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Stateside: Government and unions learn how to better communicate

Oct 25, 2012
UAW sign.
UAW

Believe it or not, many of Michigan’s local leaders are satisfied with union negotiations.

According to Tom Ivacko, administrator and program manager of Ford School’s Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, the relationship between jurisdiction and its employees is quite positive.

Ivacko oversees the Michigan Public Policy Survey program. He spoke today with Cyndy about these relationships.

Getting along with your neighbors isn’t always easy. So Governor Rick Snyder came up with a pretty simple plan to get townships, counties and cities to find new ways to work together; give them some kind of incentive, specifically, money.

Michigan Department of Treasury spokesman Terry Stanton says these Competitive Grant Assistance Grants are incentives to get neighboring cities, townships and counties to work together in new ways.

New House bill would limit cost of FOIA requests

Sep 25, 2012

Some of Michigan’s city and township officials are worried about a bill that would limit how much they could charge for public information requests. The state House Oversight, Reform, and Ethics Committee opened hearings Tuesday on measures to make it easier and cheaper to file Freedom of Information Act requests.

Bill Anderson of the Michigan Townships Association said local governments are already losing money processing requests.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Two cities from opposite sides of the state are working together to come up with better ways to manage local governments.

Livonia and Grand Rapids are teaming up to find solutions to all kinds of common city management problems; like, what's the best practice for hiring city workers? What about for borrowing money? What’s the best accounting software for the price?

“In essence it could be anything necessary to run local government and best practices that we could easily share,” said Greg Sundstrom, Grand Rapids’ city manager.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

This week there will be an important hearing for those hoping to merge three West Michigan communities. A group of citizens is asking the state to allow the cities of Saugatuck, Douglas and Saugatuck Township to merge into one city. 

Downtown Grand Rapids
Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Kent County is saving tens of thousands of dollars a year on supplies thanks to a customized online auction. The program is like the online auction site eBay in reverse.

When Kent County needs office supplies, like printer paper, it opens an auction online. It lists a maximum price it’s willing to pay based on previous bills. Vendors offer to sell the county printer paper at that price or lower.

Sean Marshall / Creative Commons

265 Kalamazoo City employees are eligible for the early retirement incentive. According to the city’s Human Resources Director Jerome Post, 191 of them have already signed up. “I have to admit I’m a little surprised at the number of people,” Post said the number is higher than he expected.

 “It’s been a little bit anxiety ridden for us but at the same time we’ve been very excited about the opportunity this presents for us to restructure virtually every department in the city,” Post said.

downtown Grand Rapids
Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Discussions about a proposal to merge the City of Grand Rapids and Kent County into a single unit of government will move forward despite numerous concerns about the final outcome.

Earlier this year a group of business leaders launched the “One Kent Coalition”. They didn’t really inform the city or the county of their plan ahead of time so initially there was a backlash against it. Many government leaders, like Grand Rapids City Commissioner Dave Shaffer, remain cautious.

UM Center for Local, State and Urban Policy

56 percent of local officials in jurisdictions that have unions believe the unions have been a liability to their jurisdictions' fiscal health, according to a survey released by the University of Michigan (43% reported "somewhat of a liability," and 13% reported "a significant liability").

The survey was conducted the Center for Local, State and Urban Policy from April 18 to June 10, 2011.

The Center says only 27 percent of Michigan's local governments have unions, but the vast majority of the state's population (98 percent) live in areas where their local governments have unionized employees.

The perception that these unions hurt a government's bottom line doesn't necessarily fall along party lines, according to the report:

Compared to Republican and Independent local leaders, Democratic officials are somewhat more positive about the fiscal impact of employee unions. But a surprisingly high 48 percent of the Democrats say unions have been a liability to their jurisdictions' fiscal health.

Thomas Ivacko told the Associated Press:

"It's a complex picture coming out from the local level," center administrator Thomas Ivacko told the AP. "Local leaders tend to say that having a union is hurting their fiscal health. . . . (But) the picture isn't all negative."

Despite the bad perception on overall fiscal health, the report says the respondents rated their relationship with the unions as generally positive:

60 percent of the local officials say the relationship between their localities and employee unions has been either good or excellent over the past 12 months, according to the statewide poll. Only 5 percent say the relationship was poor.

Local Control and Health Care

Aug 25, 2011

As you may know by now, the Michigan Legislature passed a bill  yesterday limiting how much local governments and schools can spend to provide health care for their employees.

The new law, which Governor Snyder is expected to sign, says local governments can contribute a maximum of fifty-five hundred dollars an employee, or fifteen thousand dollars a family.

Their only other option is to split health coverage cost with the employees, as long as the workers pay at least twenty percent.

Local governments can opt out of these requirements, but it won’t be easy. They’d have to do so by a two-thirds vote of their council or school board, and take a new vote every year.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The next two or three years “are going to be rough” for local governments in Michigan. Governor Rick Snyder told a group of city managers and county executives he’s sensitive to that.

The main cause of budget problems for local governments is a declining tax base. Home values are down and there are fewer businesses since the recession. Townships, cities, and counties get most of their money from property taxes. 

Governor Snyder says he knows the tough times are not over for municipalities.

Karry Vaughan / Flickr

With the number of digital devices like smart phones and tablets exploding, communicating with one another electronically is becoming a common part of our society.

And as many high school teachers know, thumbing on a keyboard can even go undetected if you're good.

Now, some communities are banning the practice of texting and e-mailing during public meetings.

The Detroit News has a piece on the restrictions some local governments have put in place. The piece looks at the restrictions in Ann Arbor, Royal Oak, and Sterling Heights.

From the Detroit News:

Supporters say the issue is about transparency and integrity, not to mention common courtesy. They argue email or even text conversations could violate the Michigan Open Meetings Act, which requires decisions and most deliberations to be public.

"It's about maintaining the integrity of this council and futurecouncils," said Maria Schmidt, a city councilwoman in Sterling Heights, which amended its council governing rules earlier this year to ban electronic communication during meetings.

But critics of the bans say technology helps these officials do their jobsmore effectively and efficiently. They call the bans "short-sighted."

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Today elected officials in Grand Rapids adopted a budget for 2012. The plan closes a $6 million budget gap in the city’s general fund.

The plan includes money for a new ‘transformation fund’ – which can only be used for one-time investments in long-term structural changes.

Grand Rapids took a couple measure last year to keep their budget out the red…they laid off around 175 employees and voters approved a city income tax hike.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The state and several local governments are getting more than $2.5 million from Gun Lake Casino. It’s the first revenue-sharing payment since the casino opened in February.

More than $500,000 goes to one city, six townships, Allegan County and a public school district near the casino about 30 minutes south of Grand Rapids.

Wayland Township Supervisor Roger VanVolkinburg is not the only one who underestimated how big the first check would be.  

“Well my estimate was $200,000 years ago so it’s was a little off. (laughs) I’m sorry.”

Governor Rick Snyder has outlined a plan to withhold some state aid to local governments unless they make plans to consolidate services and make their finances more open. The governor says he wants to create new incentives for communities to save money and become more efficient.

He would revamp how the state shares tax revenues with cities and townships to reward those that come up with cost-savings. 

Grand Rapids’ Mayor George Heartwell painted his city as a destination for medical researchers, entrepreneurs, artists and young people in his State of the City address Saturday.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

People can report vandalism, petty theft, and other crimes that are not emergencies or incidents where the victim doesn’t know who did it to the Grand Rapids Police online.

Kalamazoo City Commission
Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Kalamazoo has a new balanced budget in place…with no layoffs, tax increases or cuts to city services. City commissioners unanimously approved the 2011 budget plan Monday night.

Holland is the latest city in Michigan planning to file a lawsuit against Blue Cross Blue Shield over variable fees. The fee is a 13.5% administrative access fee Blue Cross charged the city on any insurance claims filed by employees.  The city claims the insurer didn’t tell them about the fees for 17 years.

Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra says,

Tight budgets are forcing local governments across the state to do more with less. That's easier said than done - even in traditionally fiscally conservative areas. Straight ticket republican voters in Ottawa County outnumbered their democratic counterparts 4 to 1 in the last election. Many self-described-fiscal-conservatives spoke out against the plan. They don't think the consolidation will save the county as much money as expected and worry services will suffer.

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