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Council to vote on new fee on summer tax bill

Ludington taxpayers have seen a new administration fee on their 2019 summer property tax bills, which charges them an additional 1-percent of the total amount on their tax bill.

So for a residence with a taxable value of $100,000, paying the full 56.4158 millage rate for a homestead would have a summer tax bill of $5,641.58, and the administration fee would be an additional $56.41.

Michigan law allows local municipalities to charge the administration fee of a maximum of 1-percent of the property tax bill, which includes millages for such entities as the town, county and school district. However, in order to charge the fee, the local governing body of a municipality must pass a resolution or ordinance stating that it will impose the fee, according to the Michigan General Property Tax Act.

But Ludington has not.

The Ludington City Council on Monday is expected to vote on whether or not to approve the fee resolution, despite the fee already appearing on the summer tax bills, Ludington City Manager Mitch Foster told the Daily News.

“It’s an unfortunate situation, but we’ll acknowledge the mistake, and the city council has to make its decision on Monday,” Foster said.

Foster said that according to the city’s legal counsel, the city council has until the summer property tax bills are due — Oct. 9 — to pass the resolution, even though it would appear to be charging the fee retroactively.

“It’s not an actual tax. It’s a fee that is charged ... and so it only has to be done prior to when the tax bills are due,” Foster said. “So as long as you do it before that time period, then it is a valid fee to be imposed on the tax bill.”

If the council doesn’t approve the resolution, then city officials would have to figure out the next steps, including notifying taxpayers and providing refunds for those who have paid the fee amount, Foster said, adding that it would be “quite the headache.”

Foster said that under the direction of Interim City Manager Steve Brock, the administration fee was factored into the planning for the 2019 budget that the city council approved in December 2018. But the city council at that time should have also passed a resolution to impose the fee on the next property tax bills.

Ludington experienced a time of transition, with Brock as interim city manager in 2018, then with Assistant to the City Manager Jackie Steckel serving as the acting city manager from January to March 2019, until Foster started as the new city manager.

“The situation here is that it was a mistake that was made based on transitions of leadership in this (city manager’s) office and just a lack of knowledge of that state statute,” Foster said. “The only notes that I had or any of the staff here had from the previous interim (city manager) were that it was an approved fee — nothing more. I had no preconceived notion that we hadn’t done anything. And having Tom (Ezdebski) being fairly brand new in the treasurer’s role, he followed the lead of the city manager at the time.”

Ezdebski started as the city treasurer during summer 2018. Brock brought up the idea of enacting the administration fee during a city council committee of the whole meeting in November 2018.

Foster said the state allows for local municipalities to enact the administration fee in order to help municipalities pay for the expense of collecting taxes, instead of having to pay for it with operating millage funding.

“So whether that’s part of assessing, part of the treasurer’s and deputy treasurer’s wages, the cost of materials — all of that are part of the reason for the fee,” he said.

Foster said he was not involved in deciding to add the administration fee to the tax bills, but that enacting the fee would allow more tax dollars to be used for the city’s operations. He said the city has made budget cuts in the past, such as during the recession years of 2005-2006, so “freeing up” funds for operations would let more money go toward city services that residents have requested, such as code enforcement, and new services they’ve requested.

“That was part of, in my understanding, the reasoning behind enacting this fee that’s common across the county right now,” he said.

Foster said that all of the local municipalities in Mason County already charge a 1-percent administration fee for their property tax bills, adding that the City of Scottville only charges it on its winter tax bills. The Daily News confirmed that information by Mason County Treasurer Andrew Kmetz.

If approved by city council, the resolution would authorize the administration fee for all summer and winter property tax bills moving forward, starting with the summer 2019 bills, he said. Afterward, the council could always choose to discontinue charging the fee by passing another resolution to rescind it, he added.

Michigan created the law for the administration fee in 1982. During the decades since, the City of Ludington has considered enacting the fee but never has, according to Foster.

As for why the fee is based on a percentage of a property’s taxable value instead of a flat fee price, Foster said that’s a question to ask the state legislature.


News
County board to consider buying share of lift station

Mason County’s board of commissioners will consider an offer to buy a portion of the water lift station that serves Amber Township and the City of Scottville as a part of its regular meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the board’s chambers at the Mason County Courthouse.

The county will consider purchasing 26.71 percent of a water lift station in an amount to not exceed $257,000, according to a resolution in the packet. The lift station in question is the same one the Mason County Department of Public Works is working with the City of Scottville and Amber Township to replace. The total cost of the project is $962,000, including contingencies, according to the county’s resolution.

The Daily News previously reported that the Scottville City Commission discussed at length the bids for replacing the lift station. The city will be paying 53 percent of the cost of the project.

The reason the county would purchase a portion of the lift station is because it already owns a portion of the water line feeding the station now.

“The way it exists now, the trunkline that runs from Pere Marquette/Amber Township boundary east to Scottville city limits, the county owns 26.71 (percent) of it,” Mason County Administrator Fabian Knizacky said. “We currently don’t own the lift station.”

Knizacky said the county has a share of the water line that runs toward Scottville because it allowed for a larger line for extra capacity to accommodate future growth. Knizacky said the trunkline, or water line, is owned 23 percent by the City of Scottville, 50.29 percent by Amber Township and 26.71 percent by the county.

If the county does attempt to purchase 26.71 percent of the lift station, the remaining percentages of the municipalities is yet to be determined.

“We’ll work it out with the other two entities,” Knizacky said. “That needs to be worked out and finalized yet. Either one or both could see their ownership be reduced along with their cost of the project.”

Property tax levy

The county commission will consider approving the levy of a variety of 2019 property taxes. Those include 0.58 mills for the Mason County Jail millage; 0.30 mills for the Mason County Sheriff’s Office road patrol; 0.003 mills for the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Commission; 0.27 mills for the senior centers and senior citizen programs; and 0.9715 mills for Oakview Medical Care Facility.

Knizacky said all except one of the levy requests are at the maximum amount each can seek.

“The senior millage is authorized at 0.2979 and they’re recommending 0.27. Basically, 91 percent of what they can appropriate, they’re recommending,” Knizacky said. “The rest of them are at the maximum.”

Capital improvement plan

The board will consider a five-year capital improvement plan with items including rehabilitation of the Mason County Airport’s runways as the biggest expenditure into 2024.

“What you’ve got to remember, those projects will go forward with the federal funding. With the airport, we did a five-year improvement plan. We made that presentation to MDOT a couple of weeks ago. At this point, they’re supportive of the project. It’ll come down to federal and state funding,” Knizacky said of the airport improvements. “On those projects, they provide 95 percent of the funding. … Those projects will happen if we only get the federal and state funding.”

Other business

Also on Tuesday, the county board will:

• appoint a Democratic and a Republican member to the county’s board of canvassers. The Democrats put up Chris Fonnesbeck, Vincent Kennedy and Jason Wolven as nominees for their single position. The Republicans put up James Bachelder, Rosemarie DeLoof and Rebecca Robinson for their single spot.

• consider appointing Jim Herrema to the Mason/Oceana 911 Board of Directors as the EMS official representing Mason County. He would be taking the place of Kevin Walk.

• consider approving a public hearing to comply with the Truth in Taxation Act. The proposed time for that hearing is 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, at the county commission.

• consider approving 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 2, as a budget work session meeting.

• consider approving an agreement between the county and the state for an emergency management performance grant for fiscal year 2019.

• consider increasing the plumbing permit fees for a variety of services and inspections.


Notable
‘Landscape of the Guitar’ exhibit at Ramsdell, Sept. 17-Oct. 25

‘Landscape of the Guitar’ exhibit at Ramsdell, Sept. 17-Oct. 25

An exhibit of Bruce Hecksel’s original paintings of “The Landscape of Guitar” will be on display in the Ramsdell in Hardy Hall from Tuesday, Sept 17 through Oct. 25.

Join Hecksel and Julie Patchouli of Patchouli & Terra Guitarra for an opening gallery reception of Hecksel’s guitar landscapes on Tuesday, Sept. 17 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Ramsdell, 101 Maple St., Manistee.

Every element in Hecksel’s artwork is guitar-themed in these glittering, stained glass-like, acrylic paintings. These original pieces of art are the base upon which the “Landscape of the Guitar” animated show was created. See more at www.terraguitarra.com/art.


Local
Ludington, Pentwater score high on M-STEP

Students in the Ludington Area School District and at Pentwater Public School scored higher than the state average at nearly every level of assessment in the M-STEP for the 2018-19 academic year, despite the fact that at the state level, proficiency in the tested subjects was less than 50 percent in most areas.

The results for the test — the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress — were released by the Michigan Department of Education last week, and though it showed “modest gains” for state public schools, the proficiency was still lacking in many areas.

Jason Kennedy, superintendent of the Ludington Area School District (LASD), attributed the schools’ success to a concerted effort on behalf of teachers, parents and students.

“It’s a testament to a hard-working staff and administration that values education as well as a strong supportive community that’s allowed us to really excel,” Kennedy told the Daily News. “Across all grade levels and subject areas, we have surpassed local and state mean assessment scores ... We also have outperformed local subgroup averages and surpassed the average for our comparable subgroups with similar enrollments and rates of free and reduced lunch.”

Though proficiency levels on a grade-by-grade level did drop by a few percentage points since 2018, third-grade LASD students improved math scores. Kennedy acknowledged that there were some areas where the school district would continue to work to improve its performance.

One such area is third-grade reading, especially as Ludington and other school districts enter the 2019-20 school year, when the state will begin to require a yet-to-be-determined minimum proficiency in order for students to move forward.

“I would say that the district has, over the last several years, been working to prepare for the read-by-grade-three legislation,” Kennedy said. “As it currently stands, when looking at the most recent results, we’re looking at less than a couple kids that are impacted by retention. We’re looking at one, two or three students.”

However, Kennedy said, the goal is to ensure that all students succeed.

“The early childhood ages are going to continue to be a point of emphasis for us,” he said. “This is about all kids.”

Less than 50 percent of the students were proficient in 12 of the 16 assessments conducted, and Kennedy said he sees room for improvement, and will continue working until those levels increase.

“I’m not going to stop until we know that all kids have been provided the experience ... to meet their greatest potential,” he said. “We’ll continue to focus on those areas that are not where we want them to be — those areas in the 40th, 50th and 60th percentile — while we’re proud of those, we’re not going to settle.”

Kennedy emphasized that the M-STEP is just one way to measure performance of students, and added that “there’s a lot that goes into educating a kid.”

Pentwater

Pentwater Public Schools surpassed the state average for every grade level and subject, marking another successful year for the district in terms of assessments.

Superintendent Scott Karaptian attributed the district’s success to several factors, including the use of programs like Logic of English and Math Recovery, which the district accesses through the West Shore Educational Service District (ESD).

“We’ve been very intentional with our curriculum ... and working one-on-one with students who need extra support,” Karaptian said.

He also said the school is unique in that all grade levels are located within one building, with a one-to-one ratio of teachers to classrooms.

“We get to build a relationship with our kids for 13 years,” he said. “We have our teachers looking at student data throughout the year and looking at things they can do.

“We have an extremely dedicated professional and support staff that’s doing everything possible to help our students succeed.”

The average proficiency in English language arts (ELA) for third-graders is 45.1 percent in the state, but 66.7 percent of Pentwater students were proficient. In math, 72.2 percent of the school’s third-graders showed proficiency, compared to 46.7 percent of students statewide.

The school’s methods are working, but like Kennedy, Karaptian stressed that the results could always be better.

“In comparison, it’s still obviously not where you want to be,” Karaptian said, using third-grade reading as an example. “Obviously you would like that number to be even higher yet.

“Even though we are pleased with the progress we’re making, we still have work to do.”

He said he’d like to see the school’s third-grade reading proficiency up to 75 or 80 percent, though “100 percent would be optimal.”

Mason County Eastern, Central

Third- and fourth-graders at Mason County Eastern (MCE) scored higher than the state average levels in some subjects on M-STEP as well.

MCE Superintendent Paul Shoup said that’s due to some added practices that the district has implemented in anticipation of the third-grade reading legislation.

“Our third- and fourth-grade ELA students did pretty well. They exceeded the state average by quite a bit — as did our fourth-graders in math — and that’s always a highlight,” Shoup said. ”We’ve put some extra effort into our ELA with early interventions starting at the kindergarten level, so I think that’s starting to pay off.”

Shoup said that he believes the district’s efforts will pay off more every year with the hope that the new legislation will not affect the district at all.

“The intent is to have that not affect any of our students,” he said.

Shoup said MCE uses Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) scores to measure student growth and identify areas of where they might be because of the degree to which the M-STEP test changes on a yearly basis.

“To us, it more accurately shows how students are doing year-to-year,” he said. “M-STEP doesn’t provide a lot of feedback.”

Overall, Shoup said he’s optimistic about the district’s future.

“We like the trend that we’re seeing, we like the effort that we’re seeing, so I think we’re going to be OK,” he said.

Mason County Central (MCC) Superintendent Jeff Mount also emphasized the use of NWEA in that district’s assessment of students’ needs.

MCC surpassed state mean proficiency levels in third-grade math and fifth- and eighth-grade social studies, but scored several points below the mean in many subjects. Mount said that’s due in part to the level of emphasis educators in the district place on the test.

“We don’t really get our students fired up about M-STEP,” Mount said, adding that it measures performance only, and that student growth and success is more important to the administrators.

“We usually end up right around the average for schools our size,” he said. “While we’re not really pleased with being average, and we’re not comfortable being there, the reality is we don’t really emphasize that area, which is why we haven’t performed as well as we could.

“What we see is our kids really, really do well (in achieving certifications and college degrees), and I attribute that to things like our curriculum, career and technical education programs … and dual-enrollment.”