Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Findings from the Michigan Public Policy Survey on the Federal Stimulus Package

The University of Michigan's Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) surveyed local government leaders from over 1,300 Michigan jurisdictions as part of the 2009 Michigan Public Policy Surveys (MPPS). Lake Isabella is one of those 1,300 communities that has participated in the research. Below is a link to a new report from the MPPS on Michigan local officials' opinions on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) -- also known as the Federal Stimulus Package-- and its impact on local economies and the economy of the state as a whole.


A majority of Michigan local officials think the Federal Stimulus Package has not helped yet and will not help in the long term to improve local economic conditions in their communities.

In the Spring of 2009, 61% of local officials predicted that funding from the Stimulus Package would not significantly help improve their communities’ economic conditions, while only 14% predicted that it would help. By the Fall of 2009, when asked how much the Stimulus Package had helped improve their communities’ economic conditions to-date, 67% of officials reported “not at all” while only 1% reported “very much” and 21% reported “somewhat.”

Even among those officials who are most optimistic about the program – including Democratic leaders, officials whose communities had already received funding in the fall of 2009, and officials from larger jurisdictions – fewer than half believe that it helped improve their local economies.

Local officials tend to be more optimistic about the long-term impact of the stimulus package on the overall state economy rather than on their own local communities.

Early in the stimulus’ implementation, nearly half of Michigan officials reported that they felt uninformed about the funding opportunities available to their communities. Among officials who did not apply for stimulus package grants, many indicated lack of information as a primary reason.

Last fall, about 80 percent of all Michigan jurisdictions said they hadn’t received any stimulus funds through existing formulas (one major stream of funding). Most of these jurisdictions were among the state’s smallest communities – those with a population less than 1,500 people. In addition, these smaller communities often did not apply for grant-based funding (the other major stream of funding) due to lack of resources or concerns that too many strings were attached to the funding.

Among the most important reasons officials cited for believing that the stimulus would not help included concerns that the respondent’s jurisdiction would not receive funds, that the money would go to bigger cities, and that the Stimulus Package was a temporary solution to a structural economic problem.

The findings in this report represent but one small part of the Michigan Public Policy Surveys. CLOSUP released a report on the key findings from all of the data collected in the Fall 2009 MPPS last month, and we are currently collecting data for the Spring 2010 wave.

The MPPS is conducted by CLOSUP in partnership with the Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Municipal League, and Michigan Townships Association. The survey program is unique in the country as the only ongoing survey targeted at every unit of general purpose local government across an entire state. Funding for the MPPS comes from CLOSUP as well as a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The views reported here are those of local Michigan officials and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Michigan or the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

For more information, contact MPPS staff by email at closup-mpps@umich.edu or by phone at 734-647-4091. More information is also available on the CLOSUP website at http://closup.umich.edu.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

MDNRE Considering Changes to Burning Law

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment is asking the public to weigh in on proposed amendments to update the open burning provisions of the air pollution and solid waste management rules.

DNRE officials said the changes would eliminate the current exemption that allows for the burning of household trash, including plastics, rubber, paper, shingles, treated wood and other household waste.

If adopted, the change would mean that the state would no longer consider the open burning of residential trash an approved method of disposal under state regulations after April 1, 2011.

The changes would not effect the provisions that allow for the burning of leaves, brush and other yard clippings, nor would they prohibit recreational campfires.

The DNRE said that by eliminating the exemption in the state rules, local communities will be better able to enforce existing ordinances or use the state rule as a means to address trash burning complaints when an ordinance does not exist.

The proposed amendment and additional information about the changes are available online at www.michigan.gov/openburning, click open burning rule amendments.

Reduced exposure to this type of pollution should benefit the thousands of Michigan citizens with respiratory conditions and also lessen the wildfire and property fire risk posed by this type of burning, reads the website.

Written comments on the proposed rule amendments are being accepted until June 4.

Comments can be mailed to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, Air Quality Division, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, Michigan 48909 7760.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Recapping Tonight's Counicil Meeting

Tonight was one of the shortest meetings in recent memory, lasting all of 23 minutes. With 3 of the 7 members absent, the agenda was kept short and action held to only 4 critical items of business.

The Council held a public hearing regarding the annual renewal of the Broomfield Township Fire Protection Special Assessment District. For our residents who also live in Broomfield Township, the Village has levied a 1 Mill special assessment for the past decade to contract with the Nottawa-Sherman Fire Department. Broomfield Township has elected to contract with Wheatland for their protection. The difference to our residents is 2 full points in protection and lower home insurance policies. In addition the Nottawa-Sherman Fire Department is located in Weidman, where Wheatland is in Remus. The resolution to confirm the special assessment roll was adopted.

The Council conducted a second public hearing on a proposed ordinance to conditionally rezone a large parcel of land near Baseline Road. This location has a proposed development which requires a Light Industrial land use designation, and is currently zoned commercial and residential. This is the same parcel that the Council approved the creation of a PA 198 Industrial Development District at their April meeting. The ordinance was adopted, and will go into effect 7 days after the notice of adoption has been published.

In addition to these two items the Council approved the 2010 Fireworks Contract for the July 3rd show with Freedom Fireworks of Mt. Pleasant. The Council also adopted a resolution to begin the special assessment process on a property on Carmen Drive where the Village was forced to abate a public blight nuisance.

The minutes form the meeting should be online by the end of the week. As always if you have any questions please feel free to call or email the Village Hall.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Michigan Municipal League Supports Online Notices

The following was posted on the MML's blog:


Yesterday, the League, along with Ann Arbor city clerk Jackie Beaudry, testified in support of legislation to allow public notices to be published online. The legislation would require a notice be posted in the municipal clerk's office as well as one of the following: the municipality's website, a newspaper's website or on a PEG channel. A substitute was adopted today that allows it to also be posted on TV or radio stations.

The city of Ann Arbor amended their charter by vote of the people at the end of last year to allow for public notice posts on their website due to the Ann Arbor News going out of business. They have an email notification option you can sign up for on the website so as soon as the site is changed an email is sent to notify (much like when a new post is posted on this Inside 208 blog). People don't have to proactively look at the website now because they can be automatically notified. They have not received one request for the public notices to be mailed, hard copy, to anyone and have not received one complaint by operating this way.

As would be expected, the press associations opposed the legislation because of what they feel would be a lack of transparency. We countered that argument by saying this would actually bring about more transparency since it expands public access to legal notices. We also informed the committee of the cost savings impact this would have on local communities. A poll of about a quarter of our membership showed it costs about $1.2 million for those communities combined to publish public notices. That doesn’t include the city of Detroit, who had their clerk, Janice Winfrey, testify today that they have already spent $350,000 this year on public notices. The committee did not vote the bill out today because of lack of time for people wanting to testify. Please continue to contact your legislators and ask for their support on this legislation.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

What's that Noise???

On the first Thursday of the month, weather permitting, Isabella County tests the early warning sirens across the county. Isabella County currently has 29 outdoor warning sirens located throughout the county. The purpose of these sirens is to warn the public of impending disasters or emergencies. The sirens will be activated immediately to warn the public of an emergency situation. These sirens indicate to the public to go inside and turn on the radio or television for further information.

Isabella County's outdoor warning system utilizes two distinctively different siren signals, each with their own meaning. The SEEK SHELTER signal is a siren sound that slowly increases to a steady sound lasting 3 to 5 minutes. The ALL CLEAR signal is described as an intermittent air horn sound, also lasting 3 to 5 minutes. When testing the sirens each month, the county first sounds the seek shelter signal, then the all clear signal.

For more information on Emergency Management in Isabella County, including a map of the siren locations, and audio files of what each signal sounds like, please click here.

A Follow-up to Yesterday's Morning Sun Opinion Page

In the Wednesday edition of the Morning Sun, the opinion page featured a piece by Mike MacLaren of the Michigan Press Association about proposed legislation which would allow local units of government to publish certain notices electronically and no longer in print media outlets.

His article can be read by clicking here.

I would like to provide a reply to this opinion piece to tell the other side of the story. The debate centers around a package of bills introduced in the Michigan House (HBs 5845, 5847, 5848, 5853, 5916, and 5917) which would allow local units of government the opinion of providing certain notices electronically.

It is completely understandable that the print media industry would be opposed to these bills. Mr. MacLaren, as the director of the Michigan Press Association, is no doubt duty bound to rally against the reality that these proposed bills embrace.

Newspapers across the state have seen their circulation decrease dramatically over the past decade. This in turn has reduced revenue to the point where several papers have either reduced the number of print editions (Saginaw News & Detroit News) or have ceased printing all together (Ann Arbor Daily News). Allowing local units of government the option to provide notices in a more user friendly manner is a reality that needs to be embraced in this day and age.

The way in which people get their news has changed, and is evolving away from the print media format that our current notice system is designed to embrace. For example the Detroit News has seen a 12% decline in circulation over the past 6 months, while its website traffic has increased by nearly 26%. While not all local units of government have implemented web 2.0 technology, many here in mid-Michigan not only have fine websites, but also blogs, facebook pages, and many other useful means to connect and dialogue with their community.

This package of bills allows local units of government to place a notice at the office of the clerk, and at least one on their website, a local newspaper’s website, public access channel, or printed in a newspaper of general circulation. The choice is entirely up to the local unit of government, and in no way would prevent a local unit of government from publishing any notice in a printed paper.

Let us also not forget that several of the notices local government must provide are to be done via a first class mailing to impacted property owners and residents in addition to the required published notice, this proposed legislation does nothing to remove any mailing requirement. Sadly Mr. MacLaren is either unaware of this, or has chosen to ignore it when he states; “under the guise of ‘saving money,’ this legislation will make it easier for municipalities to have special meetings, make assessments, and other important decisions with nearly no knowledge or input from the community.” I’m sorry, but that is an outright falsehood.

There is no legal requirement that notice of a special meeting be published in a newspaper. The Michigan Open Meetings Act only requires that notice be posted at a public location at least 18 hours in advance of any such special meeting. There is absolutely zero connection between this proposed legislation and the ability of a local unit of government to schedule a special meeting.

Furthermore, local units of government cannot levy assessments without conducting a public hearing, which by law they are required to provide notice of to property owners via first class mail. This notice must include the location, time, date, and purpose of the public hearing and must also inform residents how they can object and file appeals to the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

Since Mr. MacLaren feels there is a public obligation to post notices in print media outlets, it is fair to ask if there is also a public obligation for the print media to make print editions free to all members of the public in order to get said notices? Also, many of the required notices that local government is required to publish are to be done only once in a “newspaper of general circulation” in that community. But what happens to the community where there is no longer a newspaper of general circulation?

It is also confusing where he stands with respect to the cost saving aspect of this matter. He begins by noting that the City of Niles spends more on umpires for summer baseball than it does with respect to public notices. Yet, towards the end of his argument notes “yes, newspapers charge to publish these notices. More often than not, they are done at cost. But without these notices more than a few community newspapers face the specter of shutting down.”

It is a far stretch to claim that the cost is so low that more money goes to umpires in one community that it should not be an issue, yet the revenue from these notices is so vital that without them papers could under. It sounds more like a public subsidy for the print media industry.

All of that aside, the issue is what is the best manner to serve and inform the public while best using the limited resources that so many local units of government must accommodate for. I ask you, what is more convenient. Allowing residents the ability to find public notices on a website or public access channel which are posted for multiple days, or a onetime publication in the legal section of your local newspaper?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Sunset Worth Sharing

For those of you who may have missed sunset tonight, it was a good one!

LIPOA Annual Meeting is Today @ 2 PM

The 2010 LIPOA Annual Meeting will be held today @ 2:00pm at the Weidman Community Center located directly East of (behind) the IGA grocery store. Several director positions are up for election, and also voting to adopt a new set of bylaws for the organizational structure of the LIPOA.