the Senate Committee on Finance this week.

Senate Bills 1105-06, by Sens. Curt VanderWall (R-Benzie) and Kevin Daley (R-Tuscola), would set a rate of $3,500 per megawatt per year on solar projects. The idea is to get away from the disputes surrounding assessed value and depreciation schedules, create a predictable tax obligation for the solar developers and a flat, steady revenue stream from the projects for the duration of the agreement.

MAC is supportive of the concept of a PILT, but remains opposed to the bills as they are currently written due to the fact that the $3,500/mw rate has not been fully evaluated to determine the equitability to tax revenue that would otherwise be paid. In addition, the bills are weak on what happens when production ceases or when the developer would pay less if they violated the agreement.

In an effort to work with the sponsors, MAC is working with other organizations and the State Tax Commission to determine what an equitable rate would be. Due to the different millage rates across the state, this type of structure could be a win for some areas and a loss for other areas, but when we factor in the costs of valuation challenges and altered depreciation schedules, it may be a better approach.

MAC expects these bills to continue to move through the process during lame duck, but we are working to stop them until we have a better understanding of the financial implications to counties.

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

 

MAC seeks feedback on House GOP’s COVID plan

The House Health Policy Committee took testimony this week on a Republican plan to set criteria for COVID responses on the local level. Rep. Ben Frederick (R-Shiawassee) testified on House Bill 6314, which would set certain standards for counties to meet in order for county health officers to issue emergency orders different than, but not more restrictive than, the state’s. (See MAC’s Oct. 23 Legislative Update for more background on the legislation.)

MAC has not taken a formal position on the bill but is discussing it with MAC policy committee members and receiving feedback from commissioners and stakeholder partners in local public health.

An initial concern MAC has expressed to the bill sponsor is that a health officer would not be able to be more restrictive than the state orders, thereby taking away the ability of a health officer to respond to case surges in certain areas of a county.

The Department of Health and Human Services did not testify this week but is opposing the bill.

If you have feedback or questions, please reach out to Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

Register now for Treasury webinar on Nov. 10

In partnership with the Michigan Association of Counties and others, the Michigan Department of Treasury will hold its eighth joint webinar, “COVID-19 Updates and Resources for Local Governments,” at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Topics will include updates on FEMA, Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Programs and the State of Michigan budget.

Participants can register and submit questions on the webinar’s registration page.

Each webinar is limited to 1,000 attendees. With previous webinars reaching capacity limits, participants are strongly encouraged to register now.

Additionally, the Michigan Department of Treasury 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.

 

MDHHS issues guidance on workplace safety

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) has released recommendations for employers on how to keep workplaces safe during the pandemic.

“The state is currently experiencing 261 cases per million people per day, more than double from last month. Percent positivity has increased to 7.5% from 5.5% a week ago. Hospitalizations, which tend to appear two to four weeks after cases, have been rising over the past five weeks,” the department reported.

“Currently, there are 28 documented COVID-19 outbreaks in an office setting and the number of new outbreaks reported continue to increase weekly. Office settings make up five percent of all documented outbreaks, and seven percent of new outbreaks identified in the last week. Additionally, 8.3% of current outbreaks are in manufacturing and construction and 33% of those were first identified in the last week,” MDHHS added.

Consistent with emergency rules enacted by the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity on Oct. 14, if any in-person work is being conducted, employers should be sure to take the following steps to protect the health of their employees:

  • Create a COVID preparedness plan – Employers should develop and implement a written plan to prevent employee exposure to COVID-19. This should include exposure determination and detail the measures the employer will implement to reduce employee exposure.
  • Establish clear workplace procedures – Employers should identify a workplace COVID-19 coordinator, mandate face coverings, ensure appropriate access to personal protective equipment where necessary and train employees on new procedures, such as how to facilitate physical distancing.
  • Conduct daily self-screening of staff working in person – Employers should conduct daily health evaluations that include assessment for the symptoms of COVID-19 and exclude from in-person work any symptomatic staff.
  • Strengthen workplace cleaning and disinfection procedures – Employers should take every opportunity to clean and disinfect facilities as frequently as possible, and enhanced cleaning should be performed if a sick employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19.
  • Collaborate with local health departments – If any employees contract COVID-19, local health departments will conduct contact tracing. Employees should work closely with their local health departments to ensure that all potentially affected employees are made aware of their exposure.

Employers should allow their employees to work from home, if possible, to minimize the presence of individuals gathered in work settings where COVID-19 may spread. Employers should only permit in-person work if a worker is unable to physically complete required job tasks from a remote setting, such as food service or auto assembly workers, or a job involving protected data that cannot be accessed remotely.

A full list of employee and workplace safety resources is available online.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Izzo charms, inspires during conference keynote

“All of us are role models,” Michigan State University basketball coach Tom Izzo told county leaders gathered for a special session Thursday of MAC’s 2020 Virtual Annual Conference. “You gotta give back some things. I look back and I see I have a responsibility, which is a privilege, not a burden.”

Izzo’s keynote remarks were the highlight of week 1 of the virtual conference, which resumes next Tuesday and concludes next Thursday.

The Hall of Fame coach and national championship winner (2000) expanded on the leadership theme by saying, “Greatest feeling – being a difference-maker in someone’s life.”

During a wide-ranging Q&A after his remarks, led by MAC Executive Director Stephan Currie, Izzo fielded queries on everything from the “side” of Iron Mountain he grew up on to how to bring cohesion to a group of wildly different people to the recent trend in changing team mascots. At one point, the coach seemed to be wistful as he related how, in his young adult days in the Upper Peninsula, his first big investments were trailers, culminating in a “double-wide” unit.

Izzo also engaged in some good-natured ribbing with Currie over the high expectations Spartan fans have for him and his team each year.

“Coach never fails to deliver,” Currie said after the session. “We at MAC are so appreciative of coach Izzo’s time and the kind words he had for the work of county leaders in Michigan.”

The keynote event was the final one of a week that began with a workshop on managing public facilities in a COVID-19 world and the first plenary session, which included the semi-annual “State of MAC” report from Currie and a “Legislative Update” from Governmental Affairs Director Deena Bosworth.

To keep track of conference events, visit the conferences page on the MAC website, where you can find a link to the conference program. Access to conference events is limited to registered attendees, but MAC will be posting slide decks from workshops and, in September, video files of the major sessions.

 

Treasury: Payroll reimbursement program requests exceed funding

The application deadline for counties to apply for public safety and public health payroll reimbursement for April and May of 2020 has passed. In conversations with the Michigan Treasury, MAC has learned the amount requested for reimbursement will exceed the supplemental budget appropriation of $200 million. This means Treasury will be prorating the reimbursements based on the amount each request bears to the total amount requested. And there will not be another a second round to apply for in August.

On the bright side, the expenses that were not covered in the first round will be eligible for allocation to the CARES Act revenue sharing replacement fund. Again, these are the funds that should total approximately 1.5 times the amount of your August revenue sharing payment amount. Although the replacement is restricted to eligible expenses, public safety and public health payrolls are considered eligible.

As far as the hazard pay program goes, the appropriation of $100 million has not, as of yet, been exhausted. Applications for the program continue to come in, but the threshold is unlikely to be exceeded.

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

 

Report: Michigan spends more on roads, but trends aren’t promising

Michigan has devoted increasing sums to its road network in recent years, but road conditions are still projected to worsen, said a transportation funding analyst with the House Fiscal Agency (HFA) during a 2020 Annual Conference workshop on Thursday.

William Hamilton of the HFA led workshop participants through the funding mechanics for roads across the state – and the current and expected results of that work. On one slide, he noted that while about 85 percent of state “trunkline” roads were in good or fair shape five years ago, that share is projected to fall to below 50 percent by 2025.

After Thursday’s session, Hamilton followed up on a couple of questions posed by members during his talk:

Local road millages and funding levels

“There appear to be 32 county-wide road millages in 2018, with total county road millage revenue in 2018 = $69.4 million. And it looks like 554 townships have township road millages, most of which are used to support county road commission maintenance and improvement projects within the respective townships. Total township road millage revenue in 2018 = $86.6 million.

“So those two sources add up to $156 million of local funding for county road programs and projects.

“Also, some counties and townships simply provide direct General Fund (GF) support for county road commission projects, like Oakland County, which uses county GF as part of a match money program.

“And many townships use township GF as part of a match money program. And there are special assessment districts in many townships to recover the costs of certain road improvements.”

Federal COVID aid for transportation

This document summarizes federal COVID assistance through June 8, 2020; transportation elements are on page 14.

“So far, the only transportation money is for transit and airport projects.  And as we discussed, the COVID money is made available through existing federal aid programs.”

 

Property tax exemptions are growing problem for counties, lawyer says

The misapplication of a 2006 court decision has led to a growing number of businesses avoiding local property taxes, putting more stress on already-strained county revenues, a tax law expert told a Wednesday workshop during the 2020 Annual Conference.

Via a virtual session, Jessica Wood of the firm of Dickinson Wright showed county leaders how the 2006 Wexford has led Michigan awry. Pre-Wexford, Wood said, the state had a “common sense, relatively intuitive, straightforward test” for determining whether a business qualified as a charity and therefore received a tax break. But the Wexford decision, she said, “the truck that drove the hole through” state law.

Duo: Invest in tech to deal with COVID in facilities

In the conference’s first workshop on Tuesday, Gary Nauts of the city of Rochester Hills and Terry Van Doren of MMRMA discussed experiences and best practices on handling public facilities in the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Among the points highlighted by the pair:

  • Communication is key.
  • Invest in technology.
  • Facilities and maintenance leaders will lead the return to normal.

“We are off to a fast start with the amount of information in our workshops,” said MAC Executive Director Stephan Currie. “While we can’t meet in-person, the digital format still allows us to support continuing education for our members.”

 

MIDC continues plan reviews amid murky budget situation

The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) met this week to continue to review and approve county compliance plans and costs analysis, among other items.

The MIDC reviewed 98 staff recommendations for approvals and rejections of county and municipal plans.  The entire list can be found on the agenda here.

Additionally, the commission approved a framework should the FY21 appropriation for compliance grants be less than the total of the approved compliance plans. In February, the governor recommended $117.5 million for plans, but as with all budgetary items, the compliance funding could be in jeopardy due to revenue effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest estimates range from an FY21 shortfall of $1 billion to $1.5 billion in the General Fund. However, the final number will be approved on Aug. 24 at the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference.

MAC supports full funding of MIDC grants and the $117.5 million proposed by the governor. Anything short of full funding would be a violation of the Headlee Amendment, and per statute, “A system’s duty of compliance with 1 or more standards within the plan under subsection (1) is contingent upon receipt of a grant in the amount sufficient to cover that particular standard or standards contained in the plan and cost analysis approved by the MIDC.”

The commission also received a letter from Orlene Hawks, director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA), indicating Standard 5 (independence of the indigent defense system from the judiciary) is slated to be formally approved by LARA in October. Per statute, “No later than 180 days after a standard is approved by the department, each indigent criminal defense system shall submit a plan to the MIDC for the provision of indigent criminal defense services in a manner as determined by the MIDC and shall submit an annual plan for the following state fiscal year on or before Oct. 1 of each year.”

Lastly, a reminder that standards related to indigency and partial indigency determinations, required by the MIDC Act, are open for public comment until Sept. 14, 2020, and can be submitted to LARA-MIDC-Info@michigan.gov. Alternatively, comments can be sent by that date to the MIDC Office, 200 N. Washington Square, 3rd Floor, Lansing, MI 48913. All comments will be posted and available on the MIDC website.

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

 

State to distribute $3.5M through Child Care Fund

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is slated to distribute the $3.5 million appropriated under the FY20 budget to cover Child Care Fund administrative costs relevant to the move of neglect/abuse payments to the “State Pays First” system in the next 30 days. As the state transitioned to the State Pays First model, the statute was not clear whether the 10 percent counties received for indirect costs must be applied to the abuse/neglect population.

The Legislature approved $3.5 million in FY20 to ensure counties did not see a shortfall, but due to so many unknowns during the FY20 budget process under COVID-19, payments were delayed. Since the recent completion of updates to the FY20 budget that included the $3.5 million, the state will be issuing payments as soon as possible. Per correspondence with the department, MAC expects payments within 30 days, and will stay in touch with members if that time frame changes.

A county-by-county breakdown of the $3.5 million can be found here.

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

 

Virtual Annual Conference begins on Tuesday

The first events of MAC’s two-week Virtual Annual Conference are set for Tuesday, Aug. 18, including a Plenary Session of special reports from MAC personnel.

Week one of the conference, which runs Aug. 18-27, also will include the President’s Gathering with conference keynoter Tom Izzo of the MSU Spartans (Aug. 20).

Registered attendees will be receiving emails today (Aug. 14) with their access credentials for all of the digital events, including the regional caucuses to elect Board members and the Annual Business Meeting to approve policy platforms. Just a reminder: Only county commissioners may participate in the regional caucuses and Annual Business Meeting.

The conference program will be posted to MAC’s conferences website page for reference during the event. Recordings of the conference workshops and special sessions will be posted to the website, too, but not until September.

 

Federal FAQ sheet has key details on FEMA matching rules

The U.S. Treasury has updated its Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) FAQ document. Main items they updated are:

  • Additional clarification on using CRF dollars for the non-federal FEMA matching requirement: Specifically, the guidance states that states and counties are fully permitted to use payments from the CRF to satisfy 100 percent of their cost share for lost wages assistance recently made available under the Stafford Act.
  • Clarification on incurred costs and grant programs: The guidance states that a grant made to cover interest and principal costs of a loan, including interest and principal due after the period March 1, 2020, to Dec. 30, 2020, will be considered an “incurred cost” during the covered period.

For more resources from the federal and state governments on COVID response, visit MAC’s Resources Page.

 

Michigan Treasury holds sixth webinar on COVID-related funds

The hazard pay program, the payroll reimbursement program and the August revenue sharing payment were among topics addressed by officials with the Michigan Treasury during a webinar Wednesday co-sponsored by MAC and other local government groups.

The session was the sixth in an ongoing series to brief local governments on pandemic-related expenses, programs and reimbursements.

Although Treasury does not anticipate utilizing all of the allocated $100 million for the hazard pay program, the department does anticipate expending the entire $200 million in the first round of the payroll reimbursement program that covers public safety and public health payroll expenses for April and May 2020. 

To get CARES funds from the state to compensate for the terminated August revenue sharing payment, counties will have to certify to Treasury their desire to receive these funds and to allocate them to COVID-related expenses – including additional months of public safety and public health payroll expenses. Under the authorizing legislation, counties will get roughly 150 percent of their August revenue sharing in additional CARES funds. Those funds should go out in early September.

The Department also spent time this week going over the necessary accounting procedures in order to accurately and appropriately allocate the funding.

To watch the recording of the webinar, follow this link.

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

 

Whitmer vetoes health facility immunity provisions

An extension of legal immunity to certain health facilities, including Medical Care Facilities (MCFs) was vetoed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The immunity would have applied to civil or criminal liability during a state of disaster or state of emergency declaration under Senate Bill 899, by Sen. Mike MacDonald (R-Macomb County). 

Per the governor’s veto letter: “If this bill only attempted to restore the protections I offered under my orders, I would consider signing it. But the bill goes much further in ways that are directly counter to the interests of those receiving care. For example, this bill would give health care providers and the facilities that employ them broad immunity every time an emergency or disaster is declared, regardless of whether the circumstances demand this extreme measure.”

House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Emmet) said in a statement that the state’s “health care heroes” are working on the frontlines in difficult decisions and “deserve to know we all have their back.”

“It’s strange that the governor felt our frontline health care workers deserved this protection two months ago but not today, since she did not include any legitimate explanation of her veto,” he said. “But I know my commitment to doctors, nurses and hospitals has not changed. The House of Representatives will continue to look for ways to partner with them, support them, and help them combat this pandemic.”

Also this week, the governor extended the Executive Order titled “Enhanced protections for residents and staff of long-term care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic,” through Sept. 7. 

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

 

Commission accepting public input on indigency standard

The Michigan Indigent Defense Commission (MIDC) is accepting comments to a proposed standard for determining indigency and contribution, as required by statute. The MIDC Act requires the commission to “promulgate objective standards for indigent criminal defense systems to determine whether a defendant is indigent or partially indigent” and to “determine the amount a partially indigent defendant must contribute to his or her defense.”

Under 2018 statutory changes, the Legislature required systems to make “a preliminary inquiry regarding, and the determination of, the indigency of any defendant, including a determination regarding whether a defendant is partially indigent.” However, to ensure that systems do not vary dramatically in their determinations, the Legislature also tasked the commission with providing standards for systems to follow.

The proposed indigency standard can be found here.

“Written public comment for consideration by the Commission should be submitted before Sept. 14, 2020, to LARA-MIDC-Info@michigan.gov. Alternatively, comments can be sent by that date to the MIDC Office, 200 N. Washington Square, 3rd Floor, Lansing, MI 48913.  All comments will be posted and available on the MIDC website.”

The MIDC will hold its next meeting on Aug. 18 at 9 a.m. via Zoom to continue review of FY21 compliance plans and costs analyses. Meeting agenda information and zoom links can be found here.

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

 

Get state advice on pension/OPEB issues

The Michigan Treasury will brief local governments on the management and sustainability of their pension and retiree health care (OPEB) systems during a webinar on Tuesday, Aug. 18 at 2 p.m.

Topics will include updates from the Municipal Employees Retirement System (MERS) and the Michigan Association of Public Employees Retirement Systems (MAPERS) on local pension and health care systems, problem solving and management of legacy debt from MSU Extension, University of Michigan, and the Citizens Research Council, and an update regarding reporting data, waiver applications, and the corrective action process for Public Act 202 of 2017 from the Department of Treasury.

Participants can register on the webinar’s registration page.

 

NACo analyzes executive actions taken by president

On Aug. 8, President Trump released a series of administrative actions — an executive order and three memorandums — to address the expiration of federal unemployment benefits and provide other assistance for U.S. residents hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. The actions taken by the administration do not address NACo’s main priority for COVID relief, which is additional flexible fiscal aid for state and local governments of all sizes. 

Here is a quick summary of two of the key areas for counties:

Unemployment Insurance (UI)

  1. Extra federal UI benefit on top of states’ regular UI benefit would be reduced from $600 to $400 per week
  2. Of the $400 total,
    • WH proposes that $300 would be funded through FEMA’s existing Disaster Relief Funds (DRF)
    • WH proposes to earmark up to $44 billion of $70 billion in existing DRF dollars – which would last for about 5 weeks at current UI levels
    • States would be responsible for the 25% FEMA DRF state match, or $100 per UI recipient each week
    • Governor must submit a federal request to FEMA to receive the extra federal UI payments; It is not automatic!
    • WH notes that states may use their Treasury Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) dollars for the $100 state match; U.S. Dept of Labor issued a memo indicating that administration might also waive the $100 / 25% match for states
    • However, the National Governors Association notes that states have already obligated more than 75% of CRF dollars so unlikely that states have enough money for the state match from Treasury CARES Act

Payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare

  1. WH memo only applies to employee share that is normally collected and submitted by employers (and employee side of self employed)
  2. Earlier COVID19 supplemental law already allowed postponement for employer share of payroll taxes
  3. Explain that payroll taxes consist of:
    • Social Security at 12.4% (6.2% by employee and 6.2% by employer) (NOTE – believe self employed pay the full 12.4%)
    • Medicare at 2.9% (1.45% by employee and 1.45% by employer)
  • WH action would only delay/postpone collection of employee share of payroll taxes, similar to earlier congressional action for employers. Money would still be owed to the federal government!

 For additional detail, visit NACo’s blog.

 

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