The Michigan Municipal League’s saveMIcity initiative was involved in multiple presentations so far this month in central and west Michigan about the state’s broken system for funding municipalities. The League’s Anthony Minghine spoke to more than 125 people in a string of meetings in Alma, Mt. Pleasant and Clare last week and is speaking to dozens more in events in Spring Lake, Grand Haven and Muskegon this week.
Minghine talked to Rotary clubs in Alma and Clare and the editorial board of the Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun on May 2 and 3. He also gave a presentation that was open to the general public in Mt. Pleasant. Today, Minghine is in Grand Haven speaking to the Rotary club and he also has talks planned in Spring Lake and Muskegon. On Wednesday, he will be back in Mt. Pleasant speaking at the Michigan Municipal Treasurers Association 2017 Advanced Institute conference.
All the presentations were about municipal finance and how the state’s system for funding cities and villages does not track with economy. The Mt. Pleasant public event also included a panel discussion with Alma City Manager Phil Moore, Clare City Manager Ken Hibl, Mt. Pleasant City Manager Nancy Ridley, Mt. Pleasant Finance Director/Treasurer Mary Ann Kornexl and Clare City Commissioner Karla Swanson.
Minghine explained that Michigan ranks 50th in the nation in investment into its communities. He said since 2002 revenues to communities went down 56 percent while revenues to the state went up 27 percent. During the Great Recession, the state balanced its own budget on the backs of local governments.
“We have dis-invested in our communities and that has got to stop,” Minghine said. “The true way to fix this broken system is to raise the value of a community. We got to think differently how we fund our communities.”
Minghine added cities are economic drivers in other states across the nation and they should be in Michigan too.
“Over 85 percent of the GDP is generated in metro areas, in cities like Mt. Pleasant, Clare and Alma,” Minghine said. “It’s good business to invest our resources in those metro areas and that’s how we got to think about those things – as an investment in our future.”
During the panel discussion, the local officials discussed the impact the state’s disinvestment has had on their cities.
“Our greatest concern is if another recession comes … that we won’t be able to survive,” Hibl said. “We’re optimistic about the future, but the challenges remain.”
Moore said his community has had to cut its department of public works department in half which has put limitations on the improvements they wanted to make to their parks system.
“For the City of Alma, our goal for long time has been not to out run the bear that’s chasing us, but to out run our friends in other cities, like Mt. Pleasant and Clare, also running from the bear. So our hope is they get caught by the bear first and by the time the bear gets to us there will be some real help out there. And that’s not a very good strategy.”
Matt Bach is director of media relations for the Michigan Municipal League. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.