Drawing the line

MARQUETTE – The Marquette County Board has drawn a line in the sand, deciding unanimously in a resolution last week it will accept no new state mandates for services, without receiving accompanying funding.

“Any future mandate, we’re going to refuse to pay,” board Chairman Gerald Corkin said.

The board’s decision was the latest salvo in a decades-long battle over unfunded mandates and part of a new resolution the panel approved with hopes other Michigan counties will join in making the same pledge.

Earlier this month, the county shelved a proposed revenue sharing resolution, opting for a tougher stance and a resolution with “teeth” and “ultimatums.”

“The county of Marquette is without the economic resources to fund any new or additional state-mandated services, and, as a result thereof, the County of Marquette will be unable to assume and/or provide any additional mandated responsibilities or duties without being provided the economic resources,” the resolution states. “Any new mandates will not be assumed or done without the necessary state funding needed to assume or perform the same.”

The resolution was approved on a 5-0 vote. Commissioner Steven Pence was absent from the board meeting.

County officials said Gov. Rick Snyder’s projected revenue sharing shortfall in Marquette County for next year is $292,225.

Snyder is recommending a revenue sharing appropriation to counties of $140.6 million, $41.7 million less than statutorily required and counties will have to “earn” 20 percent of their funding by fulfilling County Incentive Program requirements, the resolution states.

The county resolution said earning what has already been earned is unfair and unacceptable.

In 2004-2005, counties agreed to forego revenue sharing for a period of time to help the state balance its budget. The board said counties were promised a return of that funding once reserves were depleted.

“Revenue sharing is more than just a pot of money to be allocated in whole or in part to counties; it is a statutory promise made to counties in exchange for giving up local taxing authority and for a more recent change in local taxing administration,” the resolution said.

Corkin said “olive branches” extended to the state Legislature over the years have not worked. Democrats and Republicans alike have failed to produce positive outcomes.

“The Marquette County Board calls upon the governor and the state Legislature to live up to their promise by fully funding revenue sharing payments to counties in fiscal year 2014 so that what is promised in Lansing can actually be accomplished and performed by counties at the local level,” the resolution states.

The county board’s draft resolution proposed earlier this month did not include taking a hard line stance on new mandates.

Former Commissioner Michael Quayle, who suggested his ex-board mates draft a tougher proposal, was pleased with the new document and the panel’s action to approve it.

“I think you loaded David’s slingshot and we’re going after Goliath and I think that we can do this,” Quayle said.

Board Vice Chairwoman Deborah Pellow, long an advocate of taking a tougher approach with state officials on unfunded mandates, also liked the new version of the resolution.

“This at least, I think, does give it more teeth,” Pellow said.

Quayle commended the board for “getting on this, staying on this, and working on it.”

Pellow said the board now needs to follow through with what it declared.

“We need to actually do that,” Pellow said. “When staff comes to us in the future and says we have another unfunded mandate, we need to say, ‘No.’ We’re not taking this any longer, because we can’t, financially, we can’t do it any more.”

Pellow said the resolution should be sent to the other 82 counties in michigan, state lawmakers and Marquette County department heads, notifying them of the pronounced change and welcoming their support.

Pellow said the board’s message needs to get out: “We’re done.”

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal.net.