STANTON — Another word for alliance is accord, meaning to be in harmony.
But not everyone is singing the same tune when it comes to an economic development millage proposed by the Montcalm Alliance.
The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners will decide Monday afternoon whether to vote on enacting a countywide 0.1 mill tax increase. The meeting will start at 1:30 p.m. on the third floor of the Montcalm County Administrative Building (old courthouse) in Stanton.
A subcommittee of the Montcalm Alliance has requested the millage be approved via Michigan’s Public Act 88, which allows commissioners to enact a millage without a ballot vote by the public (see information at the end of this story for more details about PA 88).
If approved, the tax increase would generate $163,000 per year for three years for the Montcalm Alliance.
Monday’s meeting is expected to draw quite a crowd — and a millage vote might not be finalized when all is said and done Monday.
Montcalm County Board of Commissioners Chairman Patrick Q. Carr of Lakeview said he believes commissioners need to hold a separate public hearing before voting on whether to approve the new tax.
Reasons for millage request
Although a subcommittee has been working on this milage proposal for the past year, the Montcalm Alliance has not been regularly meeting during that time. The current membership list hasn’t been updated online since 2010. The Alliance website (montcalmalliance.com) and Facebook page haven’t been updated since 2011.
Subcommittee members say the Alliance, which was created in 1996, has become unsustainable. Many Alliance members haven’t paid dues in years. Subcommittee members say if the millage is approved, Alliance members would still be asked to pay regular membership dues in addition to the new tax.
Subcommittee members are hoping commissioners will approve their millage request which would allow the Alliance to join forces with The Right Place, a West Michigan business development and economic development agency which offers services to support existing and new businesses.
According to subcommittee members, if the Alliance joined up with The Right Place, Montcalm County would have a full-time economic development manager dedicated to replenishing and growing base jobs. The Alliance would actively participate in selecting the new manager and writing the job description, as well as providing an office in Montcalm County. The Alliance would also represent Montcalm County on The Right Place board.
If the millage is approved, the cost to local property owners would be as follows:
• A home with a value of $50,000 (taxable value of $25,000) would pay $2.50 per year
• A home with a value of $100,000 (taxable value $50,000) would pay $5 per year
• A home with a value of $200,000 (taxable value of $100,000) would pay $10 per year
Gary Peters, the controller for Greenville Tool & Die, said if the millage was approved, it would cost his employer from $300 to $400 per year, depending on the specifics of how the millage language was worded.
“We don’t typically take a stance of supporting or not supporting,” said Peters of the proposed millage. “We do tend to be supportive of anything pro-business and things that are positive for businesses in the county. We have worked with The Right Place before and we would give them an endorsement for the good job they did for us. I would recommend The Right Place to anyone.”
Local support and opposition
Four local government municipalities have crafted their own resolutions in opposition to PA 88 being used for a Montcalm Alliance millage, while one local municipality has approved a resolution supporting the proposal.
The Greenville City Council has voted in support of the PA 88 millage, while the Stanton City Commission, Lakeview Village Council, Crystal Township Board and Douglass Township Board have all voted in opposition to the PA 88 millage.
“We just didn’t think it was right,” said Douglass Township Supervisor Terry Anderson. “If they want another millage, let the people vote on it, but to sneak it in there like that … nothing against the Montcalm Alliance, but we just don’t think Public Act 88 is the right way to go.”
Montcalm County Commissioner John Johansen of Montcalm Township has been the Board of Commissioners’ most outspoken supporter of using PA 88 to enact a Montcalm Alliance millage.
“I think the record of the Alliance stands as an excellent organization,” Johansen said. “Our attempt and the reason for the millage is to align ourselves with The Right Place. We are doing everything we can for economic development in this county.”
Rep. Rick Outman, R-Six Lakes, who represents portions of Gratiot County, said to his knowledge, Washtenaw County, in the Ann Arbor area, is currently the only county in Michigan with a PA 88 millage.
The Gratiot County Board of Commissioners enacted a PA 88 millage in 2010, but a majority of those commissioners were voted out of office last year and voters chose to replace the PA 88 millage with a special millage instead.
“I would say the election there was more a referendum against PA 88 than against any candidate,” said Outman of last year’s election in Gratiot County. “I think they (the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners) really need to move very judicially if they’re going to employ PA 88. Raising taxes without a vote is definitely going to ruffle some feathers.”
Public Act 88 in Gratiot County
According to The Morning Sun newspaper, the Gratiot County Board of Commissioners approved a PA 88 millage in 2010 to fund the county’s partnership with Greater Gratiot Development and Michigan State University Extension. This past May, the newly elected Gratiot County Board of Commissioners, decided to ask the voters if they would rather financially support Greater Gratiot Development and MSU Extension with up to 0.5 mills over five years instead of the PA 88 millage.
Scott Showers was inspired to run for county commissioner due in no small part to the PA 88 controversy in Gratiot County. Showers was elected District 5 commissioner in November 2012, along with several other new faces. He believes voters chose not to re-elect previous commissioners due to “a complete lack of representation” when it came to implementing PA 88, among other issues.
Showers believes Michigan’s Constitution of 1963 casts doubt about the validity of PA 88, specifically article IX section 25 of the Constitution, which states: “Property taxes and other local taxes and state taxation and spending may not be increased above the limitations specified herein without direct voter approval.”
“I’ve been told I’m not an attorney and really can’t properly interpret the meaning behind the 1963 Constitution,” Showers said. “My response is that our state and national Constitution were written in a manner that a reasonable person could read and understand the meaning behind the words.”
This past August, almost a year after electing several new commissioners, Gratiot County voters overwhelmingly approved a special five-year millage to replace the PA 88 millage.
This past September, the Gratiot County Board of Commissioners went one step further and created an ordinance questioning the viability of PA 88 based on the Michigan Constitution of 1963.
“The Gratiot County Board of Commissioners appeals to the legislature to revoke Act 88 of 1913 as repugnant to the current Constitution of the state of Michigan,” the resolution stated.
A copy of the resolution was sent to Gov. Rick Snyder, Sen. Roger Kahn, Sen. Judy Emmons, Rep. Thomas Leonard and Outman.
Showers offered some words of advice about his own experience in Gratiot County to the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners:
“Look very carefully at the state Constitution and follow the state constitution,” he said. “You took an oath of office and you swore to uphold our nation and our state’s Constitution.”