Dickinson opposes tax break for utilities

IRON MOUNTAIN — Dickinson County is protesting proposed state legislation that would provide a tax break for Michigan utilities.

The county board Monday voted unanimously to oppose Senate Bill 1031, which would exempt utilities from personal property taxes on transmission lines and pipelines installed after Dec. 31, 2017.

If the legislation becomes law, it will reduce personal property revenues year after year as equipment ages and is replaced. The Senate Fiscal Agency estimates it could cost local governments statewide $576.3 million annually within 10 years.

No local estimate was provided in Dickinson County’s resolution, but both the county and its local units would be affected.

Bill sponsor Sen. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, told the Detroit Free Press it will help protect Michigan customers from higher rates as Consumers Energy and DTE spend hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade their infrastructure and improve reliability.

The bill cleared the Senate Finance Committee in June and may be taken up by the full Senate later this year.

Proos has acknowledged further debate will occur about how to possibly improve the legislation. In its present form, the bill provides no replacement for the lost local government revenues.

In other action Monday, the county board:

— Heard Commissioner John Degenaer Jr. say the board should take a more active role in the future of Dickinson County Healthcare System. Degenaer accused the DCHS Board of Trustees of “not being truthful” with the county board. Commissioner Joe Stevens, a liaison to the hospital board, said some information is “under confidentiality” and it’s important to emphasize the hospital is still open and serving the community. Going forward, Stevens said, the options appear to be “LifePoint or bankruptcy.”

DCHS signed a non-binding letter of intent July 19 to explore a possible sale to Marquette-based UP Health, which is affiliated with Duke LifePoint, a joint venture of Duke University Health System Inc. and LifePoint Health, a private health care company. DCHS has been seeking greater financial stability after Bellin Health of Green Bay, Wis., withdrew in May from an acquisition agreement that was estimated at $61 million, all of which would have gone to pay the hospital’s long-term debt and unfunded pension liabilities. The hospital is stressing the need for community support as acquisition talks continue.

— Heard Dale Alessandrini of Iron Mountain say that “getting the truth out (about DCHS) is not personal gain,” referencing a criticism from Commissioner Barbara Kramer during the Aug. 13 board meeting. Alessandrini said he’d like to see DCHS advertise to fill two vacancies on the hospital board.

— In response to a citizen inquiry about whether he’s building a house in Arizona, heard Stevens flatly deny it, adding he has lived in Kingsford since 1962 and has no intention of ever moving.

— Approved hiring Denise Formolo as a part-time veterans service officer for the Dickinson County Office of Veterans Affairs. Formolo will join James Brown in assisting veterans in securing benefits, among other duties. Starting wage is $18.39 per hour.

— Approved a request from Sheriff Scott Rutter to fill an E911 Center dispatcher vacancy. Starting pay for the full-time position is $15.83 per hour plus benefits.

— Agreed to allow the sheriff’s department to trade in its Ranger XP 900 utility vehicle, used for off-road vehicle patrols, for a 2018 Can-Am Commander XT1000. UP Cycle & Sport of Iron Mountain has offered $6,400 as a trade-in, leaving the cost for the new vehicle at $8,800. Patrols are funded through a Michigan Department of Natural Resources law enforcement grant agreement.

— Learned from Controller Brian Bousley that work continues on introducing a new county website. Among other improvements, online reservations for Lake Antoine Park may be offered.