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.

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.  

 

By: Dan Papineau, Director of Tax Policy and Regulatory Affairs, Michigan Chamber of Commerce

(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the August edition of Michigan Counties, MAC’s bimonthly e-newsletter.)

Perhaps it was the recent remark I made about Michigan’s broken municipal finance system while testifying in front of a state legislative committee that prompted the invitation to contribute to this publication.

I agree with the nonpartisan Tax Foundation that all tax policy should be based on four cornerstone principles: simplicity, transparency, neutrality and stability. The revenue side of our municipal finance system fails in all four of these categories. This is not hard to believe since local government revenues are overwhelmingly made up of property taxes. County governments depend on property taxes for 60 percent of their revenues. The crux of the problem behind our state’s municipal finance system is the over-reliance on property taxes. When we think about property taxes through the lens of the four principles of sound tax policy, we see why.

Simplicity

Since 1893, Michigan has had an ad valorem property tax system that relies on the current value of a subject property. Assessing a value to every piece of real property and all nonresidential personal property is no easy (or simple) task.

While the practice of assessment and appraisal has evolved into a complex science over the last 127 years, it is still a relatively subjective process. This subjectivity erodes simplicity. Both taxpayers and local units of government see this problem play out far too frequently in the form of property tax disputes that end up in court wasting the time and resources of everyone involved.

Property taxes can be looked at as a fair way to spread the cost of local government services across varying portions of the population but, our system has become so complicated and hamstrung by a plethora of minor tweaks and/or major deviations that our property tax system is caving in on itself. The mechanism that brings in the most significant portion of revenues county governments need is about as simple as the internal workings of the human brain.

Transparency

With increased accessibility to BS&A and other technologies, the principle of transparency has been greatly bolstered but, the process of assessment to state equalization is anything but transparent.

While summary appraisal record cards are available online either through free access or paid access, the level of detail made available lacks full transparency. For example, the building valuation work up, land value tables, economic condition factor tables and supporting studies are not available unless a Freedom of Information Act request is filed. Even the body that audits the entire property tax system, the State Tax Commission, does not share the results of their audits with the public.

Neutrality

The principle of tax neutrality is summarized as follows: “Taxes should neither encourage nor discourage personal or business decisions”. The fact is the property tax system Michigan imposes today does the exact opposite. The property tax system is actually designed to influence the decisions businesses make and to a lesser degree, the ones individuals make.

Property taxes have been used to compete for investment across local units of government and between states. Much of the policy that promotes this behavior is not within the control of the governing body of the local unit.

Policy-makers at all levels use the property tax system to encourage or discourage different behaviors. Michigan has a few parameters to promote neutrality, but they are so ineffective they are practically nonexistent.

Stability

By nature of its design, the property tax is unstable.

First, the personal property tax is based on depreciating value. It is literally designed to go down and therefore be anything but stable. Real property tax revenues or the values of which they are based on, while not as heavily affected by depreciation, are constitutionally prohibited from increasing beyond a certain level after being allowed to decline without restriction. Stable on the way back up but not down.

Second, value itself is not stable. A property worth a certain amount one day could be worth half the next. Our economic cycle contains peaks and valleys not a flat line of prosperity.

Third, policy-makers are constantly rearranging the property tax system to address its numerous faults; however, the never-ending alterations result in instability and effect budgets of police departments, public works departments and general fund spending of county governments everywhere.

Fixing the revenue side of our municipal finance system is extremely difficult while decrying its faults is easy. I respect those who dedicate their careers to finding ways to improve the system we have. We really must look at local government revenue from a completely new perspective. I believe this starts with revamping the complete service delivery method our state is currently straddled with. My friends at MAC hear me say often that county government is the best form of government. Counties should be the ones administering practically all of the services a citizenry relies on. To transfer to this type of service delivery model we must also permanently address the compounding debt burden facing counties across Michigan. Lastly, we can discuss opportunities to reinvent the property tax system (or scrap it) and create a more diverse revenue stream for local units of government to depend on.

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.

 

During regional caucuses held at the Virtual Annual Conference in August, MAC members re-elected five incumbents and selected a new face as one of two Board members from Region 4.

Crenshaw

Klinefelt
Ponstein Bonovetz
Schmidt Storey

Bryan Crenshaw of Ingham County fills the vacancy created by Donald Parker’s resignation lastwinter from Region 4, which covers parts of mid-Michigan and the Thumb.

“I look forward to working with the MAC board members as we continue to fight for adequate funding from the Michigan Legislature and Congress,” Crenshaw said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has hit county budgets hard and we must voice our need for revenue sharing and ensure funding for other mandated programs continues. We must voice our support for legislation that will benefit counties and share our reasons why legislation may be detrimental to constituents.”

Crenshaw, of Lansing, has been a member of MAC’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. He has served on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners since September 2013 and been chair of the board since January 2019.

He previously served in Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s office and was a member of the Lansing Board of Education.

Unopposed incumbents also were returned to the board from Regions 1, 2, 3 and 5 and at-large.

President Veronica Klinefelt of Macomb will be starting her third term on the board from Region 5 (Metro Detroit area).

Joe Bonovetz of Gogebic (Region 1), Richard Schmidt of Manistee (Region 2), Jim Storey of Allegan (Region 3) and Stan Ponstein of Kent (At-large) all will be starting their second term on the Board.

Board members can serve a maximum of three 3-year terms.

On the same day, MAC members convened in virtual session to provide final approval to the association’s policy platforms for 2020-21.

The Board approved the draft platforms, which are developed by MAC’s policy committees, during a meeting in June. Those drafts were then posted to the MAC website for member review in advance of the Aug. 26 vote. Due to the virtual nature of this year’s conference, the Board of Directors voted to require that all member amendments for the platforms be submitted in writing to MAC by 5 p.m. on Aug. 7. No amendments were received by that deadline.

Using Zoom’s polling feature, members quickly approved the policy outlines that will guide MAC’s advocacy work for the coming year.

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