Governor Snyder Signs Recreational Authorities Bill with Support from Big Rapids and League

The League's Chris Hackbarth and League Member and Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba (green tie) joined Governor Rick Snyder in signing HB 4578.

The League’s Chris Hackbarth and League Member and Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba (green tie) joined Governor Rick Snyder in signing HB 4578.

Today, the Michigan Municipal League’s Chris Hackbarth and League Member and Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba joined Governor Rick Snyder in signing House Bill 4578.

The new law clarifies the use of tax proceeds by a recreational authority and is expanded to include school districts. Working in conjunction with officials from the City of Big Rapids, the League was successful in getting the legislation approved with support from bill sponsors Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart; and Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac. View a previous blog about the legislation here.

The legislation, modeled on similar legislation from previous sessions, expands the definition of an eligible municipality to include a school district. This change also allows a city, village, or township to partner with a school district to form a recreation authority allowing broader access to recreation programming and facilities throughout a region.

Thank you to Mayor Warba and other Big Rapids area officials for their support on this bill! We also like to thank bill sponsors Sen. Darwin Booher, R-Evart; and Rep. Phil Potvin, R-Cadillac.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and 734-669-6317.

Outstanding ‘Boxed In’ Documentary Film Explains Dark Stores Tax Loophole Issue in Michigan

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There is a fantastic new documentary film that does an outstanding job explaining the complex, yet devastating “Dark Stores” tax loophole issue facing Michigan communities. This is a hot topic the Michigan Municipal League has been fighting for more than a year and at a compact 24-minutes it is great film to show in your local communities when explaining this issue.

“Boxed In” is a documentary by Northern Michigan University Professor Dwight Brady, an Emmy Award winning producer, and 14 NMU students.

It premiered in Marquette Aug. 24 and will be shown again Wednesday, Aug. 31, in Escanaba at 7 p.m. in the Besse Theater at Bay College.

You can watch the documentary and read more about it, including a press release, here: http://boxedin.news/what-is-boxed-in-all-about/.

Attorney Jack Van Coevering is featured in 'Box In'.

Attorney Jack Van Coevering is featured in ‘Box In’.

You can also read more information about the Dark Stores issue on the League’s Dark Stores resource page here: http://www.mml.org/advocacy/dark-stores/.

In essence, the Dark Store theory is a tax loophole scheme being used by Big Box retailers to lower the amount they pay in property taxes. Retailers such as Meijer, Lowe’s, Target, Kohl’s, Menards, IKEA, Wal-Mart and Home Depot across Michigan are arguing that the market value of their operating store should be based on the sales of similar size “comparable” properties that are vacant and abandoned and may not even be located in Michigan. The stores also place deed restrictions on the vacated buildings that greatly limit what can go in the buildings once they are empty and become dark.

A bill to address the issue was overwhelming approved in the Michigan House in a 97-11 vote (http://blogs.mml.org/wp/inside208/2016/06/08/dark-stores-fix-wins-approval-in-house/) in June, but is pending in the state Senate where greater opposition is expected.

An example of a Dark Store. Big Box stores argue vacant, or dark stores, like this one should be used as a comparable for tax evaluation purposes when valuing a vibrant, open big box store. Unfortunately the Michigan Tax Tribunal since 2010 has started to agree.

An example of a Dark Store. Big Box stores argue vacant, or dark stores, like this one should be used as a comparable for tax evaluation purposes when valuing a vibrant, open big box store. Unfortunately the Michigan Tax Tribunal since 2010 has started to agree.

The documentary film started out as a class project but it quickly developed into a much larger story that took Dr. Brady and his students from Marquette, to Lansing, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Grand Blanc and other other stops along the way.

They interviewed 15 different sources, including State Rep. David Maturen, who authored the bill that was approved in the House. The bill would require the Michigan State Tax Tribunal to follow traditional methods of assessing property.

The students also interviewed Grand Blanc Township Superintendent Dennis Liimatta, current Chair of the Michigan Tax Tribunal, Steven Lasher, and Former Chief Judge Jack Van Coevering to get different perspectives on the issue. Read more about the film here: http://boxedin.news/what-is-boxed-in-all-about/.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and 734-669-6317.

Got Blight? Money Available for Local Governments for Targeted Demolition

Got blight? Our friends at MSHDA asked that we share this with our member communities:

MSHDA 2016 Hardest Hit Blight Elimination NOFA

The Michigan Homeowner Assistance Non Profit Housing Corporation (MHA) working in conjunction with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) is seeking proposals in support of targeted demolition activity within local units of governments across Michigan with the goal of initiating or triggering private investment and development; supporting current investment and development; and to promote the increase in values of the surrounding areas. Proposals selected to participate in the Hardest Hit Blight Elimination Program will be funded by an award MHA received from the U.S. Department of Treasury. MHA and MSHDA are partners but separate entities.

For further information on MHA, contact Mary Townley on behalf of MHA at 517-373-6864 or townleym1@michigan.gov.

LaMacchia: Infrastructure Issues in Flint Symptom of Larger Problem

The League's John LaMacchia (center, right) and fellow panelists.

The League’s John LaMacchia (center, right) and fellow panelists.

What’s happening in Flint, Detroit and other cities is a symptom of a larger problem. A problem where cities in Michigan are only allowed to fall with the economy but not to prosper as the economy grows. And it’s only going to get worse if we don’t change the way the nation invests in communities.

This was a key message by the Michigan Municipal League’s John LaMacchia when speaking Thursday in Washington D.C. as part of Infrastructure Week 2016. The Infrastructure Week celebration organized by the National League of Cities and its partners is to raise awareness about the nation’s infrastructure needs. Cities construct and maintain the majority of our nation’s infrastructure and depend on a solid infrastructure network to provide safe and healthy communities, and grow their local economies.

The League's John LaMacchia is in Washington D.C. this week for the National League of Cities Infrastructure Week celebration. As part of his work, LaMacchia (center left) met with U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (right).

The League’s John LaMacchia is in Washington D.C. this week for the National League of Cities Infrastructure Week celebration. As part of his work, LaMacchia (center left) met with U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (right).

LaMacchia, assistant director of state affairs for the League, spoke as part of a panel discussion on “Securing Our Water Future: 21st Century Solutions for 21st Century Cities”. Other panelists were Council Member Matt Zone, City of Cleveland, Ohio, and National League of Cities 1st Vice President; Council Member Ron Nirenberg, City of San Antonio, Texas, and Chair, National League of Cities Energy and Environment Committee; Commissioner Heather Repenning, President Pro Tempore, Los Angeles Board of Public Works; Tyrone Jue, Senior Advisor on Environment to Mayor Ed Lee, City of San Francisco, California; Jonathan Trutt, Executive Director, West Coast Infrastructure Exchange; and Clarence E. Anthony, CEO and Executive Director, National League of Cities.

LaMacchia discussed the Flint water crisis and explained how the Flint issue is part of a much larger infrastructure problem in communities statewide.

Some of his key points included:

  • Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and Gov. Rick Snyder agree Flint’s lead-tainted service lines need to be removed. But it will take at least $55 million to replace all the lead-tainted lines. Money for water infrastructure has been put into appropriations bills in the Michigan Legislature and U.S. Congress, but the bills are still making their way through those legislative bodies.
  • The service lines are just part of the problem. The rest of Flint’s water system, from aging water mains to other infrastructure, needs to be totally replaced. The city’s water system loses a large percentage of the water to leaks, one reason Flint has some of the highest water rates in the country. Again, the City of Flint will need help from the state and federal governments to modernize its water infrastructure, a process that is expected to cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • When we look at Michigan as a whole we have neglected to properly invest, maintain and right size our infrastructure.
    The league's John LaMacchia speaks on a panel during Infrastructure Week in Washington D.C. May 19, 2016.

    The League’s John LaMacchia speaks on a panel during Infrastructure Week in Washington D.C. May 19, 2016.

  • For nearly 30 years Michigan has been about 10 million people yet we have increased the amount of infrastructure in the state by roughly 50% and giving little thought to how we would maintain both the old and new infrastructure.
  • Time and time again we have built new water and sewer plants without capitalizing on the existing capacity of a nearby system.
  • This not only speaks to how we have been inefficient in managing infrastructure in Michigan but also how we have disinvested in our communities in general.
  • Why cities are important: Our goal at the Michigan Municipal League is to make Michigan communities places people want to be. Places that can attract a talented work force and businesses. Having placemaking strategies in all communities is important. But it’s hard to even think about creating great places when you’re fighting every day not to drown. How can you attract businesses and a work force if your roads are crumbling, bridges are in disrepair and you’re communities have slashed the number of police officers, firefighters, public works employees and more?
  • The numbers show that some states – particularly Michigan – do not understand the importance of cities as economic drivers. If they did they would be investing in cities. But unfortunately they are disinvesting in cities.
  • According to U.S. Census data all but one state showed growth in municipal general revenue between 2002 and 2012. View chart here.
  • Many want to blame this on a single state recession but the numbers tell a different story.
  • Why is this the case in Michigan – property values decrease in 2008 crash and the Michigan Constitution limits their ability to recover, PLUS revenue sharing to the tune of $7.5 billion over the last decade plus.

LaMacchia concluded explaining Michigan’s system for funding municipalities is fundamentally broken and unless it gets fixed we’re going to see more situations like what’s happening in Flint and Detroit occur in other communities.

Also earlier this week, NLC released a new report called, Paying for Local Infrastructure in a New Era of Federalism. Read a blog about the report by the League’s Summer Minnick.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and 734-669-6317.

Revenue Sharing Budgets Positioned for Initial Action; Senate Cuts Statutory by 1.5%

One of the many charts showing how Michigan has disinvested in its cities more than any other state in the state. That tiny red line you see is Michigan.

One of the many charts showing how Michigan has disinvested in its cities more than any other state in the state. That tiny red line you see is Michigan. A 2016-17 Senate budget plan would cut statutory revenue sharing to communities even more. Learn more at SaveMiCity.org

The Michigan House and Senate Appropriations committees made their opening moves on the state budget this week by reporting the full budget bills to the floors of their respective chambers. Following expected floor action on these bills in the coming week or two, each chamber will review the other’s proposal and move toward a final budget deal sometime in early June.

Both proposals continue the current practice of ignoring the fiscal needs of local government, failing to make revenue sharing and the larger issue of municipal finance a budget priority. Without a renewed focus and commitment by the Governor and Legislature, Michigan will continue to occupy last place nationally in our treatment of local government. Learn about the League’s municipal finance initiative at SaveMiCity.org. View how much money your community has lost in revenue sharing here.

The House committee reported an omnibus budget bill, House Bill 5294, to the floor which includes funding for revenue sharing. The House proposal maintains current-year funding for revenue sharing, only deviating from the Governor’s original recommendation by maintaining the $5.8 million that the Governor would have removed for approximately 100 townships that hadn’t received revenue sharing previously.

The Senate committee, on the other hand, moved Senate Bill 788 to the Senate floor with significant changes to the Governor’s proposal for revenue sharing. Statutory revenue sharing would see a 1.5% reduction ($3.85 million) in the Senate version, with the dollars from that reduction being shifted to cover a proposed local match requirement for the purchase of new voting equipment. The League urges you to contact your Senator, asking them to join us in opposition to this approach.

In the Governor’s original budget proposal, the effort to replace existing voting equipment statewide was supported by $10 million in General Fund and $5 million in requested (unidentified) local match. These dollars would be coupled with remaining federal Help America Vote Act funds and dollars appropriated for this purpose in the current budget year. The purchase of new voting equipment has been championed by the County and Municipal Clerks Associations and the Secretary of State’s office, but the call for a local match requirement had not been voiced prior to this year’s budget.

The proposal to accommodate the Governor’s local match request in the Senate version raises serious concerns for the Michigan Municipal League and member communities, even beyond the further erosion of an already devastated statutory revenue sharing base.

  • All cities, villages, townships and counties would benefit from the purchase of new voting equipment, but the local match requirement would only be paid by those cities and villages and few townships that receive a statutory payment. ***Counties and townships that do not receive non-Constitutional revenue sharing payments would pay no local match.  
  • By paying the local match only out of the statutory revenue sharing line, there is no correlation to the actual match requirement for equipment being purchased within each community. In a sample comparing similarly sized communities, one with 19 voting precincts would forgo only about $1,500 in revenue sharing, while another community with only 12 polling places would lose more than $22,000 … and this does not account for the more than 1,000 local government units that would pay nothing in local match!
  • County statutory payments, already funded at 100%, would receive a 2% increase ($4.3 million) in this proposal. Again, without any requirement for a local match for voting equipment purchases by a county.
  • This match requirement would be deducted during the FY 16-17 budget year, yet voting equipment would not be received by any local government until at least 2017 and delivery would like be phased in over two to three years.

Comments have been made that under this proposal, every local unit will receive at least what they received during  the current budget year even with the 1.5% base reduction, but this statement assumes that there will be growth in sales tax revenue driving higher Constitutional revenue sharing payments. Early indications from the most recent Senate Fiscal Agency monthly revenue report reveal that it is unlikely that the state will even meet its already reduced sales tax estimate for the current year, let alone meet the overly optimistic 3.9% growth estimate for the coming year. It is more probable that Constitutional revenue sharing payments will be flat for a third year in a row, if not reduced at some point over the next year.

It is expected that the Senate’s revenue sharing plan will be voted on by the full chamber next week. Please remember to contact your Senator and urge them to begin restoring the cuts of the past decade and reform the way local governments are funded. They should start by rejecting the committee proposal.

Chris Hackbarth is the League’s director of state affairs. He can be reached at 517-908-0304 and chackbarth@mml.org.

New “Dark Store” Solution Focuses on Michigan Tax Tribunal Process

A big box "dark store" in southeast Michigan.

A big box “dark store” in southeast Michigan.

State Representative Dave Maturen (R-Vicksburg) introduced House Bill 5578 this week (http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2016-HB-5578) with the support of the Michigan Municipal League and other local government groups, to address the ongoing crisis of “dark store” property tax appeals.

The legislation proposed by Rep. Maturen, was developed following a workgroup process which he chaired and involved participation by the League and numerous local assessors, appraisers and other property valuation experts. The proposal would require Michigan Tax Tribunal members to equitably apply universally accepted appraisal standards when deciding larger property tax appeal cases. These standards will provide consistency in determining highest and best use as part of the property valuation process. The legislation would also restrict the consideration of comparable sales that have deed restrictions if the deed restrictions are imposed by the seller to keep competitors of the seller from the  market and  the deed restrictions provide no benefit to the property but only to the seller’s business.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday (April 27) before the House Tax Policy committee. League members are encouraged to contact the legislators on the Tax Policy committee at this link and your own Representative and Senator to explain the importance of this issue and to urge their support for HB 5578. Use the League’s Action Center to contact your lawmakers.

Visit the League’s information page on the Dark Stores issue here: http://www.mml.org/advocacy/dark-stores/

Chris Hackbarth is director of state affairs for the League. He can be reached at chackbarth@mml.org and 517-908-0304.

League, other organizations to Governor Snyder: VETO SB 571

Dearborn Mayor and League President Jack O'Reilly discusses SB 571 during a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016.

Dearborn Mayor and League President Jack O’Reilly discusses SB 571 during a news conference Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016.

Governor Rick Snyder needs to veto a campaign finance bill sitting on his desk that would create more problems than it attempts to solve.

This was the basic message of a well-attended news conference Tuesday at the Michigan Municipal League’s Lansing office about SB 571. The event was covered by nearly a dozen members of the media, including radio, TV and print/online. Read articles about the news conference by: the Detroit News, mlive.com, WLNS TV, WILX TV, WOOD TVLansing State JournalDearborn Press & Guide, WSJM radio and subscription news services Gongwer and MIRS. The League’s call to veto this bill (read details about that here from the League’s Chris Hackbarth) seems to be gaining momentum.

Check out this Kalamazoo Gazette article that quotes some Republican lawmakers who are having second thoughts about approving SB 571. View this Detroit News editorial calling for a veto.

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett discusses SB 571 during a press conference Tuesday,

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett discusses SB 571 during a press conference Tuesday,

Senate Bill 571 passed the legislature on Dec. 16 with some extensive last-minute revisions. The bill expanded from 12 pages to 53 pages, but the very last change is the one we had the press conference about. Section 57 of the bill would prevent public entities from distributing information about a ballot proposal in the 60 days before an election.

“In other words, in the weeks before an election we cannot use a mailing or local cable outlets to inform our constituents if a measure will raise or lower their tax rate, who it will affect, if it will mean the community will be selling a piece of property and where it is, how a charter change will affect them or anything else,” said Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly, president of the Michigan Municipal League.

The legislation would prohibit them from distributing public notices on television, radio and in print media explaining property tax proposals, school bond issues or changes in a local charter.

Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett discusses SB 571.

Orion Township Supervisor Chris Barnett discusses SB 571.

“Local officials wouldn’t even be able to tell voters in their newsletter who’s running for city council,” said League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin.

Chris Barnett, supervisor of Orion Township, said the legislation amounts to a “gag order” on election officials 60 days prior to an election.

“What (voters) expect me to do is answer questions and give them information,” Barnett said.

Republican Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett said perhaps this is a legislative effort to stop tax increases, but that’s not what’s going on in his community. Over the past four years the largely conservative community has considered seven ballot proposals, and only one was a tax increase.

To educate voters on these issues, which are often complicated, Rochester Hills government has turned to YouTube and public access television. But the line could get blurry.

“Can I respond to a resident asking a question about a millage proposal? It’s very concerning,” Barnett said.

A large amount of media attend a news conference Tuesday on SB 571 at the Michigan Municipal League's Lansing office.

A large amount of media attend a news conference Tuesday on SB 571 at the Michigan Municipal League’s Lansing office.

That concern was echoed by Democratic Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly, who said “we’re going to end up having a lot of effort made trying to interpret where that line is.”

Governor Snyder has until Jan. 11 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill and already some Republican lawmakers who initially voted for it are saying it might be worth a second look. Read these articles from the Kalamazoo Gazette and Holland Sentinel that talk to lawmakers willing to revisit the bill.

The press conference was emceed by League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin and featured League Board President and Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly, Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett and officials representing the Michigan Association of Counties, the Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Sheriffs Association, Middle Cities Education Association, Michigan Association of School Administrators, Michigan County Roads Association, Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Infrastructure and Transportation Association, and the League of Women Voters. View a joint press release about the issue.

League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin kicks off a news conference on SB 571.

League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin kicks off a news conference on SB 571.

We had nearly a dozen members of the media attend including two Lansing TV stations, Michigan Public Radio, Gongwer, MIRS, mlive, Lansing State Journal, Detroit News and Detroit Free Press.

The League along with numerous communities and organizations have sent letters to Governor Snyder asking him to veto the bill. Read the veto letters from: the League, Michigan Association of Counties, and the Michigan Townships Association.

You can register your opinion about this bill with Governor Snyder during regular business hours at (517) 335-7858. Or go to https://somgovweb.state.mi.us/GovRelations/ShareOpinion.aspx.

Excerpts from articles in mlive and Detroit News about the news conference were including in this blog post.

Matt Bach is Director of Media Relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org and 810-874-1073.

Michigan Municipal League Members Testify on Dark Stores Issue; Call for Immediate Fix

Chris Hackbarth testifies on the Dark Stores issue along with MTA and MAC officials.

Chris Hackbarth testifies on the Dark Stores issue along with MTA and MAC officials.

(UPDATE: View the League’s new Dark Stores resource web page and view additional Dark Stores-related photos here).

The Michigan Municipal League and some of our members were given the opportunity to offer testify on the Dark Stores tax loophole issue Wednesday before the House Tax Policy Committee. If you’re not aware, the Dark Stores situation involving property tax appeals by Big Box stores like Meijer, Kmart and Wal-mart, is quickly becoming one of the most significant issues, with the biggest implications, facing Michigan communities.

The League testified along with the Michigan Association of Counties and the Michigan Townships Association. We discussed the impact from Dark Store theory of assessment and the need for immediate fixes. We told the committee about the manipulation of property values that big box retailers are perpetrating through the placement of negative use deed restrictions to devalue buildings that they vacate and then point to later on as support for lowering their assessments.

The League has organized a coalition of more than a dozen organizations to take on this issue. View our joint statement previously given to the committee. Along with organizing this coalition, the League is pursuing an aggressive public relations campaign to bring attention to this important issue through radio, television and print media. We urge your assistance with this effort by contacting your Senator and Representative to explain to them the importance of addressing these dark store appeals and restoring a fair and proper valuation system.

Three Rivers City Manager Joseph Bippus and Mayor Thomas Lowry testify on the Dark Stores issue Dec. 9, 2015.

Three Rivers City Manager Joseph Bippus and Mayor Thomas Lowry testify on the Dark Stores issue Dec. 9, 2015.

Among those testifying Wednesday were League members Three Rivers Mayor Thomas Lowry and City Manager Joseph Bippus. They testified as guests of State Rep. Aaron Miller, R-Sturgis. Lowry discussed the financial impact of the Dark Stores issue on his city.

“In the last two years we’re pushing well over $300,000 that we had to give back. We only have a $4.3 million budget, we’re approaching 10 percent of (our budget) just from the Dark Store theory,” Lowry told the committee. “We can get an employee for roughly 1 ½ percent of our budget. So for every 1 to 2 percent reduction in our general fund revenues we’re letting an employee go. This absolutely affects the level of services that we can provide to our citizens and our citizens still expect the same level of services.”

In essence, the Dark Store theory is a tax loophole scheme being used by Big Box retailers to lower the amount they pay in property taxes. Retailers such as Meijer, Lowe’s, Target, Kohl’s, Menards, IKEA, Wal-Mart and Home Depot across Michigan are arguing that the market value of their operating store should be based on the sales of similar size “comparable” properties that are vacant and abandoned (aka “dark”) and may not even be located in Michigan. In the last few years, the political appointees on the Michigan Tax Tribunal have upheld this “Dark Store theory” and cut property tax assessments in some cases by as much as 50 percent. This impacts local revenues and subsequently local services and making Michigan one of the only places in the country that assess Big Box retail buildings in this manner. These rulings have resulted in a loss of millions of dollars in tax revenue for local governments across Michigan and now other businesses – not just Big Box stores – such as drug stores and auto repair businesses are attempting to get their taxes lowered based on this same Dark Store argument.

Auburn Hills officials talk with State Rep. Jim Townsend following a House Tax Policy Hearing on the Dark Stores issue Dec. 9, 2015.

Auburn Hills officials talk with State Rep. Jim Townsend following a House Tax Policy Hearing on the Dark Stores issue Dec. 9, 2015.

 

Grand Rapids Attorney Jack Van Coevering, former chief judge and chairman of the Michigan Tax Tribunal, testified about how the Michigan Tax Tribunal rulings have resulted in Big Box property tax assessments that are significantly lower in Michigan compared to other states. He gave multiple examples:

  • In Michigan, Lowes stores are assessed at $22.10 per square foot. In Lowes home state of North Carolina, the same stores are valued at $79.08 per square foot.
  • In Michigan, Menards and Target are valued at $24.97 per square foot. In Menard’s home state of Wisconsin, the sames stores are valued at $61.23 per square foot.
  • Sam’s Clubs and Wal-Mart now average around $25.68 per square foot in Michigan. Studies of those buildings in the home state of Arkansas are being done, but Van Coevering said he expects them to be much higher than they are in Michigan.

Van Coevering added that most of the Big Box stores in Michigan used to be valued in the $55 range per square foot and now the amounts have been cut in half due to the Dark Stores theory.

Escanaba Assessor Daina Norden attends the Dark Stores hearing Dec. 9, 2015.

Escanaba Assessor Daina Norden attends the Dark Stores hearing Dec. 9, 2015.

The House Tax Policy committee led by Representative Jeff Farrington, R-Utica, first met on the issue Nov. 4 and scheduled this follow-up hearing after it ran out of time to hear from all those who wanted to speak on the issue. Officials from Auburn Hills were also present and attempted to testify and unfortunately time ran out and they did not get a chance to speak. Instead, they did submit written testimony and those in attendance were recognized by Chairman Farrington. I want to thank the Auburn Hills contingent for their continued work on this issue – Auburn Hills City Manager Thomas Tanghe; Assessor Michael Lohmeier; and City Attorney Derk Berkerleg.

Escanaba Assessor Daina Norden also attended the hearing.

The House Tax Policy committee has established a work group to study the issue. The work group, being led by House Tax Policy Committee Vice-Chair David Maturen, R-Vicksburg, includes representatives from all sides of the issue, including the League. Check out an in-depth radio video interview of Maturen discussing the issue and the workgroup.

Posted by Matt Bach on behalf of Chris Hackbarth, the League’s director of state affairs. Chris can be reached at 517-908-0304 and chackbarth@mml.org.

League, MAC and MTA Issue Joint Statement on Data Center Abatement Proposals

The Michigan House Tax Policy Committee today is reviewing legislative proposals regarding what’s known as the data center issue and the Michigan Municipal League along with other organizations have distributed a joint statement regarding the legislation.

The biggest concern from the League’s perspective is ensuring that local communities continue to have the ability to establish local control on both existing and future abatement requests, like we have for other economic development abatement tools. One proposal being shopped by the existing data center industry would eliminate the current language providing local involvement in future data center investments. The League and other local government groups are opposed to this effort. We feel it is appropriate to maintain local involvement in any decision on whether to abate taxes as an economic development tool.

Here is the full statement on this issue by the League, the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) and the Michigan Townships Association (MTA):

As the representatives of local government in Michigan, our organizations ― which are responsible for delivering the daily services Michigan residents count on ― wish to clarify our position on the various legislative proposals being discussed for the data center industry, especially those surrounding exemptions for personal property.

Local governments welcome economic development/job creation in this state and our goal is to continue to partner with the state.

If the Legislature and administration believe exemptions for existing firms and their existing equipment in a broad-based personal property exemption framework are necessary, we recommend the exemption for current equipment follow the recently adopted system for small taxpayers and manufacturers, allowing the local units to be fully reimbursed for the reductions to their tax base.

In our view, though, a blanket, state-ordered exemption would be counterproductive, given the existing economic development tools available to reduce/abate personal property for business, including data centers.

Absent a reimbursement mechanism, language similar to what the House and Senate are considering, which allows for a local unit to approve/deny a request for an abatement of data center personal property, is vital. Allowing local governments to be involved in this way ensures they are able to evaluate the local budget costs against the benefits of proposed exemptions, just as they do with all other economic development decisions.

Adoption of one of these approaches will protect existing local government budgets and preserve the role of the local unit in these critical local economic development decisions.
Thank you for your consideration. We welcome the opportunity to discuss further should you have any questions.

– Chris Hackbarth, Director of State Affairs for the Michigan Municipal League
– Judy Allen, Director of Government Relations for the Michigan Townships Association
– Steve Currie, Deputy Director for the Michigan Association of Counties

Posted by Matt Bach on behalf of Chris Hackbarth. For more information contact Hackbarth at chackbarth@mml.org and 517-908-0304.

Senate Committee Reports Bill To Expand Recreation Authorities

Michigan Municipal League members, including Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba (right), testified in Lansing recently on an issue facing park and recreation authorities.

Michigan Municipal League members, including Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba (right), testified in Lansing recently on an issue facing park and recreation authorities.

Working in conjunction with officials from the City of Big Rapids, the League was successful in getting Senate Bill 481 (Booher) reported from the Senate Local Government committee earlier this week.

The bill, modeled on similar legislation from previous sessions, would expand the definition of an eligible municipality to include a school district.

This change would allow a city, village, or township to partner with a school district to form a recreation authority allowing broader access to recreation programming and facilities throughout a region.

Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba (left) testifies in Lansing.

Big Rapids Mayor Mark Warba (left) testifies in Lansing.

Language was added in this bill to address concerns raised previously about the need to clarify the appropriate use of any funds raised by an authority that included a school district.

Following a committee hearing in which Big Rapids city and school officials testified in support of the bill, the committee voted the bill out to the full Senate for consideration once they return from break in December.

Chris Hackbarth is the League’s director of state affairs. He can be reached at 517-908-0304and chackbarth@mml.org.