Michigan’s 83 counties, the state’s front-line public service agencies, enter 2018 seeking significant changes to state revenue practices to enhance fiscal responsibility across the state. Keying off remarks made by Gov. Rick Snyder during his State of the State Address on Jan. 23, Michigan Association of Counties Executive Director Stephan Currie said, “This is the year, with Michigan’s economy showing such health, to address the consequences of decisions and trends dating back a decade. Counties, which rely heavily on property taxes to deliver key services, have not recovered from the Great Recession as the state has. Nor will they for many years under existing state policies. Reform is the order of the day in Lansing.” To that end, MAC, which represents Michigan’s 83 counties, released its 2018 State Priorities on Jan. 24, which include:
  • Reforming Michigan’s System of Financing Local Government by addressing the artificial restrictions on property values imposed by Proposal A in the 1990s and bolstering the state’s commitment to counties by increasing revenue sharing funds. “The state was able to forgo more than $1 billion in revenue sharing payments to counties during the budgetary crisis of the mid-‘00s to tide it over during the crisis. Now that the state is in a healthy position again, it’s proper to turn the focus to the ongoing crisis in local service delivery,” Currie said.
  • Reforming the Michigan Tax Tribunal by closing the “Dark Stores” loophole that has led to Big Box retailers receiving huge property tax breaks that add even more of a burden on homeowners and mom-and-pop businesses to fund local services.
  • Reforming state law on “tax captures” by unelected development districts by blocking the diversion of funds from special millages approved by local voters for specific services, such as law enforcement or aid for veterans. “When voters tax themselves for a specific purpose, all those funds should go to that purpose,” Currie noted.
“We look forward to working with leaders in the House and Senate, and Gov. Snyder, to advance these reforms,” Currie said.
ico911Legislation to properly fund upgrades to the 911 emergency communication system is under attack at the Capitol. Commissioners need to call their representative TODAY in support of Senate Bill 400 by Sen. Rick Jones. The bill would raise funds to improve the 911 system to Next Generation 911, thereby making the system more responsive to our citizens. The bill is expected to be reviewed next Tuesday by the House Communications and Technology Committee, but commissioners need to call today to let House members know that the legislation must go through. Click here for a list of representatives and their phone numbers. For more  information on this issue, contact MAC’s Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org or 989-225-8049.
Steve Currie

Steve Currie

The Legislature’s decision to focus bills to adopt the recommendations of Gov. Rick Snyder’s task force on the pension-OPEB crisis leaves Michigan’s 83 counties without adequate new tools they need to address funding of retirement benefits, MAC’s executive director said. Stephan W. Currie, who has served on both of Snyder’s task forces on this issue, said in response to the Legislature’s actions early Thursday morning, “We still need a variety of new tools to address commitments.” “Adoption of the task force recommendations” Currie added, “is a bare minimum effort on collecting data on the problem. The other side of the coin here is, of course, revenue. Heading into Wednesday, we saw good prospects on separate, but related, legislation that would have created a secure fund for county revenue sharing and set a schedule for increased payments. Those advances now appear to be stuck.” MAC supported the task force recommendations and, thus, supports the new versions of the bills, but Currie said that most of the work remains unfinished. “This fell far short of the mark,” he said. “But we will continue to work with our members and the state to, first, collect the best data on the problem and convince state lawmakers of the need to equip county governments with the tools and revenue they need to handle these benefits.”

Taxes-erased-xThe refusal by the Michigan Supreme Court to accept the appeal of a property tax case by the Big Box retailer Menard’s is recognition of the problems created by the “Dark Stores” theory of property valuation, the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) said today in reaction to the court’s order.

In May 2016, a unanimous panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals, in Menard, Inc. vs. City of Escanaba, expressly rejected the Tax Tribunal’s reliance on the “Dark Stores” method. Not only did the court find that the Tax Tribunal made a mistake of law, it also found that the tribunal didn’t properly perform its duty in evaluating evidence for determining value.

MAC’s Stephan Currie speaks with Frank Beckmann about Dark Stores issue.

The Supreme Court’s decision means the Court of Appeals ruling stands as precedent and must be followed. That court had ordered the Tax Tribunal to again review the case, taking additional evidence on proper valuation in doing so.

“This is a most promising development,” said Stephan Currie, MAC’s executive director. “The Tax Tribunal has to return to this matter and operate under the orders given by the Court of Appeals to properly assess the value of commercial property.” In this particular case, the tribunal had ruled the Menard property was worth 60 percent less than what Escanaba had determined via standard valuation practices.

MAC was one of several organizations filing amicus briefs in support of the city of Escanaba’s position in the case.

Under the Dark Stores method, the Tax Tribunal has reduced so many valuations of Big Box properties that local revenues to provide public services have been reduced by at least $100 million since 2013. This process is shifting more of the burden onto homeowners to fund the basic public services all Michigan communities and businesses utilize each day.

For more information on MAC, visit www.micounties.org.

Tuscola County's Matthew Bierlein is sworn in by Judge Amy Gierhart as his wife, Mindy, and children look on. (Rod Sanford Photography)

Tuscola County’s Matthew Bierlein is sworn in by Judge Amy Gierhart as his wife, Mindy, and children look on. (Rod Sanford Photography)

The Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) elected board officers for its 2017-18 term and added two new board members at the MAC Annual Conference, held Sept. 24-26 at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

Matthew Bierlein, a Tuscola County commissioner, was sworn in as MAC’s 110th president since the organization’s founding on Feb. 1, 1898. During his first address as president to the association, Bierlein called for greater engagement with all of Michigan’s 622 county commissioners.

Joining Bierlein on the board’s executive team are: First Vice President Ken Borton, an Otsego County commissioner; Second Vice President Veronica Klinefelt of Macomb County; and Immediate Past President Shelley Taub, an Oakland County commissioner.

“Our new leadership team brings a great variety of skills and experiences to our board,” said Stephan W. Currie, MAC’s executive director. “We have a great team in place as we begin to implement our strategic plan adopted by the board at the Annual Conference.”

In board elections held at the conference, MAC members in attendance elected three new board members:

  • Joe Bonovetz of Gogebic County
  • Richard Schmidt of Manistee County
  • Jim Storey of Allegan County

Also serving as directors on the board for the 2017-18 term are:

  • Donald Disselkoen (Ottawa County)
  • Philip Kuyers (Ottawa County)
  • Christian Marcus (Antrim County)
  • Joseph Palamara (Wayne County)
  • Robert Showers (Clinton County)
  • Joe Stevens (Dickinson County)
  • Hugh Crawford (Oakland County)
  • Vaughn Begick (Bay County)
  • Stan Ponstein (Kent County)

For more information on MAC, visit www.micounties.org.