Bills to alter property tax foreclosure process introduced

After months of behind the scenes discussions, Sen. Jim Runestad (R-Oakland) and Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Oakland) have introduced Senate Bills 725 and 726. The bills seek to codify many of the best practices followed by county treasurers across the state, while also authorizing in law additional opportunities for property redemption that don’t exist now.

For several years now, media coverage has focused on select cases where a homeowner has lost the equity in their home to the foreclosing governmental unit. Upon taking a closer look at the bulk of these cases, and at the success treasurers have had in collecting back taxes and keeping the homeowners in their homes, it was revealed that the county treasurer did everything in their power under the law to notify the homeowner and work with the homeowner on a payment plan, and provided ample opportunities for redemption of the property.

SB 725 requires the following additions to the notice that is sent to homeowners entering the foreclosure process:

  • A statement that payment plans may be available
  • A schedule of all additional interest, penalties and fees that will accrue through the immediately succeeding March 1
  • A statement warning the owner that payments made to the local tax collecting unit and not to the foreclosing governmental unit, may not be applied to the delinquent account that put them in foreclosure in the first place
  • The name and contact information for an individual in the county treasurer’s office with whom the taxpayer may discuss options for payment plans, avoidance agreements and any other means by which the taxpayer may be able to prevent additional interest, penalties and foreclosure

SB 726 allows for the redemption of property after a foreclosing governmental unit has filed a petition for a judgement with the circuit court, if a payment on subsequent taxes for a principal residence was applied to subsequent tax bills but could have been applied to redeem the property and the property owner requests the payment be reapplied to the delinquent taxes.

MAC does not have a position on these bills yet but is encouraged that the bills seek to codify best practices, provide greater opportunities for people to stay in their homes and do not compromise the responsibility of property owners to pay their taxes.

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

 

Senate committee delves into unfunded mandates

Ottawa Administrator Al Vanderberg testifies before the Senate Oversight Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 21.

The Senate Oversight Committee took testimony Tuesday on what committee Chair Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Dickinson) termed “a discussion on unfunded mandates.”

Among the witnesses was Eric Lupher of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, who noted the enforcement mechanism under the Headlee Amendment, which bars new unfunded mandates by the state on local governments, has not “borne fruit” for locals contesting state actions.

Al Vanderberg, administrator of Ottawa County, provided examples of unfunded mandates in public health, mental health, the Child Care Fund and the court system. “We’re still $800,000 below the state meeting its requirement under public health,” he stated. 

Asked by McBroom about fixing the situation, Vanderberg said, “A good way to start would be to put together a workgroup that would work on this that would include all 3 branches of state governments and local governments. … Let’s fix this going forward.”

 MAC appreciates the efforts of Sen. McBroom for continuing to raise this issue, and thanks Vanderberg for his testimony in support of reform.

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

 

Local authority threatened under mining bill in Senate

Senate Bill 431, by Sen. Adam Hollier (D- Wayne), would create a statewide standard for mining of certain natural resources and take local decision making out of the process. This issue stems from a long-standing battle in Metamora Township, where the township does not want additional mining operations in its community.

Proponents of the legislation argue the aggregate material should be mined as close as possible to where it is going to be used to cut down on the additional expenses associated with trucking the materials long distances. MAC and the Michigan Townships Association are opposed to the measure because it would take decisions about where to allow aggregates to be mined out of the hands of the local units that have to contend with the noise, traffic and wear and tear on their roads and their residents.

The bill has not yet been voted on in committee but further consideration on the matter is anticipated.

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

Governor signs bills to restore road commission merger authority            

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed two bills this week that remove any legislative “sunset” on the authority of county boards to pursue authority over county road commissions.

Senate Bills 322-323, by Sen. Roger Victory (R-Ottawa), were strongly backed by MAC.

The bills remove the previous statutory deadline by which a county could opt to absorb its county road commission and make it a county road department.  Since 2012, counties have had the option of absorbing appointed road commissions or, in the cases of an elected road commission, put the question up to the voters. That authority, however, had expired on Dec. 31, 2019. The new bills reverse that expiration and restore the authority permanently.

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

 

Legal advice: Be present for board meetings

MAC has received inquiries from several members about what’s allowed under the Open Meetings Act (OMA) regarding remote participation in a board meeting.

Last year, the firm of Cohl, Stoker and Toskey issued a memo on changes to the OMA that went into effect on March 29, 2019.

As noted in the memo: “The statutory change does not address whether a quorum must be physically present. However, there is a strong legal argument that a ‘physical’ presence is required for a quorum. The OMA states at Section 2(a): “Meeting” is defined as “the convening of a public body at which a quorum is present for the purpose of deliberating toward or rendering a decision on a public policy.” While we could not find any Michigan case law on point, generally present means a physical presence.” (emphasis added)

MAC encourages members to seek legal guidance whenever there is uncertainty about board actions or operations under the OMA.

House committee takes testimony on coastal lake levels, erosion and flooding

Impending record high water levels in the Great Lakes, crashing waves, high inland lake and river levels and a high water table are wreaking havoc in many counties across the state. Rep. Sue Allor (R-Cheboygan) took testimony in a House subcommittee this week from the Department of Energy, Great Lakes and Environment (EGLE), several city managers, the Saginaw public works director and the Ottawa County water resources commissioner on the impact of these trends.

Dean Kapenga, an Allegan County commissioner, also attended the hearing and provided written testimony to the committee regarding the major impact the lake level is having on his communities along the Lake Michigan coast. Faced with houses and other structures falling into the lake, road washouts, flooded homes and streets and the exhausted efforts to control the water, communities and the state are trying to figure out how to mitigate the damage happening now and predicted to happen in the spring. Although no resolution to the problems facing these communities was reached, several areas around the state are working with their local elected officials, emergency managers and public works professionals to notify the public, protect municipal assets and preserve as much infrastructure as possible. This will be an ongoing conversation over the next several months with EGLE taking the lead on expedited permitting and communications strategies.

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

 

State sets town halls on housing issues for farm workers

Public input is being sought on housing issues for farm workers in Michigan at six town halls set by a new Food and Agriculture Housing Task Force, led by Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD).

“With an increased demand for hired labor in the food and agriculture sector, housing has become a major issue in Michigan. The new Food and Agriculture Housing Task Force … will be delving into housing needs throughout the state,” MDARD noted in a recent release.

MDARD will be hosting six regional town hall meetings across the state to hear from community leaders, economic development representatives and food and ag-based businesses to garner input about their individualized needs. To RSVP for these meetings, click this link.

The meeting dates and communities are:

  • Feb. 5 in Taylor
  • Feb. 11 in Grand Rapids
  • Feb. 12 in Kalamazoo
  • March 10 in Frankenmuth
  • March 30 in Traverse City
  • March 31 in Escanaba

Individuals interested in offering feedback about housing also may take a survey through the following website: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/C2CYPTG

Results from town hall meetings, survey, and one on one meetings will be used to develop a final report this summer to identify solutions and an implementation plan.

 

National news from NACo

MAC releases state priorities for 2020

Eight issue areas, led by MAC’s ongoing work to reform local government finance and a push to extend county commissioner terms to four years, have been identified as MAC’s State Priorities for 2020.

MAC issues a priority list each year as part of its educational work with legislative leaders.

“The foundation of our advocacy work, of course, are the policy platforms developed and approved by our members and board each year,” explained Deena Bosworth, director of governmental affairs. “This priority list is built off of those platforms, but taking into account the immediate opportunities and challenges we see in then next 12 months in Lansing.”

The eight objectives for MAC’s Government Affairs Team in 2020 are:

  • Reforming Michigan’s System of Financing Local Government
  • Extending County Commissioner Terms to Four Years
  • Working to Combat the Opioid Crisis
  • Ensuring Stable, Proper Funding for Trial Courts
  • Ensuring Viability and Responsibility in Michigan Mental Health Systems
  • Ensuring the State Covers Costs for Property Tax Exemptions
  • Prohibiting the Use of Deed Restrictions in Property Valuations
  • Addressing Infrastructure and Threats to Michigan’s Waters and Shorelines

“Some of these will be familiar to members,” Bosworth noted. “But the list is dynamic, in that issues fall off when we are able to record success at the State Capitol, such as last year with a prudent approach to treating 17-year-old offenders as juveniles.”

For more information on MAC’s 2020 advocacy work, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Jail Task Force report turned over to Legislature

House Speaker Lee Chatfield addresses reporters and others during the presentation of the Jail and Pretrial Incarceration Task Force report to the Legislature Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Jackson) and House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Emmet) received the final Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration report this week at a State Capitol event. It is now up to the Legislature to review the 18 recommendations and decide where their priorities fall.

Speaker Chatfield commented, “The House will review every one of these recommendations and begin work immediately to help protect the people of our state and give them the local and state government they deserve.”

Highlights of the report include:

  • an emphasis on county jails becoming de facto mental health facilities and investment for mental health diversion services
  • expanding officer discretion to use appearance tickets as an alternative to timely arrest processes
  • ensuring adequate resources for protections and services for victims, especially for victims of domestic violence

MAC encourages members to review the full report and recommendations, as well as discuss with other countywide elected officials and staff. Please feel free to provide input or feedback of support or concern to Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

Ottawa’s Kuyers attends trade ceremony at White House

Phil Kuyers snapped this photo of President Trump during the signing ceremony for the U.S.-China trade deal.

Ottawa County Commissioner Phil Kuyers, first vice president of the MAC Board, was among invited guests to the signing ceremony for the new U.S.-China trade agreement.

Kuyers was one of a handful of county leaders who were invited to witness the signing ceremony for the “Phase One Trade Deal” in the East Room of the White House.

In a statement Wednesday, the White House said, “The Agreement requires structural reforms to China’s economic and trade regime in the areas of intellectual property, technology transfer, agriculture, financial services, and currency and foreign exchange. The deal also includes a commitment by China to future purchases of U.S. goods and services, plus a strong dispute resolution system that ensures prompt and effective implementation and enforcement.”

Of the event, Kuyers said, “It was an honor to be invited and attend this historic event, with President Trump and his administration, which will mean $50 billion in agricultural trade and more.”

 “Phil is a strong and knowledgeable voice on agricultural policy in every MAC forum, both as a member of our Board of Directors and on our Agriculture Committee,” said Stephan W. Currie, executive director. “His invitation to the signing is more evidence of the administration’s outreach to county leaders in Michigan, which has included special briefings for county leaders from our state in 2017 and 2019.”

 

National news from NACo

 

Nominate a ‘Hometown Hero’ boosting local public health

The Michigan Public Health Week Partnership, of which MAC is a part, joins the American Public Health Association in celebrating National Public Health Week in April 2020 with the annual presentation of the Hometown Health Hero awards.
 
The Hometown Health Hero award is presented to individuals and/or organizations that have made significant contributions to preserve and improve their community’s health in the focus areas listed below. Awardees are selected from nominations received by you. The only way for someone to receive this award is to be nominated. What person or organization in your community deserves this statewide recognition?
 
Nominations are due by Feb. 14. Details can be found in the nomination form.

Road Commission bills sent to governor

Eliminating the sunset on a county’s ability to absorb a road commission is getting closer to being finalized under Senate Bills 322-23, which passed the House and Senate in 2019 and were sent to the governor this week.

Since 2012, counties have had the option of absorbing their appointed road commissions. In cases of an elected road commission, a county could put the question up to the voters. The deadline for a county to do so was Jan. 1, 2020. The bills, if signed by the governor, will eliminate the sunset/deadline and make this a permanent option for counties, a change MAC has strongly supported.

In addition to the elimination of the sunset, the bills would require a vote of the people to change an elected road commission to an appointed one. MAC will provide an update on bills as events warrant.

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

 

MAC leaders attend national policy session in Washington, D.C.

Stephan Currie and Veronica Klinefelt were at NACo headquarters in Washington this week for policy briefings.

MAC Board President Veronica Klinefelt and Executive Director Stephan Currie joined their counterparts from around the U.S. this week in Washington, D.C., for three days of issue briefings, policy discussions and meetings with federal officials.

On Wednesday, the group received a presentation on George Washington’s “enduring relevance” and leadership. The next day, the group went to the White House complex to meet with Trump administration officials, including from Interior officials on the National Environmental Protection Act.

“This week was another example of the strong and continuing outreach from the administration to county leaders,” Currie said.

County leaders interested in learning more about federal policy still have time to register for the 2020 National Association of Counties Legislative Conference, Feb. 29-March 4 in Washington. Early-bird pricing remains in effect until Feb. 14. In conjunction with the conference, MAC will hold special events on Capitol Hill to engage Michigan commissioners with their members of Congress.

 

Counties applaud Jail Task Force, await Jan. 14 presentation

Jim Talen of Kent County (left) and Bill Peterson of Alpena County after the Jan. 9 meeting of the Jail and Pretrial Incarceration Task Force.

Michigan’s county leaders are eager to study the findings and recommendations of a joint state-county Task Force on jail and pre-trial detention policies approved by Task Force members on Jan. 9, said MAC’s Stephan Currie.

 “The work of the Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration (#MICJReform) is notable for both its outreach to county leaders directly involved in jail operations and for the data it has brought to public attention,” said SCurrie, executive director. “Crime rates are dropping, yet jail populations remain high, which puts severe stress on limited county budgets. I know our members are eager to study the Task Force’s ideas for prudent measures to reduce jail stress while also ensuring public safety isn’t compromised.”

The panel was launched last spring via an executive order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. It has been reviewing data in order to study alternatives to jail, safely reduce jail admissions and length of stay, support crime victims and better align practices with research and constitutional principles.

Counties are represented on the panel by Alpena County Commissioner Bill Peterson and Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen, who will finish out their appointments in September.

A press conference will be held Jan. 14 at the State Capitol to outline specific recommendations and initial steps by legislative leaders in response to them.

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

 

Act by Jan. 17 on intention to pursue veteran funds

Letters of Intent to apply for the FY20 County Veteran Services Fund grant monies are due Jan. 17.

Information released this week by the state Veteran Affairs Agency outlined the process and timeline for counties to receive grants. Per law, each grant award will consist of a $50,000 base payment. Per capita payments also will be processed based on the county’s veteran population.

An FY20 supplemental appropriation included $4 million for the fund after months of negotiations between the Legislature and the Governor’s Office. The letter from the agency states, “(T)he goal and intent of these grant dollars are to enhance and improve county veteran service operations in an effort to connect more veterans to their benefits and provide consistent access to services throughout the state.”

Grant guidance will be distributed by the agency. If counties have any questions about uses of the funds, please consider connecting with surrounding counties or MAC.

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

 

Do you have PPT errors to correct?

Local governments were reminded of the opportunity to correct errors associated with incorrect personal property tax (PPT) reimbursement calculations in a memo this week from the Michigan Department of Treasury. For a municipality to determine if there was a reporting error or a calculation error, it will need to review the 2019 PPT reimbursement calculations, millage rates and taxable values posted to Treasury’s PPT Reimbursement website.

If a local unit or county identifies an error, then forms found on the department’s website must be filled out and submitted by the deadlines below. The PPT reimbursement correction forms are intended to be utilized by a local unit that has identified an error in its 2019 PPT reimbursement. In addition to the form(s), local units must provide substantiating documentation to support an adjustment to the reported value or the calculated reimbursement amount.

Forms to correct reimbursement calculations must be submitted by the local municipality to the County Equalization Director by Feb. 28, 2020, and subsequently by the County Equalization Director to Treasury by March 31, 2020. Correction of all other errors, including millage rates, must be submitted by all local units directly to Treasury by March 31, 2020.

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

 

Governor’s State of the State address will be Jan. 29

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has set Jan. 29 for her 2020 State of the State address to the Legislature. The speech will start at 7 p.m.

The yearly address is an opportunity for Michigan’s governor to highlight accomplishments from the past year and chart priorities for the new year.

 

Nominate a ‘Hometown Hero’ boosting local public health

The Michigan Public Health Week Partnership, of which MAC is a part, joins the American Public Health Association in celebrating National Public Health Week in April 2020 with the annual presentation of the Hometown Health Hero awards.

The Hometown Health Hero award is presented to individuals and/or organizations that have made significant contributions to preserve and improve their community’s health in the focus areas listed below. Awardees are selected from nominations received by you. The only way for someone to receive this award is to be nominated. What person or organization in your community deserves this statewide recognition?

Nominations are due by Feb. 14. Details can be found in the nomination form.

 

MCWCF issues $3.2 million in dividends

Members of the Michigan Counties Workers’ Compensation Fund (MCWCF) will receive nearly $3.2 million in premium dividends for the 2018 plan year, adding to a dividend total of more than $28 million in the last 10 years alone.

These dividends result from “surplus” funds from policy premiums paid by members but not utilized due to the fund’s excellent claims management and innovative loss prevention strategies, explained Timothy K. McGuire, the fund’s administrator.

“Our consistent focus on employee safety is the story here,” McGuire said. “If employees avoid injuries, our members avoid health costs, thereby keeping costs down for the fund and allowing the fund to release more dollars back to the members.”

 “Another year and another excellent result for our members” said Doug Johnson, president of the fund’s board and a commissioner for Otsego County. “The partnerships we have with CompOne and Midwest Employers Casualty allow the fund to provide top-notch customer service and safety guidance.”

For more information about MCWCF, visit its website.

National news from NACo

Jim Talen of Kent County (left) and Bill Peterson of Alpena County after the Jan. 9 meeting of the Jail and Pretrial Incarceration Task Force.

Michigan’s county leaders are eager to study the findings and recommendations of a joint state-county Task Force on jail and pre-trial detention policies approved by Task Force members today, said the head of the counties’ statewide association.

 “The work of the Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration (#MICJReform) is notable for both its outreach to county leaders directly involved in jail operations and for the data it has brought to public attention,” said Stephan Currie, executive director of the Michigan Association of Counties. “Crime rates are dropping, yet jail populations remain high, which puts severe stress on limited county budgets. I know our members are eager to study the Task Force’s ideas for prudent measures to reduce jail stress while also ensuring public safety isn’t compromised.”

The panel was launched last spring via an executive order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. It has been reviewing data in order to study alternatives to jail, safely reduce jail admissions and length of stay, support crime victims and better align practices with research and constitutional principles.

Counties are represented on the panel by Alpena County Commissioner Bill Peterson and Kent County Commissioner Jim Talen, who will finish out their appointments in September.

A press conference will be held Jan. 14 at the State Capitol to outline specific recommendations and initial steps by legislative leaders in response to them.

$1 billion on books unlikely to lead to state spending surge

Michigan will have about $1 billion left over on its books from the fiscal 2019 budget year, but legislative leaders and budget analysts downplayed any surge in state spending.

The Senate Fiscal Agency (SFA) announced the FY19 results on Dec. 30 as part of its regularly required Economic Outlook and Budget Review.

Nevertheless, state leaders quoted by the MIRS News Service this week took a cautious tone.

“(T)he slowing economic recovery detailed in the SFA document doesn’t give (Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas) confidence that the state’s going to have a ‘whole lot of extra money’ to be spreading around,” MIRS reported. “Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-ClarkLake) isn’t looking to go on a spending spree. ‘The least amount spent is the best service we can provide taxpayers,’ said Shirkey Press Secretary Amber McCann. ‘His goal is be fiscally responsible with an eye on the budget long term.’”

And before Christmas, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer warned that the state’s General Fund situation would be tight in the current budget year (FY20) and for the upcoming one (FY21).

The SFA report, along with data from the House Fiscal Agency and the executive branch, will be used to set revenue estimates to guide work on the FY21 state budget. On Thursday, the Department of Treasury said the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference will start at 9 a.m. on Jan. 10 in Lansing.

For more information on MAC’s budget advocacy, contact Deena Bosworth at bosworth@micounties.org.

 

Start saving dates for MAC events in 2020

Please start marking your calendars or making notes for the following MAC events in 2020:

  • Early February – Delivery of the 2020 MAC Membership Directory to all county commissioners and county administrator offices; these directories are free to our members
  • April 15-17 – Legislative Conference, Lansing Center and Lansing Radisson Hotel; attendee registration will open on Feb. 5; please note that this year’s event will run Wednesday-Friday
  • June-July – MAC Regional Summits in four locations around Michigan; dates and sites TBD; registration for these one-day sessions will open in May
  • Aug. 16-19 – Annual Conference, Kalamazoo Radisson Hotel; attendee registration will open June 10
  • November-December – New Commissioner Schools (conducted in partnership with MSU Extension) in four locations around Michigan; dates and sites TBD; registration will open in the fall

For all of the latest updates on MAC events in 2020, be sure to visit our calendar page and our conferences page and download the free MAC app.

 

DHHS sets public forums on direction of behavioral health

County leaders are encouraged to attend public forums set up by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on the state’s specialty behavioral health system and its the future.

The first of the forums is Jan. 8 in Detroit. Click here to register.

MDHHS will host five forums in January and February. All events will run from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Registration is not required, but strongly encouraged to help us best prepare for the events.

Dates, locations and registration for future events:

  • Register for Grand Rapids on Jan. 9 here
  • Register for Marquette on Jan. 22 here
  • Register for Saginaw on Jan. 30 here
  • Register for our virtual forum on Feb. 6 here 

Please review the MDHHS flier for additional details or visit www.michigan.gov/FutureOfBehavioralHealth

In December, MDHHS Director Robert Gordon spoke to legislators about the MDHHS vision for the future of the state’s public behavioral health system after the decision to end the Section 298 pilot project.

For more information on MAC’s work on mental health issues, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

State court office suggests court changes in 2020

Some Michigan trial courts have too many judges, while others have too few is the assessment of the Michigan State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) in its 2019 Judicial Resources Recommendations (JRR) report submitted to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature today.

To address these trends, SCAO is recommending:

  • The Legislature consider eliminating three judgeships by attrition;
  • Create a probate court district and eliminate one probate judgeship;
  • Add nine new judgeships;
  • Create a four-county circuit and district court, then reverse a pending reduction; and
  • Create a probate court district, then reverse a pending reduction.

SCAO said the recommendations are based on an analysis of each court’s caseload, followed by a secondary analysis of local factors, such as population trends. The report’s methodology was developed by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) in conjunction with the Judicial Resource Advisory Committee.

For more information on MAC’s advocacy on court issues, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.

 

National news from NACo