Grants Approved for Act 88 Tax Revenues

At its Aug. 6, 2014 meeting, the Washtenaw County board of commissioners made allocations to six projects, using funds from an Act 88 millage that the county levies each year. In a separate vote, commissioners took an initial step to levy that tax, with final approval expected in September.

The county’s position is that Act 88 can be levied without voter approval to fund economic development and agricultural activities. This year, the proposal is to levy 0.07 mills in December 2014 – the same rate that was levied in 2013. It’s expected to raise an estimated $1,022,276 in property tax revenues.

In previous years, the resolution setting this millage has outlined how the revenues would be allocated. The largest allocations have gone to the county’s office of community & economic development, and to the nonprofit Ann Arbor SPARK.

However, at its Nov. 6, 2013 meeting, the board adopted a new policy for allocating Act 88 revenues, drafted by Conan Smith (D-District 9). [.pdf of Act 88 policy] The policy included creating an Act 88 advisory committee to make recommendations to the board and prepare an annual report that assesses how Act 88 expenditures have contributed toward progress of goals adopted by the board. The policy allows the committee to distribute up to 10% of annual Act 88 revenues without seeking board approval. The policy also allocates up to 30% of revenues to the county office of community & economic development, which administers Act 88 funding.

This year, the 10% amounts to $91,753. Of that, $3,993 remains unallocated and will stay in the Act 88 fund balance to support future projects. Beyond that, a total of $87,760 in funding was allocated for six projects initiated by two organizations – the Michigan State University Product Center, and Ypsilanti-based Growing Hope [.pdf of staff memo]:

  • $10,060 to the MSU Product Center to study the potential for enhanced food processing in Washtenaw County.
  • $12,700 to the MSU Product Center to develop “MarketMaker,” a food industry business network and database.
  • $20,000 to Growing Hope/Reconsider to run community education events on the Michigan Invests Locally Exemption Act and to study the potential and processes for investing locally in Washtenaw County.
  • $13,000 to Growing Hope/Revalue to provide two full-day educational events to assist investors in incorporating local investment offerings into their financial plans.
  • $13,000 to Growing Hope to create a study on increasing food assistance sales at farmers markets in Washtenaw County.
  • $19,000 to Growing Hope to support the development of an Ypsilanti “MarketPlace,” a year-round farmer’s market, and “MarketHub,” a food distribution center serving underserved communities.

These recommendations were made to the county board by the Act 88 advisory committee. Members are: County commissioners Ronnie Peterson (D-District 6), Alicia Ping (R-District 3) and Conan Smith (D-District 9); Todd Clark, president of United Bank & Trust; and Art Serafinski, chair of the Ypsilanti Convention & Visitors Bureau board. Staff support was provided by the county’s office of community & economic development.

During the Aug. 6 meeting, commissioner Dan Smith (R-District 2) brought forward an amendment for both the projects resolution and the resolution to levy the tax this year. After some discussion among commissioners, the board unanimously passed this amendment on the projects resolution [strike-through reflects a clause that was struck during deliberations]:

FURTHERMORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners directs Corporation Counsel to provide an exhaustive written opinion, by December 31, 2014, detailing the lawful uses of sums raised under Act 88 of 1913 (MCLA 46.161), and that this opinion address in similar manner other possible interpretations.

A similar amendment was passed unanimously for the resolution to levy Act 88:

FURTHERMORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners directs Corporation Counsel to provide an exhaustive written opinion, by October 1, 2014, detailing the exact mechanism under which Act 88 of 1913 taxes may be levied in excess of Article IX, Section 6 constitutional limits without a vote of the people.

This brief was filed from the boardroom at the county administration building, 220 N. Main St. in Ann Arbor. A more detailed report will follow.