State works to help localities with significant public lands

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan ranks seventh in the nation in its percentage of land owned by the public, and state officials are working to make sure that property does not burden local governments.

State- and federal-owned land offers opportunities for tourism, recreation and resource extraction such as mining. But in some counties, particularly in the North, the land also limits local tax revenue and development potential.

“In a county that is 50 percent state-owned and we manage it, they have a hard time standing up fire, police and schools because they don’t get full tax off that, though they get great recreational outdoor activity,” Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh said. “For them it’s very difficult to drive some long-term economic sustainability or community sustainability.” Continue reading

Care centers may see more regulations for reporting injuries

By LAURA BOHANNON

Capital News Service

LANSING — Day care centers, adult care centers and foster homes would have to meet higher standards for reporting injuries on an online database, under bills introduced in the state House.

Rep. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, who sponsored the bills, said the increased record-keeping will make it easier for people to evaluate centers when choosing one.

Although those institutions already face state reporting requirements, Lucido said his bills would ensure that patterns of more minor incidents would not be overlooked.

Lucido said, “I don’t think a registry or database is so wrong when dealing with loved ones, people we’re trying to protect.” Continue reading

Deadline for state money to test beaches approaching

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING —The state is offering $200,000 to help local agencies monitor water quality in inland lakes this summer.

Localities and nonprofit groups have until Feb. 28 to apply for Department of Environmental Quality grants to measure levels of E.coli — a bacteria that can cause bloody diarrhea, severe anemia or kidney failure — off inland beaches, according to Shannon Briggs, a program director in DEQ’s Water Resources Division.

Michigan is currently keeping watch on about 380 inland lakes, about half of the state’s total. Water quality data helps officials determine if a lake is safe for swimming. It is reported to the website Michigan Beach Guard, part of the DEQ site, and compiled in a statewide report.

State law gives the authority for monitoring and testing public beaches to local health departments and their partners, Briggs said. Continue reading

State groups dispute how downtowns spend special millages

By BRIDGET BUSH

LANSING– A dispute between the state groups representing counties and downtowns has erupted over the way tax money is spent.

Michigan Association of County officials say some special millage tax dollars that could be spent on senior citizens, veterans and other causes get diverted into a popular tax strategy for helping downtowns.

A five-bill package was recently introduced in the House of Representatives to improve the oversight and transparency of groups capturing this tax revenue. Cosponsors are Reps. Lee Chatfield, R-Levering; Lana Theis,R- Brighton; Amanda Price; R-Park Township; Pat Somerville R-New Boston; and David Mature, R- Vicksburg.

The issue is over Tax Increment Financing, called TIF for short.

“Downtowns support the bulk of economic development, so this is a powerful tool to provide a way for the county as a whole to give back to downtowns that sustain their communities,” said Kent Wood, director of government relations for the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce and the Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance. “And there’s not a lot of tools we’ve got left in the toolbox.” Continue reading

Michigan government purchasing scores high in national survey

By JASON KRAFT
Capital News Service

LANSING – Michigan ranked ninth in a recent national survey assessing how well each state government buys stuff.

The report in Governing, a news organization that reports on state and local government, found that Michigan ranked first in performance measures and fourth in how well it administers contracts.

Those are good marks, according to Liz Farmer, author of the study on state procurement.

Government procurement is a process to maximize efficiency in large-scale transactions involving a public agency. It’s important that it’s done well because it’s how the government spends taxpayers’ money, Farmer said.
Continue reading

State boosts migrant housing inspections with new staff

By CHEYNA ROTH
Capital News Service

LANSING — A doubling of state inspectors the past two years has improved housing conditions for Michigan’s migrant workers, according to state officials and worker advocates.

That is a major change from 2009, when a $3 million budget cut shrank the Department of Agriculture’s migrant housing inspection staff from seven to three inspectors.

As a result the department conducted only a couple dozen in-season occupancy inspections during 2009 and 2010.
Continue reading

State workers get go-ahead in job discrimination cases

By ERIC FREEDMAN

Capital News Service

LANSING – Federal courts have dealt a double defeat to the state in job discrimination-related suits by former employees.

In one newly decided case, a judge in Detroit ruled that a legal secretary for the Unemployment Insurance Agency can pursue her allegation of a racially and sexually hostile workplace.

U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain said Sonya Bradley, who is African American, presented enough evidence of harassment by supervisors and co-workers to let the claim against three white supervisors to proceed. Continue reading

Little-known agencies affect everyday life

By ASHLEY WEIGEL

Capital News Service

LANSING — Sick of watching training videos of how to safely work in an office and how to avoid passing on a virus to your coworkers when you get a cold?

Don’t blame the governor or the Legislature. Safety and health training and education are the work of the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

In fact, many agencies you’ve never heard of have a powerful influence on Michigan residents, most of them involved in the creation and enforcement of rules and regulations.
Continue reading

More motorists injured in construction zones but fewer killed

By ASHLEY WEIGEL

Capital News Service

LANSING — Serious injuries from Michigan road construction crashes are on the rise although the actual number of crashes, deaths and all injuries has dipped.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) recently tallied 2013 construction zone accidents:

  • 107 serious injuries, up from 57 the year before
  • 4,080 crashes, down from 4,592 in 2012
  • 10 deaths, down from 15 in 2012
  • 1,112 total injuries, down from 1,181 in 2012

A work zone is defined by the Michigan Vehicle Code as a portion of a street or highway that is between a “work zone begins” sign and an “end road work” sign.

Continue reading

Local officials increasingly convert paved roads to gravel ones as lawmakers debate how to fund repairs

By DARCIE MORAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan communities might see more local roads turned to gravel in coming months, thanks to winter’s remaining grip.

The rough winter has given Michigan’s road funding concerns a violent push into statewide spotlight as discussion swirls at the Capitol. But road commissions across the state are eyeing the immediate impact that deeply rooted frost has on a local level.

County road commissions have increasingly taken up the practice of permanently or temporarily turning paved roads into gravel in recent years to deal with issues of low funding and poor road conditions, said Joe Pulver, Clinton County Road Commission managing director.
Continue reading