Thursday, May 17, 2012

Land Bank, CATA Millage, Fracking, Campaign Update

Welcome back to the Schor Report. Let me lead by apologizing for skipping a week last week. Things got busy, and I just forgot. My bad. This week was committee week. I had Human Services adn County Services. In County Services, we passed a resolution authorizing an annual transfer of $400,000 for the 2012-2014 fiscal years to the Ingham County Land Bank. We are expecting high numbers of tax foreclosures because of the lingering economy, at least through 2014. In 2005 the County and Treasurer Schertzing created the Ingham County Land Bank, and I am proud to have been a founding member. The Land Bank has grown to be a significant economic development tool in Ingham County and is the major public responder to the combat properties in tax foreclosure. It has been a better tool than we hoped for, and has utilized significant federal (HUD’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis) and other dollars to rehab properties and put them back on the tax rolls. Now, the need exist for more capacity at the Land Bank to deal with the growing inventory of property. The County maintains a Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund, and that Fund has increased revenue due to the increased incidence of tax delinquency, forfeiture and foreclosure. The $400,000 requested by the Land Bank yearly will come from that fund to assist in rehabbing and moving the significant physical assets. There were several questions from commissioners about the Land Bank, but no real opposition from staff or Commissioners. The resolution passed unanimously. Finally, in Human Services we considered a resolution putting a question on the ballot asking the residents of Ingham County to increase the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) millage by .12. Commissioner Grebner, who serves on the CATA Board, asked for this resolution. He argued that CATA provides services to all, and this millage will allow for that to continue. CATA has line haul routes paid for by the urban areas (Lansing, East Lansing, Meridian, Lansing Township, Delhi. It also has special transportation services for the elderly and disabled (called spec-tran) where any senior or disable person can call and be picked up at their door, and rural transportation services for the out-county rural areas that don't have line-haul where any person in these rural ares can call and be picked up at their door. Spec-tran and rural transportation services are currently funded by a .48 voter-approved millage (about 80% for spec-tran and 20% for rural services). Commissioner Grebner argued that the additional .12 is needed to maintain the same level of services for these programs, and the new millage would end coinciding with the existing millage so that the next renewal would be at .60 instead of .48 and .12. While no one really argued about the idea of putting this on the ballot, one thing has constantly bugged me about the language on the ballot. The language for the original millage, and the language copied in this millage request, says: PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM FOR ELDERLY AND DISABLED MILLAGE QUESTION For the purpose of continuing funding for a transportation system to be used primarily by elderly and disabled persons in Ingham County, shall the Constitutional limitation upon the total amount of taxes which may be assessed in one (1) year upon all property within the County of Ingham, Michigan, be increased by up to 12/100 (0.12) of one (1) mill, $0.12 per thousand dollars of state taxable valuation, for a period of four (4) years (2012-2015) inclusive. If approved and levied in full, this Millage will raise an estimated additional $784,000 for the transportation system in the first calendar year of the levy based on state taxable valuation. YES [ ] NO [ ] My problem is that the ballot only references elderly and disabled and does not reference the rural transportation part. I believe that we should be honest and up front with the voters on the language and what it will be used for. I raised this a few years ago when we appropriated the money in a previously-approved ballot initiative, and questioned our attorneys as to how we could use money from an "elderly and disabled" ballot question for rural transportation services when those services were not mentioned in the ballot language. I was told that because the word "primarily" was included in the language, we only had to have more than 50% of the money go towards "elderly and disabled" services. So the language is legally fine. But I still think it is misleading in not mentioning the usage for rural transportation services. As such, I offered an amendment to add "rural transportation services" to the ballot language. Commissioner Grebner opposed this amendment. He said that the money really goes to the system and not for a particular service. He argued that the major usage is for disable and elderly even in the rural areas, but that the rural areas also have others that need rides. He also argued that the base .48 millage would have different language than this additional millage, so it would be more complicated to merge them in a few years. Commissioner Vickers said that everyone understands what the money is used for, and that adding this new language would confuse people. I disagreed with those arguments. The amendment failed 2-4, with Commissioner Deb Nolan joining me in voting for it. The resolution to put the millage on the ballot then passed 5-1 (Commissioner Steve Dougan was the only opposition vote). In Human Services Committee, we also considered a resolution supporting a statewide and national ban on hydraulic fracturing (called fracking) for natural gas. This was submitted by one of our commissioners for consideration. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for natural gas involves the use of chemicals and hazardous materials during construction, drilling, hydraulic fracturing, gas production and delivery, well maintenance, and workover operations. Commissioner Vickers said that he saw a documentary on fracking and said that this is not a problem in Michigan and has been going on for years. Commissioner Tennis, though, pointed out that the current fracking is much different that the previous way it was done. This hydraulic fracturing of underground geologic formations is often accomplished by injecting a complex mix of fluids and chemicals, including large volumes of water. On average, 4.5 million gallons per well are injected under very high pressure to create fractures in gas bearing geologic formations. Many of the chemical constituents injected during hydraulic fracturing have documented adverse health effects and/or adverse environmental impacts, and there have been more than a 1,000 documented cases of water contamination near fracking sites. In fact, it was pointed out that some people who live near these sites can now light their drinking water on fire although this was also contested by Commissioner Vickers. Another issue with fracking is that wastewater can contain radioactive elements and has been discharged into rivers that supply drinking water for millions. Use of these hydraulic fracturing mixes exposed adjacent land and surface waters to the risk of contamination through open pit storage, truck transport on roadways, and activities during well development. The pollution of water caused by fracking could threaten the long term economic well being of communities, as businesses and consumers depend on clean drinking water. In 2005, as part of the federal Energy Policy Act and over objections of health care, scientific, environmental, and conservation communities, regulation of hydraulic fracturing fluids under the Safe Drinking Water Act by the Environmental Protection Agency was exempted, thereby allowing oil and gas companies to use these substances without federal oversight or standards. Additionally, the industry is not required by federal law to publicly disclose chemical formulas of hydraulic fracturing fluids so that this information is publicly available for health and safety purposes. The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (“FRAC Act”), which is currently pending in Congress, would repeal the fracking exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act and require disclosure of chemicals used in fracking. The resolution indicated Ingham County's support for a state and national ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, and for the FRAC Act and BREATH Act. The committee passed this resolution on a 4-2 vote, with the 4 Democrats supporting and the 2 Republicans opposing. Supporters indicated that the wise stewardship of our natural resources involves protection of Ingham County’s water supplies and water resources, and protection of Ingham County’s water supplies and resources is better accomplished by prevention of contamination and environmental degradation, rather than attempting to cleaning up contamination and restoring degraded environments after the fact. On the campaign front, filing deadline passed. I am not one of seven candidates running in the Democratic primary for State Representative for the 68th district (Lansing and Lansing Township). My campaign is running on all cylinders. We have knocked a few thousand doors, and continue to raise (and spend) money for direct voter contact. We have plenty of opportunity for people to volunteer if they wish, or for people to contribute. The next fundraiser is May 30th from 5-7 at the Exchange. We have volunteer hours available every day of the week for the next 2 1/2 months. Just go to to fill out a volunteer form or to contribute to the campaign. Thanks everyone for all the incredible support and assistance!

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