A roundup of recent editorials in Michigan newspapers

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The Flint Journal. Nov. 16.

Flint Charter Revision Commission election shouldn't be rushed

When Flint voters decided Nov. 4 to allow the first city charter revision in 40 years, they did so because they recognized the pressing need to revamp city government to meet the challenges of a new era. The task is of utmost importance. As such, it shouldn't be rushed.

That includes not hurrying the election of the nine charter commission members who will be tasked with drafting the new charter, which would then go before Flint voters for approval.

We commend Emergency Manager Darnell Earley for pushing back the charter commission election from February to May to give possible candidates more time to come forward and secure the necessary signatures to appear on the ballot.

Candidates need 316 valid signatures. The original deadline for that was Nov. 26. Three weeks simply is not enough time given what is at stake. The new deadline will be announced soon, according to city officials.

Also, pressing ahead with the election would have given charter review process opponents more to criticize. It also may have helped fuel speculation that Earley wants to stack the deck with hand-picked candidates.

The city has changed dramatically since the charter was last revised in 1974. High-paying manufacturing jobs have all but disappeared. Tens of thousands of people have moved out. Blight and crime are rampant in the city's once-thriving neighborhoods. Meanwhile, the city is broke and under the control of an emergency manager.

The charter review commission will look at the fundamental structure of Flint government. Should it continue to operate with a strong mayor? Should it have the same number of elected council members despite the staggering population loss?

Now that Flint voters have agreed with the need to open the charter to revision, and the process has been granted more time, we are hopeful that the people elected to the commission will be as culturally, racially and economically diverse as the city whose future they will help shape.

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The Mining Journal (Marquette). Nov. 19.

Grant for veterans programs, needs will do good work

Veterans are starting to get more local support, something we endorse.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded the Alger-Marquette Community Action Board, better known as AMCAB, a federal Supportive Services for Veterans Families grant of about $475,700.

This marks the first time the VA has provided this kind of grant to a group that proposes to serve the Upper Peninsula.

AMCAB Executive Director Earl Hawn said that while community action agencies have historically aided veterans with their options in the U.P., the SSVF program will provide a more comprehensive approach.

AMCAB also will collaborate with other veterans service groups in the U.P.

The grant money will allow AMCAB to provide veteran families with services focusing on health care, daily living, personal financial planning, transportation, child care and housing services as well as legal help and fiduciary and payee affairs.

These are challenges that affect most people, but veterans, whose needs often surpass the general public's needs, require all the help they can get.

The grant comes on the heels of the Nov. 4 election results in which voters approved a millage of up to .1 mills (for 10 years on all taxable property in Marquette County) for a county Veterans Affairs Department.

The department will offer support and assistance for local veterans.

As Jim Provost, chairman of the Marquette County Veterans Alliance that asked the Marquette County Board to put the issue on the ballot, said, the millage is a small price to pay to help veterans.

After all, the price veterans have already paid can't compare to mere dollars and cents.

We hope the community — and the state and country — continue to support its veterans.

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The Detroit News. Nov. 18.

Michiganians favor privatization

A University of Michigan survey confirms that more county and municipal governments are turning to privatization to help save money while maintaining services to their residents.

The survey, conducted by U-M's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy, concludes that privatization is common in Michigan, with 65 percent of the jurisdictions reporting they outsource one or more services, including 84 percent of the state's largest jurisdictions.

Overall, the most common services outsourced are attorney/legal services, engineering, waste/recycling, property assessing and inspections.

Among communities that outsource any service, local leaders in 73 percent say they are satisfied with the results.

Tom Ivacko, program manager at the center, says the survey was first taken in 2009 and his department hopes to continue to conduct yearly updates.

"Our hope is over time we'll have this incredibly valuable data source to aid not only public policymakers but researchers as well," Ivacko says. "Also, we hope to increase accountability and transparency in the public sector."

The survey also found that Macomb County communities are "significantly less likely to say they outsource compared to Wayne and Oakland counties."

However, County Executive Mark Hackel says Macomb may be behind but it is "migrating in that direction."

Hackel says he supports privatization when the opportunities arise, if it is cost effective.

In some cases, such as police protection, Hackel says it is better to have communities contract with the county or share services.

Five Macomb County communities contract with the sheriff's office for police protection and one for dispatching services.

Ivacko also noted there is more inter-government cooperation, particularly for such services as police, fire and 911 dispatch.

"For these types of services, it's easier to cooperate with a neighboring local government instead of privatizing," he says.

Many Oakland County municipalities have found it particularly advantageous to contract with the sheriff's office for police and dispatch services.

The Sheriff's Office patrols 15 municipalities, including three cities, 10 townships and two villages, plus Oakland County Parks and Recreation.

Six other police agencies and 16 fire departments contract for dispatching services.

The survey found that while most local leaders are satisfied with the outcomes of their outsourcing, relatively few think they should privatize more services.

Only 10 percent of Michigan local jurisdictions expect to boost outsourcing in the coming year.

That's mistaken thinking.

The need for sharing services and privatization grew out of the Great Recession.

But just because the economy is improving doesn't mean governmental units can revert to old habits. Prudent municipal budgeting is always a necessity to avoid deficit spending.

While the survey is impartial and does not draw any conclusions about the value of intergovernmental cooperation and privatization, the message is clear: These practices will help municipalities trim budget costs and operate at a more efficient level while still providing services to residents.

It would bode well for state, county and local municipalities to explore more fervently and frequently inter-government cooperation and privatization.

These are proven fiscal options that will continue to be valuable factors in balancing governmental budgets.

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Lansing State Journal. Nov. 14.

Progress on road funds is encouraging

Before getting angry about paying higher gas taxes, keep in mind the high cost of letting Michigan's roads deteriorate.

— Research suggests substandard roads cost the average Michigan driver $500 a year in repairs. Indeed, blown tires combined with rim repairs can cost $1,000 or more to fix — a crisis expense for a working family.

— The sorry condition of the state's roads and bridges is a factor in up to one-third of serious or fatal traffic accidents.

— Michigan is among the states perennially rated among the worst for its roads, with the share in "poor" condition increasing regularly.

Bottom line: If the state doesn't take steps now, it will face much higher costs later.

So as the discussion continues at the Capitol, be grateful that a coalition of Democrats and Republicans managed to pass a Senate bill that would replace the 19 cents per-gallon tax that hasn't increased since 1997. In its place would be a wholesale tax that will start at 9.5 percent in April 2015 and grow to 15.5 percent by January 2018, raising $1 billion annually. The Detroit Free Press reported that at a $2.50 per gallon wholesale price, the full increase would be 20 cents per gallon.

Refer again to those costs mentioned above. That average driver already spending $500 per year on repairs could use some 2,500 gallons of gas at the higher price before that extra 20 cents per gallon surpasses the $500 amount.

There remains a chance that lawmakers will call for a constitutional amendment that would let voters decide whether to raise the sales tax by 1 cent, from 6 percent to 7 percent, with the extra penny per dollar going to roads. That step could raise about $1.3 billion.

Such a proposal hasn't passed either chamber yet, though. Last spring, the House had passed measures that boosted revenue by about a half billion dollars, not nearly what's needed. In fact, some experts already suggest that Michigan's real need is closer to $2 billion more, well above the $1 billion to $1.3 billion being discussed.

But it's high time for the state to make progress. Since 2007 the LSJ Editorial Board has been solidly in favor of serious efforts to raise money for roads. As Frank Mamet of the Michigan Road and Bridges Council notes in a viewpoint column on page 3E, some $800 billion in goods and services rely on traveling over the state's roads every year. Roads are, indeed, the "backbone" of Michigan's economy.

Lawmakers return in December with a chance to act on the Senate plan and to give voters a chance to weigh in with the sales tax alternative. Keep the progress going.

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