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.

Local Election Results Show Voters Support Essential Local Services, Better Communities

A road crew fills potholes in Macomb County.

A road crew fills potholes in Macomb County.

(Go here to view the League’s statement on the defeat of Proposal 1)

Not to be lost in the overwhelming defeat of Proposal 1 last night, is the success of a majority of local ballot questions that also went before voters in Tuesday’s election. The results show voters are willing to support essential services that contribute to a community’s vibrancy.

According to MIRS news service, of the more than 200 questions on local ballots statewide nearly 70 percent were approved. In particular, voters approved nearly 70 percent of the school-related ballot proposals and 78 percent of the proposal dealing with police, fire and emergency services.

View a spreadsheet on the MIRS report here. View the subscription-only MIRS article on the local election results here under the headline “Local Road Proposal Approvals Go 50%, New Money Asks for Roads 21%”.

The local election results also are consistent with the findings of an EPIC-MRA survey co-commissioned by the League. The poll, which you can view here, found that a majority of voters who opposed the Proposal 1 ballot question want the Legislature to get back to work and pass a plan that fixes roads with new revenues. The poll shows that voters did not want major cuts to essential services that make our communities strong and liveable – namely schools, communities and police and fire protection.

Here are some key findings in the EPIC-MRA poll:

  • A strong majority of voters want the Legislature to get back to work now and fix the roads;
  • They are willing to support higher taxes as long as they money goes only to transportation, and they oppose major cuts to K-12 education, higher education, revenue sharing and healthcare to find the money to fix the roads;
  • 64 percent polled “strongly favor” or “somewhat favor” a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax to fix the roads, as long as the new revenue from the penny increase is guaranteed in the constitution for roads, bridges and transportation;
  • 88 percent oppose “major cuts” to K-12 education to pay for roads;
  • 76 percent oppose “major cuts” in revenue sharing for local communities;
  • 63 percent opposed “major cuts” to universities and community colleges;
  • 85 percent support the Legislature working all summer to pass a new roads plan.

The poll also found that the Legislature’s job approval rate sunk to just 27 percent (with only 1 percent giving the Legislature an “excellent” rating). That’s reflected in the constant complaint we’ve heard that the Legislature should have come up with a road solution itself instead of sending it to the voters.

A fire truck makes an emergency run over crumbling roads in Macomb County.

A fire truck makes an emergency run over crumbling roads in Macomb County.

Of note, the poll found that Governor Snyder’s approval rating is an all-time high – 52 percent positive job approval. The Governor has been an exceptionally strong leader on fixing our roads and the League was especially pleased with his statement issued following Proposal 1’s defeat last night. The statement, with the subheadline, “A plan must improve roads without hurting schools, communities,” explains that fixing the roads remains a top priority for the governor and that a new solution should be one that gives “Michigan residents the safe roads they need and deserve and helps our growing economy.”

The League pledges to continue working with governor and the Legislature on a new plan that will fix our roads and bridges while protecting those services essential to Michigan’s families, communities and economy. Like Michigan voters, we do not believe the state can cut our way to prosperity.

There will be much debate in Lansing in the coming days, weeks and possibly months over the next step to fixing our roads. Please stay tuned to this Inside 208 legislative blog for the latest developments. We may also call on you as various plans surface and gain momentum. So please be ready to contact your lawmakers when asked.

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

Proposal 1 Offers Michigan’s Last, Best Chance to Fix Roads with Guaranteed Funding

John LaMacchia discusses Proposal 1 at a recent Burton City Council town hall meeting.

John LaMacchia discusses Proposal 1 at a recent Burton City Council town hall meeting.

The fate of Proposal 1 will be decided by voters next week (Tuesday, May 5), and there is one thing guaranteed about the outcome: If it passes it will provide a solution to fix Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure and will guarantee funding for transportation, local government, schools. And if it fails? No one can guarantee a solution out of the state Legislature.

That’s the simple message from the Michigan Municipal League’s John LaMacchia, legislative associate, in his many speaking engagements, media interviews and community meetings about Proposal 1 in recent days, weeks and months. LaMacchia has been the League’s voice on Proposal 1 after the League board unanimously endorsed the road funding package in January.

“The one thing that those for and against Proposal 1 agree on is the longer we take to come up with a transportation funding plan, the worse are roads are going to get,” LaMacchia said.

If Proposal 1 passes, it would guarantee, for the first time, that every penny we pay in state fuel taxes goes to transportation.

Bad-bridge-small-for-webLansing would no longer be able to divert taxes paid on gas to some other state program or service.

Here is some additional information about what Proposal 1 would do:

Ballot Proposal:

  • Raises the sales tax from 6% to 7%
  • Exempts sales tax from motor fuel
  • Removes higher education funding from the School Aid Fund
  • Dedicates a portion of the use tax to K-12 education

Statutory Changes Effective Only if Proposal 1 Passes:

  • Increases the tax charged on motor fuel
  • Eliminates the depreciation on vehicle registration fees
  • Increase registration fees on the heaviest trucks
  • Requires more competitive bidding and road warranties
  • Restores the Earned Income Tax Credit to 20% of the federal level

Revenue Generated:

We would fix more roads instead of just fill potholes if Proposal 1 passes May 5.

We would fix more roads instead of just fill potholes if Proposal 1 passes May 5.

Fixing our roads will make them safer by repairing dangerous potholes and improving roadway design. Today, many drivers swerve to avoid dangerous potholes or lose control of their vehicles as a result of flat tires.

According to TRIP, a national transportation research organization, roadway design is a contributing factor in about one-third of fatal traffic crashes. Between 2008 and 2012, 4,620 people died in Michigan car accidents – an average of 924 fatalities per year.

For more information about Proposal 1 go to the League’s Safe Roads Yes! webpage.

To learn more about the Safe Road Yes! campaign go here. View here a series of question and answer videos about Proposal 1. Check out what MML members have to say about Proposal 1. See how much your community will get in additional road dollars and constitutional revenue sharing if Proposal 1 is approved. View which Michigan communities have passed resolutions in support of Proposal 1.

Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at mbach@mml.org. The League’s John LaMacchia can be reached at jlamacchia@mml.org.

Is there a Plan B if Proposal 1 Fails? Why are Michigan’s Roads so Bad? Find Out in New League videos

Fowler plan bIt’s just two weeks until voters decide the fate of Proposal 1 on May 5 and the Michigan Municipal League has just posted a series of question and answer videos to address some of the concerns you may have about the road funding plan.

The videos come from a panel discussion during the League’s 2015 Capital Conference that took place in March.

The general session, “Driving Toward Safer Roads with Proposal 1,” was moderated by Roger Martin, of the Martin Waymire public relations firm and spokesman for the Safe Roads Yes! coalition. Panelists were Mike Flanagan, state superintendent of the Michigan Department of Education; Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan; Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell; and Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation.

View all the League’s Proposal 1 information here, including an updated list of all the Michigan communities that have passed resolutions in support of Proposal 1.

Steudle bad roadsHere are the questions posed and subsequent answers. The videos are all very short:

The League also has a new slide show illustrating how much in new money for roads and constitutional revenue sharing each Michigan community will receive if Proposal 1 passes. The numbers are substantial. It’s a long video but it’s in alphabetical order so you can advance to the parts you want to see. You can also view a pdf of that video here, which will allow you to advance through the list more easily.

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

League Members, Board President Bolen Hear from President Obama at NLC Conference

League members hear President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. Monday morning.

League members hear President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. Monday morning. Photo credit: C-SPAN.

Michigan Municipal League President Dick Bolen led a Michigan contingent to Washington D.C. this week to attend the 50th Annual National League of Cities (NLC) Congressional City Conference.  The group had the opportunity to hear President Barack Obama talk Monday morning.

The President’s speech was live streamed by the White House and C-SPAN. You can watch it here.

Bolen, Mayor Pro Tem of Wakefield, and several other Michigan Municipal League members are among more than 2,000 community leaders from throughout the nation to attend the conference this week. The officials will meet with their congressional leaders, attend education sessions and network with officials from other state Leagues and cities.

The focus of this year’s NLC conference is federal priorities and issues facing cities and towns across the country.

Also during the conference, Dan Gilmartin, League CEO and executive director, was named to the NLC’s 2016 Presidential Election Task Force. Gilmartin was one of 17 officials from throughout the nation to serve on the task force, said NLC Board Member Patricia Lockwood, Fenton Mayor Pro Tem. View a press release about this appointment here.

Go here for other conference highlights.

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

Michigan Communities Pass Resolutions in Support of Proposal 1 for Safe Roads

A road crew fills potholes in Macomb County.

A road crew fills potholes in Macomb County.

Multiple Michigan communities have passed resolutions in support of Proposal 1 for Safe Roads ballot item on May 5, but we need more to also declare their support.

So far the League has been informed that the following communities have passed Vote Yes on Proposal 1 resolutions: Clare, Elk Rapids, Lapeer, Norton Shores and Wakefield.

We expect many more resolutions to be approved over the next few weeks.

The Michigan Municipal League is encouraging its member communities to approve resolutions in support of Proposal 1 following the League board’s endorsement of the road funding plan in January. View a sample resolution here.

The League also is asking members to send their local media letters to the editor in support. Go here to view sample letters.

Plywood under bridges attempt to prevent pieces of the bridge from falling on vehicles.

Plywood under bridges attempt to prevent pieces of the bridge from falling on vehicles.

We know that many people still have questions about Proposal 1 and in response we’ve posted this free webinar about the plan and why the League supports it. Check it out here.

Go to the League’s Safe Roads Yes web pages to get additional details, including talking points, neutral information, the official Proposal 1 ballot language, media coverage of the issue, and the amount of additional road revenue and constitution revenue sharing that would go to each community if Proposal 1 passes.

Join the Safe Roads Yes! coalition here.

(Note: Some have asked is it OK for my community to pass a vote yes resolution? Go here for details).

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

Michigan Municipal League Staff Help Prepare Detroit City Council for Future After Bankruptcy

Detroit City Council MML Meeting

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones introduces League CEO Dan Gilmartin at a recent education session.

Michigan Municipal League staff has spent the last few weeks working with Detroit City Council members as they move forward and prepare to bring the city out of bankruptcy. League staff has led education sessions on a variety of topics, including the importance of placemaking, city finance and financial management, parliamentary procedure, legislative advocacy and other areas.

“We wanted to do this to help create a good foundation on which they can build as the city moves out of bankruptcy,” said Michigan Municipal League CEO and Executive Director Dan Gilmartin. Gilmartin was the first person from the League to meet with the city council in sessions that started July 14 and expected to wrap up later this month.

Gilmartin gave an overview of what the League does for its member communities and he discussed the concept of placemaking and why it is key to the revitalization of not only Detroit but to all of Michigan. In essence, placemaking is about creating communities in which people want to live, work and play. Detroit already has many outstanding placemaking examples.

The League’s Anthony Minghine, associate executive director and COO, spoke to the council about a variety of municipal finance topics. Several hours were spent laying a foundation upon which the council can use as the bankruptcy ends and the emergency manager prepares to leave. The dialog that took place made clear that the council is preparing for a new day and setting new expectations for reporting and management of the budget. Topics covered included Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) pronouncements, fund types, allowable expenses, understanding financial statements, municipal budgeting, and long range planning considerations.

Other sessions were on lobbying 101; planning and zoning; legal framework of municipalities by the League’s General Counsel William Mathewson; and roles and responsibilities.

Kelly Warren, the League’s director of events, said the goal of the sessions were to give Detroit leaders the core lessons taught through the League’s Elected Officials Academy (EOA) program. Go here for more information about this EOA program.

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

Please Write Letters to Your Local Newspaper in Support of Proposal 1, Personal Property Tax Reform

ppt-logo-2-dearbornThe letter writing phase of the Vote Yes on Proposal 1 campaign is now in full swing and the Michigan Municipal League has made it as easy as possible for you to send letters to the editor of your local newspapers. We’ve written four sample letters for you to choose from here in our Action Center. Just fill out the information and the Action Center will do the rest, including emailing the letter to your local paper.

Background: The League encourages Michigan communities to support Proposal 1 on the August 5, 2014 ballot. This is the proposal that completes the reform of the Personal Property Tax (PPT) and represents months of negotiations and work by the League on behalf of our member communities. This proposal does NOT RAISE TAXES, but it does provide a more stable revenue source for community services, such as police and fire protection, roads, schools, libraries and other essential programs.

The League, as part of the Michigan Strong & Safe Communities coalition, encourages all member communities to join us in endorsing this proposal. In addition to writing letters, please do these things:

1. Have your council/commission/board pass a resolution in support of Proposal 1. A sample resolution is available here. Check out the other communities that have already passed resolutions here. (It’s important to note that it is legal for local government bodies to approve resolutions in support of ballot issues as long as no public tax dollars are expended. So resolutions are OK.) Send your approved resolutions to the League’s Matt Bach at mml.org and will share them with the media and the coalition.

2. Sign up to receive campaign email alerts at www.StrongAndSafeCommunities.com.

Again, we encourage our members to support the full replacement of PPT dollars with a significantly more stable reimbursement mechanism by voting “yes” on Proposal 1 on the August 5, 2014 ballot. If you have any questions about this ballot proposal please contact the League’s Samantha Harkins at sharkins@mml.org and (517) 908-0306.

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

Media Throughout Michigan Report on Great Revenue Sharing Heist Study by Michigan Municipal League

League members talk with the media at a press event about revenue sharing at EVIP March 18 in Lansing.

Media from all parts of Michigan have reported on the Michigan Municipal League’s revenue sharing study that showed the state has diverted $6.2 billion from local communities in the last decade. The League released the study last week during our Capital Conference and sent press releases to dozens of media outlets.

Here is a sampling of some of the articles done so far:
Michgian cities slam state for holding onto $6.2 billion: Detroit News

Michigan’s $6.2 billion raid on revenue sharing? See how much local communities lost since 2003: mlive.com statewide

Wyandotte’s deficit tied to decline in state revenue sharing: The News Heard, the Voice of Downriver

Revenue sharing could have kept Lincoln Park out of financial crisis, officials say: The News Heard, the Voice of Downriver

Macomb cities lost more than $100 million due to state cuts: Macomb Daily Tribune

Michigan Municipal League says Legislature diverted funding; Midland loses $10.9 million: Midland Daily News

Our View: State turning corner on revenue sharing: Midland Daily News editorial

Report says Flint lost out on nearly $55 million in revenue sharing in last decade: Flint Journal/mlive.com

Six things Flint could have paid for with $55 million in revenue sharing: Flint Journal/mlive.com

Michigan Cities contend lost $6.2 billion in lost revenue: Metro Times, Detroit

The League study showed that communities from Marquette to St. Joseph and everywhere in between are among the Michigan cities and villages that lost hundreds of millions of dollars in statutory revenue sharing over the past decade because the governor and Legislature diverted the funds to the state budget.

If the funds had not been diverted by state lawmakers, the fiscal crises facing many local Michigan communities today might not be so severe.

Statutory revenue sharing funds are earmarked by state law for local communities across Michigan to support essential local services including police and fire, water systems, road maintenance, parks and libraries, and more. The funds represent a percentage of sales tax revenues collected at the local levels. Instead, between 2003 and 2013, the governor and Legislature diverted $6.2 billion in statutory revenue sharing from local communities to plug holes in the state budget and to pay for tax cuts for businesses.

Much of this data was also included in the March/April 2014 edition of the Michigan Municipal League Review magazine for an article titled, “The Great Revenue Sharing Heist” by Anthony Minghine, associate executive director and chief operations officer for the Michigan Municipal League. The article is available at mml.org: http://www.mml.org/advocacy/great-revenue-sharing-heist.html.

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

EVIP Continues to be Problematic for Communities, says League’s Samantha Harkins on MIRS Podcast

Samantha Harkins

The Michigan Municipal League’s Samantha Harkins was a guest today (Feb. 10, 2014) on the MIRSnews.com podcast and covered an array of topics including road funding, the importance of public transit, an update on the personal property tax issue and proposed changes Gov. Snyder wants to make to the Economic Vitality Incentive Program (EVIP). She even discusses Willie Wonka and the Eagles and Don Henley. This is a must listen for League members wanting to hear how the League is fighting for our communities in Lansing. Great job Samantha.

Her part starts around the 8:30 minute mark in the 20-minute weekly podcast. Listen here. Read more from Samantha Harkins and League staff on our legislative blog. Many of the topics Harkins discussed tie into the League’s placemaking message and how having vibrant communities will lead to having a better Michigan. Learn more about placemaking at placemaking.mml.org.

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