Insights
Weekly News and Information from the Michigan Townships Association  | May 6, 2016
In this issue
 LEGISLATIVE UPDATE
MTA urges support of 'dark stores' bill
darkMTA testified in support of HB 5578 this week before the House Tax Policy Committee, noting that the bill would ensure big box stores pay their fair share of property taxes. HB 5578, sponsored by Rep. David Maturen (R-Brady Twp.) with bipartisan support from 27 co-sponsors, would put an end to the "dark store" assessment theory being upheld by the Michigan Tax Tribunal (MTT). For years, big box stores--such as Lowes and Home Depot--have appealed their property tax assessments to the MTT, arguing that the fair market value of their operating store should be based on the sales of properties of a similar size that are vacant or abandoned, or are now used for a different purpose. As a result, their property tax assessments have been cut by as much as 50 percent. HB 5578 would stop this practice by requiring existing sound appraisal standards be applied in an assessment dispute. Instead of relying solely on sales comparisons, the MTT would be required to consider a number of factors, such as the property's highest and best use. Comparable properties could only be used if they have the same highest and best use as the property in question. No vacant properties or properties with deed restrictions could be used as comparables except in certain circumstances. MTA testified that HB 5578 supports economic development by providing protection for all businesses, ensuring fair and equitable treatment. It also provides accountability by requiring sound, fair appraisal standards. HB 5578 would help to prevent local governments from being forced to cut their budgets, but more importantly, it would level the playing field and require all taxpayers--whether large or small business--to be treated fairly. 

It is critical for township officials to contact their state representative and urge a yes vote on HB 5578. Opponents of the bill say that the issue is the fault of local governments, contending that locals have over-assessed these properties and are simply unhappy about losses in court. The "dark store" problem is spreading beyond the big box stores, with fast food restaurants, auto parts stores and national, chain pharmacies now seeking to exploit the same loophole--at the expense of other local government taxpayers. 
Governor signs PPT exemption deadline extension
pptWith the governor's signature on recently approved legislation, township assessors must amend their assessment rolls due to an extension for businesses to file personal property tax (PPT) exemptions until May 31, 2016. The filing extension is for 2016 only and eligible businesses must file Form 5278 with their local unit of government by May 31, 2016 (postmarks are not acceptable). Assessors are required to amend their assessment roll to reflect any exemptions and to transmit the newly filed forms to the state and their county equalization director no later than June 7, 2016. The new laws, Public Acts 107, 108, 109 and 110 of 2016, also make a number of technical and clarifying changes related to the administration of PPT exemptions. The Department of Treasury has released a brief description of the changes and the new 5278 form. Additional information can be found on Treasury's Essential Services Assessment (ESA) Overview webpage
Grants could be used for greater variety of firefighter training
firefighters fireFire departments could use grants to pay for more trainings that address real-life challenges if SB 833 is enacted. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Goeff Hansen (R-Hart Twp.), was reported by the Senate Appropriations Committee this week. The MTA-supported legislation adds new types of training to the list for which firefighter training grants may be spent, including emergency medical service, hazardous material response and fire investigation. This would not only help to train firefighters in more situations they might face, but it also gives greater discretion in how the money is allocated. Additionally, the bill requires that firework safety fees be used to fund firefighter training grants. The bill now moves to the full Senate for consideration.
Townships with gun restrictions could be sued under bill
gunTownship that currently have or enact local gun ordinances stricter than state law would be open to lawsuits and increased costs under a bill headed to the full House. MTA opposes HB 4795, sponsored by Rep. Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), which was reported by the House Local Government Committee this week. There is already a law prohibiting local units of government from imposing gun restrictions that are more stringent than state law. If enacted, HB 4795 would allow individuals or organizations to sue townships or local units with such restrictions if they believe they have been "adversely affected" by the restriction 90 days after giving written notice. If the restriction is adopted after HB 4795 takes effect, the local unit could be sued immediately. Even if the restriction is repealed or amended while a court action is pending, the local unit would be required to pay costs and attorney fees to the individual or organization that filed the lawsuit if they prevail. Under the bill's language, if the court decides that the local unit's restriction violates state law, the court would ban enforcement and order a repeal of the restriction. Then, actual damages, costs and reasonable attorney fees would be awarded to the challenger. An amendment to the bill would also require the highest elected official in the local unit to mail a letter to every elector outlining the cost of defending the lawsuit but could not name the person or organization that filed the lawsuit. MTA opposes the bill for multiple reasons, including that "adversely affected" is not defined, and it puts townships at risk of being sued if old ordinances exist that are already unenforceable. The bill creates a separation of powers issue by requiring the courts to order local units to repeal ordinances. It also creates a highly punitive standard that only applies to local officials when preempted by federal or state law. Lastly, the bill is simply not needed as current practice allows individuals to seek a judicial remedy.  
Energy bills getting close to final passage
Light Bulb energyTownships could soon pay less for energy-saving projects under a package of bills passed by the Senate this week. HBs 4990 , 4991 , 4992 , 4993 and 4994 , all sponsored by Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Lincoln Chtr. Twp.), were supported by MTA for their benefit to local units. Together, the bills would allow townships and other local units to use lease-purchase agreements as a financing option for energy conservation improvements. A lease-purchase agreement is a multi-year contractual obligation that provides for automatic renewal unless the local unit's governing body terminates the contract. The interest on these agreements is tax-exempt, resulting in a cost savings. If townships have this financing option, more may decide to do energy conservation projects. The bills are pending concurrence by the House before they are sent to Gov. Rick Snyder for signature.
Changes to solid waste law being considered
solidOver the past several months, MTA has participated in a stakeholder's workgroup to rewrite Part 115 of the Natural Resources Environmental Protection Act, which addresses all issues related to solid waste. The process has resulted in a draft principles document, which will eventually lead to new legislation. The direction of the workgroup has been to allow the county solid waste planning process to resume and expand it beyond landfills to include consideration of transfer stations, recycling and composting facilities. Under the principles document, the county solid waste plan would include the need for various types of additional facilities but each host township would maintain siting ability under either a host community agreement or resolution of support. MTA would appreciate any comments and/or suggestions regarding the proposed changes be sent to legislation@michigantownships.org by Friday, May 13.
Federal update for week of May 2
Check out the National Association of Towns and Townships' e-newsletter for an update of federal actions impacting townships.
 Additional news you can use
Cemetery workshop coming soon
Dig into cemetery management and administration at MTA's half-day workshop, Cemeteries: Challenges & Solutions, coming to three locations this July. We'll cover everything from legal obligations to fees, green burials, to the role of the board, caretakers and committees. Registration materials will be in your mailbox soon. Can't wait? Learn more here.
Still time to respond to transportation planning survey
Your input is still needed in the Michigan Department of Transportation's (MDOT) planning process. MDOT is federally required to reach out to local elected officials in non-metropolitan areas every five years to gauge their involvement and knowledge of the transportation planning process. Township officials can provide input through a short online survey. All survey responses must be submitted by May 31. 
Grants available to combat invasive species  
The Michigan Departments of Natural Resources, Environmental Quality, and Agriculture and Rural Development are offering $3.6 million in grant funding through the Michigan Invasive Species Grant Program. Applications are now being accepted for the statewide initiative to help prevent and control invasive species in Michigan. This year's grant process will be explained during a webinar 2-3 p.m. Thursday, May 12. Register online to attend the live webinar, or view a recorded version, which will be available online after May 12.
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