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Friday, March 6, 2009

Capitol Conference, Lansing

Gary Nowak, Darrin Darga, and I attend the Michigan Municipal League (MML) Capitol Conference on March 3 and 4, 2009. This conference is one way your elected and appointed officials work for the City of Rogers City to influence the laws and policies of the State of Michigan and learn best practices for government. In addition to conferences, your elected officials regularly communicate with officials in both Lansing and Washington D.C. via phone, email, and snail mail. While it is a long trip to Lansing, sometimes it is important to talk face to face. While Gary, Darrin, and I were in Lansing we meet with State Senator Jason Allen, Representative Kevin Elsenhiemer, and Representative Andy Neumann. We talked with all them about the importance of preserving Michigan State University (MSU) Extension funding in Presque Isle County, along with other local issue.

We also attened public forums and educational sessions with various other leaders as shown below:

"Four vs. One" was a panel discussion with Reps. Melton and Proos and Sens. Whitmer and Richardville, moderated by Media Personality Tim Scubick. We learned where each legislator stood on a several issues, and watched their interaction. Tim’s questions were "straightforward" and directed at topics like cable and tax reform legislation. The discussion often involved “process” and “communication.” They all stated that hearing from local officials is a critical factor when considering specific legislation and overall public policy.
(Note: this paragraph was adapted from Andrea Messinger, MML Legislative & Communications Coordinator. Thanks Andrea.)

"Vibrant Communities in the 21st Century" was a session featuring three cities in Michigan that seek to be more vibrant. They are seeking to be places where people want to "live, work, and play." Boyne City presented their “Creating Entrepreneurial Communities” program. The Rogers City also participates in this program; however, Boyne has taken the program further than perhaps any other community in Michigan. Their goal was to keep the businesses they have and to create an environment conducive to new small business start-ups. Statistics show that 60-80 percent of employees in the U.S. work for a small business. Boyne City realized that it was more effective to foster entrepreneurialism than to try and hook that “one big” business. They meet with over 100 business owners and asking them what their needs were. They had never been asked this before. The City did an inventory of the business community, and brought together talent from different groups to form a business resource center for entrepreneurs, a sort of “one stop resource.” They are fostering, and nurturing small business in Boyne City.

Like Rogers City, Owosso was interested in creating a vibrant communities for the 21st century. This city of about 15,000 admitted they had a problem, went out on a limb, and reallocated resources and restructured government. They garnered over 5 million in grants, including the Vibrant Small cities Initiative (VSCI) of which Rogers City is a part. They have been working to put together private money (the goal is $2 in private dollars for every $1 of public money). Like Rogers City, they gathered grant funds first, then developed their plan to use the funds. This process takes a long time. Their plan is to focus on historic preservation, arts and culture, a walkable community, and putting together partnerships. They are rebuilding their burned-down theatre, expanding their art center, building trails throughout the city, and are putting in a new streetscape. Phase two of the plan will be to focus on developing downtown housing.

The third municipal example in this presentation was the city of Grand Rapids. They created a new master plan based on the tenets of smart growth. In addition, they rewrote their zoning ordinance, and consequently, were able to create the really great neighborhoods that their residents desired. Rogers City is also working on a new Zoning Ordinance. Grand Rapids' primary concerns was for walkable and accessible neighborhoods, distinctive and attractive developments, and to preserve farmland, open space, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas. They sought resident input, and then followed it. They changed 40 percent of the land in the city from industrial to mixed use. They were amazed by the changes they could make in appearances by making changes to the zoning ordinance. Their residents wanted great neighborhoods, and the city created them by instituting mixed density and a variety of housing styles. They also cherish green infrastructure, which is the core of a good quality of life. In addition to smart growth, the city is focused on Green Grand Rapids and Crime Prevention by Environmental Design.
(Note: this section was adapted from Kim Cekola, MML Research Associate/Publications Editor)

"Transportation and Infrastructure–The View from Capitol Hill:" Officials discussed what local governments must do in order to receive federal funding for transportation projects, as well as efforts that are underway to change our national transportation policy. Foremost on everyone’s minds was the federal stimulus package that was recently passed. Unfortunately, it was confirmed that none of the stimulus funding for roads will be available for small cities like Rogers City due to federal rules in the Stimulus bill. Apparently, only roads that are "federal aide eligible" will receive this road funding. Except for US-23, BR-23, and M-68, none of our major or local streets in Rogers City are "federal aide eligible." This news is a big disappointment; however, Rogers City may get some funding for road repair through our water and sewer projects, which apparently are eligible for funding via the US Department of Agriculture-Rural Development (USDA-RD).

It was reported that Department of Transportation (DOT) officials are claiming that transportation projects are too complicated for local governments to handle and that all money and decision making should therefore flow through the DOT. Apparently, this thinking prevailed on the Congress during the passage of the Federal Stimulus bill. The National League of Cities (NLC) is attempting to change this mindset, but local officials must make their voices heard, if we ever hope to obtain federal dollars for local road repair.

Their was a lot of discussionm about reforming national transportation legislation so that transportation policy reflects the needs of today and not the needs that existed in the 1950s and 1960s when most of the existing policy was crafted. The focus is not just on short-term fixes, but on long-term development that will ensure energy security, economic growth, affordability, and efficient transportation choices for all. One subject discussed was the "gas tax" which is falling short of meeting the needs of the highway system. Also, projects to develop high-speed, inter-city rail systems connecting 50 metropolitan areas may soon be underway. It is anticipated these rail projects will be support by the Obama administration because $8 billion was added to the federal stimulus package for high-speed rail development. Michigan may obtain some of this funding.

Speakers throughout the transportation session repeated how important it is for local officials to stay involved, despite the disappointment of not getting funding for local roads. Local officials must emphasize that local governments can complete transportation projects more quickly and better than state DOTs. They know the needs of their residents and are therefore the best ones to coordinate transportation and land use processes. Local governments will then be able to obtain the funding they need to develop sustainable, affordable transportation that meet needs of the 21st century. (Note: adapted from Tom Wolff, MML, Claims Manager, Risk Management Services)

"Renew Your Energy Expertise:" A new Executive Order issued by the governor solidified our state’s commitment to renewable energy. The order went into effect the first of January, and creates a Bureau of Energy within the Department of Labor and Economic Growth. The governor’s goal is to decrease our state’s dependency on fossil fuels by 45 percent by the year 2020. In addition, the aim is to create jobs in the renewable energy field through these four components: 1) Advanced Energy Storage2) Wind3) Solar4) Energy Efficiency.
In the case of wind and solar, the state wants to both deploy the technology and capture the value chain. Michigan has many skilled manufacturing workers, so transferring these skills to manufacturing renewable energy products is a good way for our state to diversify its workforce.
In addition to the Bureau of Energy, the state has created a Wind Energy Zone Resource Board. This board has been charged with identifying the location of wind zones and studying wind conversion methodologies. Its focus will be on the viability of large wind farms, not stand alone wind turbines. The key to our state’s success is for local government and state government to do this together. Lots of grant money is coming down the pike—the money will originate with the federal government who will give it to the states who will then disperse it to locals. It will not go towards the Bureau of Energy’s general fund, but directly to municipalities to develop their own renewable energy programs. Money will be available under the new economic stimulus package, and for green issues specifically it will come through Energy Efficiency Community Block Grants. To ensure the success of municipalities in receiving and keeping the stimulus, the Bureau of Energy and the Michigan Municipal League have teamed up for what we call “The Green Challenge.” Visit http://www.mml.org/ for more information. after this session, Council member Darga stated that he would like to see Rogers city "as the premier sustainable city in Northeast Michigan."(Note: adapted from Kim Cekola, MML, Research Associate/Publications Editor)

"The Big Picture, State & Federal Affairs Update" a panel of MML lobbyists shared their insight. The lobbying team introduced MML's new Prosperity Agenda. After pinpointing what Michigan can learn from prosperous states (hint: it's all about sense of place), the Prosperity Agenda details "Prosperity Policies" and "Policy Actions" to create a better future for our state. Perhaps the most exciting thing about the Agenda is that it's not just a wish list, but a realistic action plan that shows exactly how communities, together with the Legislature, can create the Michigan of our dreams. A large dose of legislative information, enough to fix the worst political junky, came next. The panel presented the latest details about the federal Economic Recovery Act, mandatory collective bargaining, constitutional amendment on tax reform, the state transportation budget, green building incentives, cable legislation, and more.
(Note: adapted from Andrea Messinger, MML, Legislative & Communications Coordinator)

All-in-all, the Capitol Conference was a great way for your City to participate in the process of moving our community forward. The new MML moto is "Better Communities. Better Michigan." We must all work together to make that motto real.

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