Township address focuses on schism between local and state government

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published January 25, 2016

 Township Police Officer Gary Diaz was honored during the speech for helping get an armed robber to drop his weapon during a grocery store holdup.

Township Police Officer Gary Diaz was honored during the speech for helping get an armed robber to drop his weapon during a grocery store holdup.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Clinton Township is not benefiting from the state’s economic recovery. 

That was the main message put forward by Township Supervisor Bob Cannon, who on Jan. 22 delivered his annual “State of the Township” speech.

This year’s theme was “Growing towards a better future,” though Cannon didn’t mince his words when he said “regressive policies and antiquated definitions of what determines economic growth” have put a stranglehold on the local units of township government.

It was a message relayed throughout the speech: Local government provides residents with direct results. Whether it’s a restructured clerk’s office that now operates at a higher level of productivity, or police and fire departments that man the front lines, Cannon explained how it’s the township’s responsibility to act upon the residents’ needs.

And if something goes wrong, it will be township officials and not Lansing bureaucrats who will bear the brunt of the blame.

“When you need a police officer or fireman, you call Clinton Township, not Lansing,” Cannon said. “If your garbage isn’t picked up on its assigned day, the township gets the call, not Lansing. When you turn on your water faucet, you expect clean water, and if no water came out, I am sure you would call me, not Lansing. And when you want to sign up to enroll your child in soccer classes, or maybe you’re a senior who wants to take advantage of our senior recreational and instructional class, you call Clinton Township, not Lansing.”

The supervisor then discussed 2015 accomplishments that have put the township in a continued position to thrive.

Cannon said the assessing department reveals the limitations of the economic recovery, as well as needs for legislative reforms. That department was successful in reducing foreclosure deeds in a 12-month period by 25 percent — including a 33-percent reduction in the number of Michigan Tax Tribunal cases.

The housing market continues to improve, as the 2015 State Equalized Value was approximately $2.98 billion — up 8 percent when compared to 2014, though still $1 billion below the property value level in 2007.

And even as all property values are supposed to increase 4 to 9 1/2 percent in 2016, the township’s tax revenue will not increase at the same rate due to systems in place because of Proposal A.

“While tax revenues fell dramatically with the market during the recession, revenue growth in this rebounding market is not allowed to rise but rather is restricted by Proposal A to the rate of inflation, or 5 percent — whichever is lower,” Cannon said. “And lower it has been: In 2015 we were capped at 1.6 percent; this year we are capped at three tenths of 1 percent.”

For a township that is about 98 percent developed, Cannon said the inability to create more revenue streams is a result of how the state defines economic growth: an increase in personal income. On the flip side, the state takes added income and sales taxes for itself in a rebounding economy.

The three-tenths number in 2016 looks even better than the projected 2017 inflation rate of one tenth of 1 percent. While good in terms of keeping down the costs of goods and services, in the long run, such rates prevent the township from becoming more prosperous and multifaceted.

“So here is the conundrum: In established communities, there is less new construction, so there is no way to demonstrate economic growth by this definition,” he said. “In established communities, you are more likely to see homeowners remodel kitchens, baths or put on a new roof.

“Unfortunately, those improvements are not considered as a part of the formula for economic growth. Essentially, we’ve created a de facto concept that the only time a community can collect more revenue is when we build a new building.”

Aside from financial pitfalls affecting the township, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Eighty-five plans were processed for new sites, redevelopment and special land use.

The township has put an emphasis on revitalization on Groesbeck and Gratiot, and Cannon said the planning department continues to meet with property owners, realtors and economic experts to decrease the number of vacant buildings and introduce new businesses.

Speaking of new businesses, 165 of them were processed and approved to occupy vacant space in existing developments. That’s an increase from 2014.

Eleven businesses in Clinton Township were recently nominated for Macomb County Business Awards.

Beyond the economics and business aspects that are integral to the township, many people and departments play a major role.

For example, the Fire Department responded to 12,329 calls in 2015. Responses as a whole have increased 40 percent the past six years due to an aging population. Meanwhile, the Police Department responded to a whopping 51,500 calls.

Cannon concluded by mentioning the work of the Board of Trustees and all the township’s employees. He said that while the loss of millions of dollars in revenue sharing and property taxes will never return — nor will departments be staffed as they used to be — the township continues to move forward in the age of technology.

“I believe we have weathered a very difficult storm, but we need to continue to be fiscally conservative,” he said. “Fiscal conservatism and department restructuring were two key reasons why Clinton Township survived this past serious recession. Residents also stepped up to the plate and supported police and fire millages.”

He pledged that he and others will continue to represent the township in different facets, from SEMCOG meetings to the Regional Transit Authority, and will continue to seek a fair economic share.

“In this and many other ways, Clinton Township is uniquely positioned to help shape the course of the county and region in the years that follow,” Cannon said. “And, in fact, we already are.”

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