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  • James Townsend

State Denies City's Request for Reconsideration of Emergency Funding for Winter Flooding

The following letter is from Portland City Manager Tutt Gorman to the members of the Portland City Council regarding notification that the State of Michigan has denied the City's and Ionia County's request for reconsideration of energy funding. The request was in response to costs incurred during the flooding of the Grand River due to a significant ice jam this past winter. Below the letter are images of he actual denial letter sent by the State.

To: Portland City Council

From: City Manager, Tutt Gorman

Date: October 21, 2019

RE: Section 19 Emergency Funding – Denial of Reconsideration

The City received the attached letter from the Michigan State Police (MSP) reaffirming the denial of Section 19 emergency funding to Ionia County, the City of Belding and the City of Portland. Once again, we are disappointed, not only with the decision, but the lack of analysis and transparency during the process. Regardless of how Portland and the local jurisdictions decide to proceed in this case, there remains a legitimate concern and need to clarify the existing eligibility criteria rules for emergency funding and the overall process – for all communities. Simply put, no one understands how these decisions are being made and who is making them. The City’s position that it is duly eligible for Section 19 funding is unchanged:

- MSP’s Role – Under Section 19 and the Administrative Rules, MSP’s authority is limited only to determining if an applicant meets the eligibility requirements. The complete and exhaustive list of those requirements can be found in R 30.53 of the Michigan Administrative Code. MSP has seemingly and arbitrarily added a new criterion of “unreasonably great”, which is found in the introductory subsection of Section 19 and wholly unrelated to the aforementioned eligibility requirements. It states that “if the demands placed upon the funds of a county or municipality in coping with a particular disaster or emergency are unreasonably great, the governing body of the county or municipality may apply, by resolution of the local governing body, for a grant from the disaster and emergency contingency fund.” “Unreasonably great” is simply a descriptor and cannot reasonably be interpreted as a prerequisite. There is no refence to MSP, nor the Governor. Simply, if a local government feels that a disaster places “unreasonably great” demands on their funds, they may apply. Moreover, without any statutory guidance, “unreasonably great” appears to be an arbitrary and unenforceable standard.

- “Exhaustion of Local Effort” – The letter states that “neither of the three jurisdictions exhausted or nearly exhausted their resources” while responding to or recovering from this event. However, no explanation was provided. “Exhaustion of Local Effort” is an eligibility requirement and appropriately defined as “utilizing all available and applicable disaster relief forces as identified in the emergency operations plan.” MSP failed to explain what aspect of the EOP the City/County failed to exhaust that would address over 100k in public infrastructure damages. This question was repeatedly posed to MSP with no answer.

- The “State” – The letter provides that “the State concluded that supplemental funding under Section 19 of Act 390 is not warranted.” MSP has no statutory authority to approve or deny emergency funding under Section 19. As stated above, their role is limited to fact finding and determining if an applicant meets the eligibility requirements --- if eligible, MSP forwards on to the Governor who has broad discretion to approve or deny. It is unclear if MSP is referring to itself as the “State” or if they are referring to the Governor’s Office. Both are problematic.

- R 30.53 – The letter incorrectly states that the City of Portland cited the criterion as being the basis for the Governor to grant Section 19 funding. The City recognizes and has repeatedly stated that our position is that we are eligible based on the eligibility criteria, but understandably the Governor has broad discretion to approve or deny said funding. The last sentence in that paragraph is concerning and seems to suggest that MSP interprets the eligibility criteria as only coming into play after the Governor authorizes funding. This would be nonsensical and not supported by the Act or Administrative Rules.

- Transparency/Process – Aside from the substantive disagreement regarding eligibility, the process itself has become equally as frustrating. There has been little to no direct dialogue with MSP or the Governor’s Office throughout this event and with each referring to the other. The MSP Officers on the ground have been exceptional as they are simply liaisons for Division. The City and the County experienced problems early on when seeking the initial declaration. We have requested clarification on various topics, not to challenge them, but so we would not waste critical time during an emergency in the future. To date, still no answers. We have repeatedly requested meetings and they too have gone unanswered. The review process, as provided by R 30.55, is designed to make it clear to an applicant when they are not eligible for Section 19 funding. However, the reality has become far different with communities guessing if they will be deemed eligible. The City will continue to work with the Michigan Municipal League (MML) in an effort to provide clarity to this process.

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