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.

MDOT to Offer Free Rural Task Force Training

On behalf of the Rural Task Force Oversight Board and the Education Subcommittee, MDOT is pleased to bring you a free, one-day Rural Task Force training event.  The training will be held in four locations throughout the state.  Also, if you have any specific questions you would like addressed or any issues or concerns you would like included in the presentation, please submit them through this Survey Monkey Link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/LG29VYP.

The dates and locations are as follows:

  • October 18:  Gaylord, University Center, 80 Livingston Blvd, Gaylord 49735
  • October 20:  Marquette, Holiday Inn, 1951 US 41 West, Marquette 49855
  • October 24:  Lansing, Horatio Earl Training Center, 7575 Crowner Dr., Dimondale, MI 48821
  • October 26:  Flint, Flint Mass Transit Administration and Training Facility, 1401 South Dort Highway, Flint 48503


A block of rooms at state rates have been reserved the night before for each location.  You will need to contact the hotel and make your own reservation.  The block of rooms will be available up to one month prior to the training.  Specific information for each is listed below:

  • Gaylord: Baymont Inn, 510 S Wisconsin Ave, Gaylord, MI 49735 Phone: (989) 731-6331. Use Group ID# 1017RT
  • Marquette, Holiday Inn, 1951 US 41 West, Marquette 49855, (906) 225-1351. Let them know you are with MDOT Rural Task Force training
  • Lansing, SpringHill Suite, 111 South Marketplace Boulevard, Lansing 48917, (517) 627-0002. Use this link:  Book your group rate for MDOT Rural Task Force Training
  • Flint, Holiday Inn Express, 1150 Robert T. Longway, Flint 48503, (810) 238-7744. Use Group:  MDT


Please click on the following links for the Registration Form and Agenda

You should fill out one form per person.  Space may be limited based on the locations.  We will fill the space by first come first serve with priority given to the public sector.  We may need to limit participation to only one person per agency.  Continental breakfast, coffee and lunch will be provided.

There will also be an opportunity to participate in the Lansing session via webinar.  If you are interested please check the webinar line on the registration form and make sure to include your email address.  Information for joining the webinar will be provided in a later email.

If you have any questions, please contact Andy Brush (brusha@michigan.gov) or Betsy Simon (simonb5@michigan.gov).

John LaMacchia is the Assistant Director of State Affairs for the League handling transportation, infrastructure, energy and environment issues. He can be reached at jlamacchia@mml.org or 517-908-0303.

Beach Safety & Emergency Equipment Guidance

Michigan has in excess of 2,100 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, which contain more than 100 public beaches. When conditions are right the Great Lakes can have waves and currents of incredible force. Unfortunately, hazardous water currents on the Great Lakes account for may drowning deaths each year. Rip currents, other dangerous currents and unsafe wave conditions can occur along many beaches around the state.

In recent years, there’s been an important focus to make the public aware of the danger involving unsafe water currents as well as providing additional safety and rescue equipment at public beaches, but concerns have been raised about liability.  Many local units of government have expressed trepidation about potential liability regarding the placement of safety and rescue equipment on their public swimming beaches.  However, Michigan governmental agencies are generally immune from liability in connection with beach safety.  Still, it is nonetheless important for communities to take every measure they can to protect public safety.

Communities looking to establish or update their beach safety guidelines, policies and plans have numerous resources to refer to for review. For example, in May, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources updated their Designated Beach Policy. To view the policy click the link provided MDNR POLICY 3. 6 DESIGNATED BEACHES 05-05-16 (002). A few local community examples are provided in the links below.




Any local unit of government having specific questions should discuss this matter with their legal counsel.

Jennifer Rigterink is a legislative associate for the League handling economic development, land use and municipal services issues.  She can be reached at jrigterink@mml.org or 517-908-0305.

Personal Property Tax Implementation Takes Center Stage

PPT training in Marquette on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.

PPT training in Marquette on Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.

Based upon the significant level of questions from municipalities across the state with this initial phase of implementation of the new personal property tax system, the League reached out to Treasury and we are coordinating with the Department to provide opportunities for municipalities to hear from Treasury’s personal property tax staff through a few regional “office hours” style meetings.

The first of these meetings was held in July in Muskegon with an second event held today in Marquette.  Dozens of communities in these regions with a significant industrial/manufacturing personal property tax base, were able to send management and finance staff to participate in these events and talk directly with Treasury staff to get answers to their questions as this new system is being implemented.

Treasury staff provided an overview presentation on the status of implementation of the new law (Personal Property Tax Update 2016 Reimbursement Slides JJune 28 2016), discussed the relevant timelines they are working with according to the new law, reviewed the forms that have been (and are being) developed, discussed the role of the Essential Services Assessment as part of the overall reimbursement process, provided answers to some of the most commonly asked questions (PPT.FAQs_-_LCSSR_Essential_Services_Distribution_Calculation_529232_7), and walked the meeting attendees through some various examples for calculating PPT loss and estimating reimbursement (all subject to change depending on the actual revenues available this fall that the reimbursements will be drawn from).

Acknowledging the questions the Department continues to receive on the new process, Treasury has stated that they will continue to accept Form 5448 from any community that wishes to submit their information through the end of August.

The League appreciates Treasury’s willingness to participate in these events and we will continue to work with the Department to offer additional opportunities for municipalities to meet in person and have their questions and concerns addressed.

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

Municipal Officials Run For State House

Last week’s statewide primary election has narrowed the field for the 110 state House races that will be on the ballot this November.  All told, 42 of the 110 (27 GOP and 15 DEM) seats in the Michigan House will have new representation next year, most due to term limits.  The House is currently divided 63-45 with two vacancies.  In 11 of those 42 open seats, candidates with strong city or village roots were able to secure their party’s nomination. We are encouraged by this level of involvement from local officials and excited for the opportunity to work with those candidates that are successful this fall.

Primary election results and upcoming ballot information can be found through the Michigan Voter Information Center and the Michigan Secretary of State’s website.

The summer recess for the House and Senate continues through the end of this month, with legislative session for both chambers scheduled to resume in the first part of September.  Following the currently scheduled September session dates, they are scheduled to recess for the campaign season, returning for a potential “lame duck” session that begins, following the election, on November 9th.

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

Effective Immediately MDOT Prohibits Drone Use Within Their Right-of-Way

In an effort to leverage innovative technologies in a safe and beneficial way for all citizens of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has been working with other State of Michigan Agencies to develop policies for appropriate use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operations within properties of the State, including MDOT Rights-of-Way. At this time those policies have not been finalized.

Effective immediately, and until further notice, MDOT strictly prohibits the operation of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UVA’s) or drones within MDOT’s Right-of-Way by MDOT employees, contractors and/or subcontractors, consultants and/or subconsultants, suppliers, local road authorities’ employees or their agents, and MDOT permit customers. This does not prohibit local road authorities’ employees or their agents use of this technology within their own Right-of-Way.

MDOT acknowledges that responsible use of this technology is promising for many survey, construction and operation data collection and monitoring activities, and is anticipated to provide many safety, efficiency and cost savings benefits. MDOT will be evaluating and establishing safety and operational protocols, along with necessary processes for the appropriate and effective use of this technology through current on-going academic research. The departments number one priority is the establishment of protocols that will ensure the operations of this technology do not present undue risk to motorists, pedestrians, employees, and property within the ROW in the future.

MDOT will continue to coordinate with the League and other industry partners to develop the guidance, advisories and contract language necessary to allow for the controlled use use of this technology within their ROW in the future.

If you have any questions please contact Steve Cook at 517-636-4094 or cooks9@michigan.gov.

John LaMacchia is the Assistant Director of State Affairs for the League handling transportation, infrastructure, energy and environment issues. He can be reached at jlamacchia@mml.org or 517-908-0303.

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.

Governor Vetoes Bill Eliminating Local Cost Sharing with MDOT

On Friday morning the Governor vetoed SB 557. This bill would have eliminated the local cost sharing provision for cities over 25,000 on MDOT projects. The League and the bills sponsor, Senator Knollenberg, worked extremely hard to convince the Legislature that fixing this provision within Act 51 was vitally important to the impacted communities. Ultimately both chambers voted unanimously for its passage.

The League is extremely disappointed with the Governor’s decision to veto this legislation. At a time when our communities can’t even afford to maintain their own roads, the Governor has continued the broken model of forcing communities to shoulder the burden of archaic state policy. In his veto letter, please click the link to review SB 557 Veto Letter, the Governor mischaracterizes the negative impact of SB 557 and calls on the Legislature to enact a comprehensive rewrite of ACT 51 by the end of the year. While we support revising the formula, a full rewrite by the end of the year is very unlikely. We are continuing to work with the Senator to determine our next step to create a more fair and equitable road funding solution for all of our communities.

While the League does not agree with the Governor’s decision to veto this legislation, we are very appreciative of the efforts made by Senator Knollenberg who advocated vigorously on behalf our communities and all 146 members of the Legislature who voted in favor of this bill.

John LaMacchia is the Assistant Director of State Affairs for the League handling transportation, infrastructure, energy and environment issues. He can be reached at jlamacchia@mml.org or 517-908-0303.

MDOT Soliciting Applications for Local Safety Program Funds

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) is pleased to announce the solicitation of new applications for the fiscal year (FY) 2018 general Local Safety Program. Federal funds for the general Local Safety Program are to be used for highway safety improvements on the local roadway system. All locally controlled roadways, regardless of National Functional Classification, are eligible for the Local Safety Program. The FY 2018 federal budget for this program is estimated at $6,000,000.

Local Agencies may submit more than one project application for consideration. Federal safety funds shall not exceed $600,000 per project or a maximum amount of $2,000,000 per Local Agency for the fiscal year. FY 2018 projects are to be developed and obligated between October 1, 2017 and August 25, 2018.

Applications are to be electronically submitted or postmarked by Friday, September 23, 2016. For more information please click the following link. FY 2018 HSIP Safety Program Call Letter

John LaMacchia is the Assistant Director of State Affairs for the League handling transportation, infrastructure, energy and environment issues. He can be reached at jlamacchia@mml.org or 517-908-0303.

MI Treasury Provides New Essential Services Form for State PPT Calculation

Staff from Treasury this afternoon provided the following information and newly developed Form 5448 to calculate essential services as part of the implementation of the new Personal Property Tax reimbursement process.  The new Form 5448 can be viewed here – PPT Form 5448 FYE 12 % of Operating Millage Used to Fund Essential Services, or at the link to Treasury’s website below.  Responses are requested by July 15, 2016.

From Treasury/ORTA:

The Local Community Stabilization Authority Act (LCSA Act), 2014 Public Act 86, requires personal property tax distributions for all operating and debt millages.  The LCSA Act provides that the personal property distribution for millage(s) used entirely or in part to fund essential services (i.e. police, fire, ambulance, or jails) is calculated separately from millage used for other purposes.

To calculate the personal property distribution for essential services, the LCSA Act requires the Department of Treasury (Treasury) to calculate each municipality’s percentage of general operating millage used to fund the cost of essential services in the municipality’s fiscal year ending in 2012.  However, the law allows the municipality to perform the calculation by including the calculation in its comprehensive annual financial report for the municipality’s fiscal year ending in either 2014 or 2015, or by reporting the calculation in a manner prescribed by Treasury.  Therefore, Treasury has developed Form 5448 – FYE 2012 Percentage of General Operating Millage Used to Fund Essential Services (see attached) to assist municipalities with reporting the calculation.  The calculated percentage will be used to calculate each municipality’s Local Community Stabilization Share Revenue Essential Services Distribution in 2016 and for all future years.

Treasury is requesting that municipalities complete and return the Form 5448 by July 15, 2016.  The completed form can be submitted by email to TreasORTAPPT@michigan.gov, by fax to 517-335-3298, or by mail to:

Michigan Department of Treasury

Office of Revenue and Tax Analysis

PO Box 30722

Lansing, MI  48909

For those municipalities that do not submit a Form 5448, Treasury will perform the calculation based on the municipality’s audited financial report or F65 report for the fiscal year ending in 2012.

For detail regarding the calculation of the Local Community Stabilization Share Revenue Essential Services Distribution, visit Treasury’s website at http://www.michigan.gov/taxes/0,4676,7-238-43535_72736-358296–,00.html.

Please direct any questions regarding the completion of this form to TreasORTAPPT@michigan.gov or 517-373-2697.

Thank you.

Office of Revenue and Tax Analysis – Michigan Department of Treasury


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