The first issue brought up by City Manager Jon Lynch was Public Act 51, which hits home locally with the Michigan Department of Transportation’s plans to reconstruct the M-20 bridge. Lynch was joined by members of the city council along with state Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, and state Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Midland.
Stamas said Public Act 51 has meant an ongoing fight for how funding is provided for road and bridge reconstruction, but reform of the bill could mean some heavy conversation in Lansing.
“I think that opening up Public Act 51 for its entirety will be a substantial challenge,” Stamas said.
Legislators could attempt an override of the bill, Glenn said, adding that he would encourage House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, to do just that.
Unfunded pensions posing problems
A significant issue facing public agencies across the state is unfunded pension and other post-employment benefits liabilities. Midland makes annual contributions in excess of what is required, but the municipality is “losing ground,” Lynch said. One of the major concerns is the performance plans managed by MERS, or the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System.
“We are hopeful that you two don’t allow MERS to represent the voice of Midland, because our voice, we think, is going to be a bit different from what you hear from that agency,” Lynch said. “We’d really like to be engaged in those discussions.”
He described it as one of the top issues that city officials need to tackle, a statement echoed by Dave Keenan, assistant city manager of financial services.
“If the state uses them as a benchmark ... I think that’s very problematic,” Keenan said. “What we’ve seen for us so far is simply that.”
Inconsistent projections and significant changes instituted annually are affecting many cities in Michigan, including Midland. Stamas asked if Midland is required by law to use MERS, and Keenan said choosing a different organization would still result in the same unfunded liability issues the city is facing due to a requirement to leave assets with MERS.
For Stamas, the conversation on unfunded pension liabilities is one of the reasons for the meeting with Midland City Council and city staff.
“If the issues appear to become legislative at one point ... reach out to us, we’d love to be engaged and understanding what you are being told,” Lynch said.
It was shocking to learn how much unfunded liability Midland is facing, Glenn said, a fact he learned about by enrolling in the Citizen’s Academy. He asked what the ideal solution would be.
“Unfortunately, this is a case where we don’t have that,” Lynch said.
Variety of tax issues
The next topic was national box stores and the dark store theory, something that Stamas said has been the focus of legislative work for the past few years, especially unreasonable deed restrictions.
“It’s the part that has helped move this issue probably a little bit further than it would have gone before then,” Stamas said.
It is an issue that will most likely see some action this fall by legislators. Glenn encouraged city officials to reach out to the local chamber of commerce for clarification and its official position.
“Midland has had a long term challenge of the appeals of property tax,” Stamas said.
The recent change to personal property tax affected municipalities across the state, but Lynch was optimistic about the effects on Midland.
“We felt like the outcomes were far better from Midland than they would have been,” he said.
Keenan’s appointment to a local council on the topic is valuable, and Stamas asked for updates on those meetings before talking about tax increment financing.
Midland has multiple tax increment financing structures in the city, like the Downtown Development Authority and the Center City District.
“Those are all important tools we rely on to stimulate activity throughout the community,” Lynch said.
Stamas noted that other communities are not experiencing the same positive outcomes as Midland.
Energy finance bill
Glenn provided an update on his energy finance bill, and how it could affect local organizations and municipalities that he represents. He said he is hoping to have his bill reconsidered next year when a new committee is appointed.
“Over the next decade, this issue could affect Midland disproportionately more than a lot of other communities,” Glenn said.
That bill will be one of the largest discussions facing legislators when they return to session, Stamas said, along with automotive legislation related to ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft. There could also be a push for changes to medical marijuana legislation.
The meeting ended with mutual thanks and appreciation from all parties involved, and both Glenn and Stamas encouraged Midland’s city officials to communicate with them.