Category Archives: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” Franklin D Roosevelt

45 Days & Counting: Deadline to Vote on Snyder Appointee

 

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 9.21.26 AMThe Senate Tax Committee’s 60 session-day time period to vote on Marcus Abood’s reappointment to the MI Tax Tribunal is at 45 days…and counting. Here’s what’s happening… On February 26, 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder announced the appointment of Marcus Abood, of Lansing, to the Michigan Tax Tribunal.  Abood would serve the remainder of a four-year term commencing Feb. 29, 2016 and expiring June 30, 2019. His appointment is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

Local municipalities from Marquette and Delta Counties, City of Iron Mountain and Marquette Twp have sent letters and Escanaba City Council have sent letters to the Senators on the Tax Committee and Governor Snyder urging them to “drop Abood.” According to a MIRS News Article on Dark Stores, “The Escanaba City Council unanimously approved a letter slamming Abood’s appointment, labeling him the “principal author” of a range of decisions that have allowed big box retailers in Michigan like Lowe’s, Meijer or Menards to use the market values of vacant store properties to argue down their tax assessments.”

Senator Casperson, also on the Senate Tax Committee, has said local communities will “never get a fair shake before the tribunal if there’s not a fair mindset.”  Casperson said he has spoken with the administration and will continue to talk with key stakeholders and tax experts to further determine how to proceed. If he finds there is reason for concern when it comes to Abood’s record on dark store cases, Casperson said he would “absolutely” support an advice and consent hearing at that time. (MERS)

Please contact Senator Casperson and the other Committee members to tell them you agree…The countdown is at 45 session days since the secretary of the Senate received his written notification of the appointment. Time is running out….but it’s not too late to please contact these Senators and ask that they disapprove of the Abood appointment.

Here is a complete of Senate Tax Committee members:

Arlan Meekhof…… Senate Majority Leader
office – 517-373-6920       SenAMeekhof@senate.michigan.gov 

Jack Brandenburg (chair)
office-517-373-7670         SenJBrandenburg@senate.michigan.gov

David Robertson (vice chair)
Office-517-373-1636       SenDRobertson@senate.michigan.gov

Tom Casperson
office-517-373-7840     Sentcasperson@senate.michigan.gov

John Proos
office-517-373-6960       SenJProos@senate.michigan.gov

Marty Knollenberg
Office-517-373-2523     SenMKnollenberg@senate.michigan.gov

Steven Bieda
office-517-373-8360      Sensbieda@senate.michigan.gov

Rebekah Warren
office-517-373-2406     Senrwarren@senate.michigan.gov

 

 

Now You See It, Now You Don’t!!

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 9.21.26 AMIf you wanted to follow up or see previous rulings on “Dark Store” petitions to the MI Tax Tribunal, you probably should have checked last year.  That was when we gathered the  “Check Your County” listings based on the Docket Searches in MI Tax Tribunal. We searched the system to see which big box store filed a petition appeal and what final amounts were awarded.

Launched in February, 2014, the new e-system is described by the Tribunal as a combination of “several new systems that will make the tax assessment dispute process more user-friendly and transparent for all parties.  As part of the Tribunal’s enhanced website the administrative tax court unveiled new E-Filing and case Management systems, as well as an improved docket search resource.”

Indeed, it was a wonderful source of information that really awakened us to the state-wide problem at hand revealing the scope in award amounts and numbers of claims. All awards meant tax dollars every local municipality had to pay back to the petitioner and their lawyers within the prescribed 28 day time period….many ranging from 1/3 to over 1/2 of initial assessed taxable values.

Recently, however, I noticed that many previous records were not coming up in the County search. Trying a state-wide search by corporate entity (Petitioner), I found that most of these records were now listed as Purged. That, in effect, removed all the actual document links to these rulings so that amounts were no longer available for public perusal. Also, information about the law firm handling the petition or the ruling judge was not shown.

I also looked Decisions section of the MI Tax Tribunal site over the past 5 years.  While these Judgements are linked to documents showing petition information, there are very few of judgements listed for any of the big box stores. I literally found one each from Lowe’s, Menard & Target, all of which have many more petitions filed in most of the counties throughout the state.

So on this alone, updating our “Check your Counties” web page would be very difficult…if not impossible given the sketchy records available in the MITT Docket search engine. I guess transparency of information is everything, especially once you have a taste for it!

For example, here are some screen shots of current searches:

Searching for Shopko in Marquette County, the results are “no Records” – but, here is the screen shot from a search for Shopko statewide (leaving the County entry box blank) ShopKo_MITT_docket_ 2016-04-05

 

These are two partial lists of Meijer Stores around the state. Top is from Feb 2016; next is from April 2016… Notice, the closed records have now been Purged:

2016-02-17MeijerTTStatus PM

Meijer_MITT_Status 2016-04-05

Some other search results also showed Disposed rulings displayed along with Purged. The Disposed records are still linked to documents that show the petition information. Since you can only assume that the Purged records for the same corporation have similar information to the Disposed, you could use that as a guide.

While this new e-system is lauded by the Tribunal as both efficient (reducing a back load of over 40,000 cases to more manageable numbers) and transparent, current searches have been frustrating and almost wasted effort. One is left to “assume” and “guess” as to how much this irresponsible ‘dark store’ model has cost our local communities. After all, the lost property tax revenue will keep on affecting communities for the next 20 years, having data tracking in a readily available history would be enlightening for the upcoming generations.

Update – Deadline to Call Senators to Vote “No” for Snyder Appointee

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 9.21.26 AM The Senate Tax Committee has a 60-session day time period to disapprove of Marcus Abood’s appointment to the MI Tax Tribunal. On February 26, 2016, Gov. Rick Snyder announced the appointment of Marcus Abood, of Lansing, to the Michigan Tax Tribunal.  Abood would serve the remainder of a four-year term commencing Feb. 29, 2016 and expiring June 30, 2019. His appointment is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

Abood previously served on the Michigan Tax Tribunal.  The Tax Tribunal has ruled for big box stores and against local governments when these stores use the ‘dark store’ argument to get their property taxes substantially reduced. Marcus Abood served as a Tax Tribunal Judge previously and wrote the decision Menards v Escanaba that found in favor of Menards. Appointing Abood to a new position on the tribunal, the Governor is showing how completely out of touch he is with local government needs.  Abood will serve the remainder of a four-year term commencing Feb. 29, 2016 and expiring June 30, 2019. His appointment is subject to the advice and consent of the Senate.

Rather than the Senate approving an appointment by positive action, the constitutional provision requires the Senate to disapprove an appointment within 60 session days after submission for consideration. In other words, no action by the Senate constitutes a confirmation of an appointment after 60 session days. The count of 60 session days commences when the secretary of the Senate receives written notification of an appointment from the governor’s office.

Please contact these Senators and ask that they disapprove of the Abood appointment ASAP.

Arlan Meekhof…… Senate Majority Leader
office – 517-373-6920       SenAMeekhof@senate.michigan.gov
Jack Brandenburg (chair)
office-517-373-7670         SenJBrandenburg@senate.michigan.gov
David Robertson (vice chair)
office-517-373-1636
Tom Casperson
office-517-373-7840     Sentcasperson@senate.michigan.gov
John Proos
office-517-373-6960       SenJProos@senate.michigan.gov
Marty Knollenberg
office-517-3732523
Steven Bieda
office-517-373-8360      Sensbieda@senate.michigan.gov
Rebekah Warren
office-517-373-2406     Senrwarren@senate.michigan.gov

Call for “No” Vote on Gov Snyder’s Tax Tribunal Appointee

Governor Snyder has aScreen Shot 2015-06-19 at 9.21.26 AMppointed Marcus Abood to MI Tax Tribunal. The Marquette County Board of Commissioners is against this appointment as stated in a letter they issued at their last meeting which was reported in the Mining Journal: “the commissioners are asking for the appointment of Abood to be withdrawn, urging Snyder to fill the position with a qualified assessor who demonstrates ‘an understanding of both residential and commercial assessing.’ “
The commissioners further stated: “Mr. Abood is notable for his rejection of traditional methods of assessment, either because he does not understand assessing or because of his bias. The appointment appears to reject the concerns of local government that the Tribunal has become biased and that Tribunal decisions are far outside the range of reasonable decisions and valuations found anywhere in the United States.”
Who is Marcus Abood? Representative Scott Dianda, issued a press release noting that “Marcus Abood served as a Tax Tribunal Judge previously and wrote the decision Menards v Escanaba that found in favor of Menards. By appointing him to a new position on the tribunal, the governor is showing how completely out of touch he is with local government needs, because our communities will continue to come up short in these fights and there will be less money to cover services that residents, and these stores, rely on.”
Below is the list of Tax Committee members that should be contacted to lobby a “no” vote on the confirmation of Marcus Abood to the MI Tax Tribunal.

Arlan Meekhof…… Senate Majority Leader
office – 517-373-6920

Jack Brandenburg (chair)
office-517-373-7670

David Robertson (vice chair)
office-517-373-1636

Tom Casperson
office-517-373-7840

John Proos
office-517-373-6960

Marty Knollenberg
office-517-3732523

Steven Bieda
office-517-373-8360

Rebekah Warren
office-517-373-2406

 Thank you….

New Year – New Legislation OR Emergency Managers for All???

David_MaturenLegislative activity is continuing this January in MI House of Representatives. Currently Rep. David Maturen, 63rd District and MI House Tax Policy Committee Vice-Chair, has held three meetings with a broad-based legislative Work/Study Group resulting in new legislation crafted that will go to the Legislative Service Bureau. Rep. Maturen is hoping it can be reviewed and sent to the Tax Policy Committee “sometime in February.”
Hear the full January interview on Richard Piet radio show WBCK: slide to minute 17 for ‘Dark Store’ update.

Word on the Street’s Brian Cabell verifies this. He writes that Rep. Kivela sounded optimistic: “David Maturen of Kalamazoo is heading up the rewrite. And that, according to Democratic Representative John Kivela, is important because:
–Maturen is the vice chairman of the committee and has substantial influence.
–He’s a Republican, which seems to ensure that this is a bipartisan concern
–He’s from downstate which means Lansing no longer considers this a ‘UP issue.’”

Meanwhile, Both Marquette City and County are employing the services of a counsel, Jack Van Coevering, himself a former Chairman of the MI Tax Tribunal to assist in this process. “Jack has been working with the county over the last two years to develop legislation to address the dark store issue. His role has been important in developing something that would meet constitutional muster. … We want to keep him involved in that process,” county board Chairman Gerald Corkin said. “We want Jack to be available to work behind the scenes on this issue. He’s the most knowledgeable one in the state of Michigan.”

The Michigan Municipal League has weighed in on this issue:
“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.”

Through all this uncertainty, Peter White Public Library is becoming a pawn.  As budgets shrink due to property tax loss, local budgets try to adapt. Once again people head to local boards and try to find out answers and more palatable solutions. When local control is lost and revenue is being siphoned off where do citizens go for necessary, consistent services? Enter the Emergency Manager. Just ask Flint residents how that is going.

What to do personally? Attend the next Marquette Twp. Board meeting at 6:00, in the Commerce Drive Office to follow this sad saga. Also contact David Maturen on his Facebook or Website. Listen to/read more about the MI Rep on our Closemichiganloopholes Resource page.

 

‘Dark Store’ Problems – Are They Listening?

In his Word on the Street blog this week [12-12-15], Brian Cabell reports that MI Representative John Kivela “…noticed a remarkable and encouraging change in attitude in Lansing on the ‘dark store’ issue. Legislators who had previously dismissed the issue are now acknowledging there might be a problem. The Municipal League and realtors, and even the Chamber of Commerce have testified before the Tax Policy Committee in the last few days conceding that something might have to be done.” Kivela’s cautionary forecast is that new  “…bill or bills [will be] introduced in the legislature by spring, with bipartisan support, and possibly passage by summer.”  Here’s some of what has happened this past week in Lansing…

The Marquette Mining Journal also reported [12-11-15] on the Tax Policy Progress  that took place during a second hearing focusing on the ‘dark store’ rulings at the Tax Policy Committee of the Michigan House Wednesday [12-9-15].  Progress was made toward finding a solution, said David Maturen,  a Republican state representative serving the 63rd District and majority vice-chairman of the committee.
“We’re trying to find some common ground to get us back to what I perceive is a correct approach in valuing property,” he said. “We just want a level playing field for not only assessors, but also property owners.” Representative Maturen is heading up a work group to do just this. See his recent interview with Battle Creek station WBCK.

Marquette County Commissioner Joe Derocha presented the committee with 2,000 signatures from concerned citizens supporting a legislative fix. [thanks to all who signed the recent Move On.org petition sponsored by Marquette County Citizens for Fair Share]

Many others from Counties across Michigan spoke at the hearing, as well, and noted the budget shortfalls felt across the board. Van Buren County speakers testified that MI Tax Tribunal rulings resulted in %50 of Market Value for their ‘big box’ stores, while the same stores in neighboring Wisconsin are holding at full Market Value. This is causing revenue losses of almost $1M. Van Buren ISD Superintendent spoke to these losses as greatly affecting students, especially in the area of Special Education, those most in need of services. “Every $1M lost in valuation equates to $3,332 in lost special education revenue…In addition, through the process of litigation for two large companies…the price tag is not cheap.”

Oakland Cnty Study_smBusinessvsBigSpeakers from Oakland County presented a study  showing that small business owners’ property taxes have been consistently higher than their ‘big box’ counterparts.

An attorney and an assessor from Troy argued that the ‘dark store’ basis for Tax Tribunal rulings are not closely in compliance with “Michigan’s definition of ‘true cash value’ as contained in the Michigan General Property Tax Act…”

To view/download actual transcripts of these and more hearing testimonies. Click the Testimony drop-down link on the House Tax Policy Committee.

Why Are Valuations ‘less than dirt’ ?

   Representative David Maturen speaks more on the ‘dark store’ issue on a recent radio interview:
“63rd State Rep. Dave Maturen has been charged with looking into the issue to see what changes the state might propose to the system.  It’s a complicated issue.  Businesses pay property tax based on the cost paid to buy land and build a facility.  But many are convincing the Tax Tribunal in Lansing to reduce it, based on the value of an empty, abandoned store.”

Find out: What are ‘Dark Store’ tax rulings? How do they happen? Why do they happen? What is the Tax Tribunal? — and other crucial How’s and Why’s. This excellent interview clarifies a complicated issue with authoritative intelligence. 

NOTE: Mr Maturen is currently the vice-chairman of the MI House Tax Policy Committee.  Please contact him to express your concerns and possible experiences of the effects of these cuts in your communities: David Maturen davidmaturen@house.mi.gov, or call 517-373-1787
or the House tax Policy Committee Clerk’s Office Ph: 517.373.0135 Clerk@house.mi.gov

Rep. Maturen joined WBCK’s Tim Collins on the Richard Piet Show in Battle Creek on November 30, 2015 1:21 PM. [WBCK]

‘Dark Store’ Valuation “less than dirt”

NewCosto_KazooCnty

Costco Oshtemo Township

As new big box stores open all over the state, concerns are spreading. “The Menards store in Oshtemo Township [Kalamazoo County], for example, was valued at just under $8.3M in 2011. They appealed to the MTT and their property’s true-cash value was reduced to $6.4M. This decision cost our township $75,000 in revenue over five years that would have been spent on police, fire, and roads… In 2014, Costco purchased property for $5.5M and the construction valued at over $12M, resulting in a total building and land value of $17.5M. Attempting to strike a balance between the conventional methods of assessment and those of the MTT, the assessor in Oshtemo valued the property at $8.6M, a conservative valuation. Despite this effort Costco is asking the MTT for a true-cash value of $4M. They are requesting a value that is less than what they paid for the dirt on which it was built.”

Michigan townships, through the MTA, have been spreading the word downstate. Kalamazoo County, Comstock Charter Township Attorney, James Porter, calls this the “less than dirt” valuation method. Coalitions have formed. Attendance at the Marquette County Community Forum in early November was around 300 people.

The vice-chairman of MI Tax Policy Committee has been asked to form a committee to find a solution to the practice of tax assessments based on ‘dark store’ property comparisons. He says: “A very real and proximate example of this flawed (in my opinion) dark store methodology can be found with a brand new, national retail facility at U.S. 131 and Stadium Drive in Oshtemo Township [Kalamazoo Cnty.]. It has appealed its first year assessment and has asked the tribunal for a reduction of 80 percent of its total construction cost (land and building), which results in a value less than what it paid for the land alone in 2014.
I think most taxpayers in our state would not call that the product of the type of tax system we want in Michigan. No other class of property gets this specialized approach to value.”

It is not too late to join this move to inform and educate our own legislators on the devastating effects of these MI Tax Tribunal rulings. An informational committee hearing is planned for December 9th in the House. You can call or e-mail  concerns and accounts of specific effects of the cuts in your local services to:

David Maturen davidmaturen@house.mi.gov, or call 517-373-1787
House tax Policy Committee Clerk’s Office Ph: 517.373.0135 Clerk@house.mi.gov

More at –In the dark. Unfair assessing theory costs locals millions – township focus, November 2015
http://www.michigantownships.org/downloads/nov_cover_story.pdf

Did You Miss the Community Forum on ‘Dark Store Effects’ ?

Over 300 people attended the Dark Store Community Forum of informational presentations by speakers representing most of our Marquette County services.  Certainly the audience was captivated and responsive – ahhhs and ooooos of disbelief and concern resounded throughout the talks. Disbelief not at the speakers’ validity, but at the current and future magnitude of the situation.

Couldn’t make it? There was certainly lots of great information passed along. Here is a chance to catch it on video. Even if you did attend, feel free to take your time and review some key points and ideas. Also, you can pass the Video postings along to friends and relatives downstate who are just starting to find out about how the Michigan Tax Tribunal rulings are draining local funds…

Go to our YouTube page and see Parts 1 – 3 posted with more on the way. [Note: all parts are currently loaded on You Tube — enjoy and learn!] At the bottom of the video is the “Share” button you can use to poShare_UTubeButtonst to your Facebook, Twitter or other social media you may have. Thanks for passing on these valuable insights – straight from our local government and social service heads!!

NOTE: 12-13-15 – all 5 videos are now posted showing the entire Forum

Make Your Holiday Shopping B.R.I.T.E.!

BRITEShopLocal_lights&iceAre you ready to “Shop Local”?

Holiday shopping is always a challenge, but shopping locally can be a fun and rewarding experience. Here are some great ways to help you give it a try.

#1 — Make it a B.R.I.T.E. Store100 stores in Marquette County have gone “B.R.I.T.E.” by choosing to support fair local property taxes. Since they are there supporting our community, we can return the favor by patronizing their stores.

#2 — All the while you will be helping the Multiplier Effect by returning over 48% of your shopping $ right back into the community…it’s called Local Re-circulation of Revenue.

#3 — Download this list of B.R.I.T.E. Stores who have taken ‘the Pledge’ to support our communities: BRITEStoreList12-11-15 – bring it with you when you start your searches for all those Perfect Gifts – and don’t forget Gift Cards, too!

#4 — Take the challenge to make ALL your holiday shopping B.R.I.T.E.!  Don’t forget to relaxing at B.R.I.T.E. restaurants, afterward. Who’s with me?BRITELogo

#5 — B.R.I.T.E. Stores are Ready to Serve You! Look for their B.R.I.T.E. signs: