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News & Press: FOCUS

Cooperation is a Capital Idea!

Thursday, July 6, 2017  
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By Derek Melot, Michigan Association Of Counties

This spring, when a new report detailing how county governments are uniquely positioned to boost efficient delivery of key services, county leaders from Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties couldn’t be blamed for sharing a smirk.

They already were well on their way to putting such theories into action via a new initiative, the Capital Council of Governments, or CAPCOG.

The role of CAPCOG, explained Robert Showers, chair of the Clinton County Board of Commissioners, is to enhance the economy of the region, regardless of where the improvement falls in relation to governmental lines.

“We see ourselves as the lobbying arm for all municipalities in the three-county region, but the initial drive to is to enhance the economy of Lansing, for if Lansing prospers, we all prosper,” Showers said.

“The most encouraging part of this initiative has been the collective understanding of the urgency of collaboration,” noted Sarah Anthony, chair of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners. “With a steady decline in investment at the state and federal levels, our counties have to find creative ways to provide the services our residents expect and deserve.”

Those same points – collaboration across governmental lines, new ways of doing business – are central to the analysis by the independent Citizens Research Council (CRC) presented at the 2017 Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) Legislative Conference.

“The financial condition of many of Michigan’s local governments remains precarious since the national recession that began in late 2007, and structural problems persist in many local budgets. Herein lies an opportunity for Michigan to address some of these structural issues by expanding regional governance at the county level,” the report states.

“County government will not be better utilized by crafting a uniform plan to be carried out by every county; it will require allowing counties to tailor the assumption of service responsibilities and collaboration to meet their residents’ and local municipalities’ needs, as well as the counties’ abilities,” it added.

CAPCOG reflects that very principle by identifying the unique circumstances of a multi-county region and utilizing all the assets at hand via the participation of Michigan State University and the Lansing Regional Chamber.

“When I first met with Tim Daman (chamber director) about this, he understood its value immediately and was all for it,” Showers noted.

The willingness of county leaders to take the initiative to cooperate is exciting news for MAC, said its executive director, Stephan W. Currie.

“All of our members confront the difficult challenge of matching limited dollars to the service needs of their residents,” he said. “The CRC report gives a roadmap for leveraging collaboration into improved services, one we see CAPCOG already following. At MAC, we can take this message to legislators as part of our advocacy for reinvestment in our communities.”

Michigan’s counties have been particularly squeezed by economic and state policy trends over the last 20 years because of their reliance on property taxes to cover services.

Homeowners in mid-Michigan and beyond have, in recent years, seen values greatly recover from the depths of the Great Recession of the last decade. However, the provisions of Proposal A limit the recovery of taxable values and, with them, money for services.

A MAC analysis found, for example, that counties were operating in 2015 with about 60 percent of the property tax revenue they had in 2006, when adjusted for inflation. This was due in no small part to Prop A’s rules, which limit taxable value growth to 5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

“Counties and other local governments have to find ways to squeeze everything out of every dollar,” Currie said. “What CRC is telling us, and CAPCOG will be showing us, is that counties can be a wholesaler of public services, thereby reducing duplication and expenses.”

“Promoting a regional approach to problem solving has been a top policy initiative for the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce (LRCC) for several years,” said Tim Daman, LRCC CEO. “The CAPCOG initiative is a result of the progressive approach that Ingham, Eaton and Clinton counties have adopted in regional collaboration and has the potential to deliver results that benefit the entire tricounty region.”

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