Providing analysis and insights for all things legislative impacting Michigan's townships
The April issue of Township Voice features:
Budget proposals moving through the House and Senate could potentially include 15 additional townships receiving statutory revenue sharing—but could also hurt fire protection grants and indigent defense funding.
In February, Gov. Rick Snyder proposed his 2019 budget, which included cuts to City, Village and Township (CVT) Revenue Sharing. Since then, both chambers have hashed out their respective proposals in appropriations subcommittees. Budget discussions are still in the early stages, and each chamber must come to an agreement before they send a final budget to Gov. Snyder.
Notably, the governor, House and Senate have put forth different proposals for CVT Revenue Sharing. For the past four years, $5.8 million has been added to CVT Revenue Sharing, providing funding to an additional 100 townships and allowing the 34 townships that already received the money to receive their previous payment level or be paid per capita, whichever is higher. Gov. Snyder proposed eliminating the $5.8 million, as well as the $6.2 million supplemental payment that was included for CVTs in the current year. The House proposal retains funding for the $5.8 million, but reduces the $6.2 million supplemental to $3.1 million, or half of what is being funded this year. The Senate also kept the $5.8 million, but eliminated the supplemental—however, its proposal would reduce the current $4,500 threshold to receive a CVT revenue sharing payment to $1,000. This change means 15 additional townships with a payment between $1,000 and $4,500 would receive the CVT funding.
Appropriations committees in both chambers are also still working on finding a stable funding source for crucial fire protection grants. Previously, these grants were funded by driver responsibility fees; however, recently enacted legislation will phase out those fees. Gov. Snyder has proposed filling that hole by allocating personal property tax (PPT) reimbursement dollars to keep the grants solvent. At this point, the Legislature has not agreed to that idea, but is continuing to negotiate and search for a solution.
The Governor's recommendation for indigent defense funding would also leave a hole for 19 townships, which use that money to pay for their district courts. The Senate recently recommended removing $15.3 million from the governor’s Michigan Indigent Defense Commission funding request, and added language requiring the total amount be appropriated to fully fund local indigent defense systems before local units have to comply with the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission standards.
The budget recommendation from the governor and the House and Senate subcommittees would continue to fully fund payments in lieu of taxes.
MTA will continue to provide updates on the proposed 2018-19 fiscal year budget as it moves through the process.
When septic systems fail, townships can be required to build expensive public sewer systems—at a cost to the township and residents. A new package of bills recently introduced in the House is intended to prevent these failures, which threaten public health and expose townships to staggering costs.
House Bills 5752, sponsored by Rep. James Lower (R-Cedar Lake), and 5753, sponsored by Rep. Abdullah Hammoud (D-Dearborn), were discussed in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing and await further consideration. While MTA is supportive of the concepts contained in these bills, we have concerns with language potentially preempting local zoning and phasing out point of sale ordinances. The sponsors have been open to clarifying and amending the bills to address MTA’s concerns.
Michigan is the only state in the U.S. without a law setting standards for individual or small-quantity septic systems. That means such systems are primarily regulated by county health departments, and inspections are, for the most part, only done when homes are sold or when a septic system is first installed. Currently, the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) estimates that anywhere from 130,000 to 325,000 of Michigan’s septic systems are failing.
When systems fail, raw sewage can contaminate our state’s valuable lakes and waterways, posing a major public health risk. But townships can also pay a price, as the DEQ has used language in current statute to require local units of government to take corrective action, even when the failing septic tanks are privately owned. This scenario is all too real for Worth Township (Sanilac Co.), where more than a decade ago, the DEQ discovered that septic systems were leaking raw sewage into Lake Huron. Eventually, the township was ordered by the Michigan Supreme Court to install a sewer system. Worth Township’s costs are estimated to top $40 million—and the project isn’t finished yet. While grants will cover part of the cost, the township and its residents were still left with the bulk of the tab.
To prevent such a massive septic system failure, HBs 5752-5753 would add a section to the Public Health Code to set state and local standards for the installation, operation, maintenance and inspection of septic systems. Under the bills, the governor would appoint a Technical Advisory Committee to recommend standards and guidance for a statewide code. Current language does not include a local government representative on the committee; however, MTA is working with the bills’ sponsors for such representation.
Once the rules are established, they’ll set a minimum standard and criteria for septic system siting, design and installation, as well as wastewater effluent standards. When systems fail to meet those standards, the rules would outline corrective actions. The DEQ would authorize a local health department that met certain requirements to conduct site evaluations, issue construction permits, perform inspections, issue notices, respond to complaints and provide an administrative review for anyone affected by a local health department order, decision or notice.
Under HB 5752, anyone who owns a conventional septic system would be required to have an assessment done at least once every 10 years by a local health department, a registered inspector or a septic waste servicer. However, an assessment must include pumping out of the system if the system’s contents are at least a third of the tank’s depth—leaving only a septic waste servicer able to conduct the assessment. MTA is working with the sponsors on an amendment allowing a homeowner to have the pump-out conducted within a specified timeframe of the assessment.
In addition to the assessment, conventional system owners must have their system evaluated if someone files a complaint based on a suspected failure, and the local health department or the DEQ determines there is reasonable cause for an evaluation. This would also apply if the property owner files for a building permit for a new structure, a change in use is proposed that would increase the use of the existing system, or any form of inspection other than a septic tank assessment is requested or permitted by the owner.
The bills currently would not allow local units to adopt point of sale ordinances, which typically require septic systems to be inspected before a property is sold or transferred, or would require such an existing ordinance to be phased out. MTA believes it is important to retain the point of sale ordinances, as most homeowners will wait as long as possible to have their septic tank assessed. We are seeking an amendment that would allow local inspection requirements to continue until the state is ready to fully implement this legislation.
Additionally, HB 5752 would prohibit anyone from installing, constructing, altering or repairing a septic system unless he or she received a construction permit from the DEQ or an authorized local health department. The bill does not require the construction permit to align with local zoning. This has proven to be a problem in Ann Arbor Charter Township (Washtenaw Co.) and Lodi Township (Washtenaw Co.), where developers received wastewater discharge permits from the state even though the development didn’t meet local zoning requirements. MTA has proposed an amendment that would address this concern.
MTA’s Policy Platform includes support for statewide septic system maintenance standards to reduce septic system failures that create serious public health threats and expose townships to being required to build expensive public sewer systems. MTA will continue working with legislators to resolve concerns impacting townships.
Only a limited number of grants are currently available to townships that want to revamp a park or build a new trail. A package of bills being considered in the Senate would create a new grant program just for local recreation facilities and parks.
Senate Joint Resolution O and Senate Bills 763, 931 and 932, under lead sponsor Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Wells Twp.), were recently reported by the Senate Natural Resources Committee. If enacted, they would change how Michigan State Parks Endowment Fund (MSPEF) money can be spent, allowing a portion of it to be used for grants to local parks and recreation projects. SJR O would require a constitutional amendment to change how the MSPEF money is spent, requiring a two-thirds approval from both the House and Senate in order for it to be placed on the ballot. MTA supports all bills in the package as they could provide additional money for township parks and recreation projects.
Currently, revenue from state oil, gas and mineral rights goes into the MSPEF, with half of the money to be spent on land purchases and maintaining state parks. Under the bills, 20 to 25 percent of the fund would be made available for local public recreation projects, which could be made in the form of a grant.
Local projects eligible for the funding would include the development, redevelopment and renovation of motorized trails and related infrastructure; the control and prevention of aquatic invasive species; and the development, redevelopment and renovation of local public recreation facilities. The MSPEF could also provide grants to local units or public authorities for local public recreation projects. However, a maximum of 25 percent of the money spent could be for the control and prevention of aquatic invasive species. Local units would have to provide matching money if they received a MSPEF grant.
MTA will continue to update members as these bills are considered by the Legislature.
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Past Issues of Township Voice: