Scottville City Commission, November 27, 2023: The Leased Qualified

Even in the inclement weather conditions, there were basically three major reasons why I chose to go to an away game at Scottville City Hall for their commission meeting rather than go to Ludington's city council meeting being held at the same time just a couple blocks away from my domicile. 

First, it would be the premiere of 'new' commissioner, Eric Thue, or one could say it was "Thue 2.0" since he had a year and change of prior experience as an appointed commissioner which ended last November before he ran uncontested for his current seat which he will sit in for at least one year.  Thue showed a lot of character in his recall efforts against Marcy Spencer, who has inarguably got her position as commissioner/mayor through unlawful means. 

We use the term "inarguably", because the city never has argued for her legitimacy while claiming that their city attorney has such a reason (while refusing to release his opinion to FOIA requests), but no arguments have needed to come out despite a lawsuit that went to circuit and appeals court and Thue's initial recall effort that included language questioning her legitimacy, thanks to judges refusing to tackle the issue.

Second, our recent article about the absence of any school records showing the City of Scottville (COS) has asked for any MCC money for conducting three special elections for the school deserved to be formally put to the board and answered by the city clerk (who was the only regular official absent this night).  

Lastly, a rental inspection (RI) resolution and an amendment to the 2018 RI ordinance (first reading) was coming before the commission (see the last pages of the meeting agenda packet) and the changes were dramatic, even more dramatic than first thought when I made my first comment before the commission.

XLFD:  "Tonight, you have the first reading of a rental inspection ordinance update and I am hopeful that the city manager or attorney will go over those changes from the 2018 original ordinance tonight.  The City of Ludington often provides markup versions of such ordinances with removed language struck through and added words in color, so councilors and the public can understand what's going on, so maybe that can be provided at the next meeting.

The resolution offered tonight raising the fees for rental inspections seems quite punitive to the city's unsung small business owners, landlords, and those they serve, their tenants.  You are more than tripling the original 2018 rates and many of the fees exacted and in the process you will be exacerbating the affordable housing problem across our area.  It further discourages a person from renting out a spare bedroom to a person needing a place to stay while they work to get back on their feet again, by disincentivizing such acts, mandating the charitable, would-be lessor to minimally pay $225 to register and have someone inspect their home or face a $500 fine.  

Additionally, the resolution fails to have an effective date, and since this is in the middle of a three-year cycle, those who are inspected in December and see the cost rise to $150 per unit for an inspection that cost less than half that in November, have a right to feel unfairly exploited.  [END comment]

Beyond setting 2024 meeting dates for the commission, the DDA, the Parks & Rec Dept., and the Planning Commission, the RI resolution and ordinance were the only actions this evening, so after approving those dates with four resolutions, City Manager Jimmy Newkirk started out by explaining how the new ordinance differed, and there was only a couple.  The dates on the ordinance were updated and the inspection cycle was reduced from 3 years to one year. 

The resolution was then considered, this was to raise the rental registration fee to $75 paid every three years or upon creation of a rental unit, and a $150 charge for inspections, missed inspections, and re-inspections.  These would be paid yearly because the city was going to have inspectors enter every single rental property every year rather than every three years.  While I had noticed this change during my first reading of the ordinance, I saw what seemed to be a contradictory clause that said certificates of compliance for new construction was valid for three years.  

When Scottville crafted its original RI ordinance they copied Ludington's RI blueprint for the most part, except they allowed the RI contractors to set the rates if the Ludington rates (at that point, $15 for registration, $50 for inspections, etc.) were not enough to cover costs.  In a mere five years the cost for each rental unit's inspection in the city has jumped from $65 ($15 + $50) every three years to $525 ($75 + 3 X $150), or an eightfold jump.  In five years, costs to Scottville landlords/tenants will have grown over 800% if this ordinance passes next month.  Additionally, landlords/tenants will have three times more of their time wasted through these nuisance inspections and three times the amount of their privacy being invaded.

A glance through the county's assessor records show that none of the seven commissioners are either landlords or tenants, and since there was only three people in the audience, none who lived in Scottville (Bill Kerans of the Scottville Senior Center from Baldwin, County Commissioner Steve Hull of Summit Township, me, annoying citizen of Ludington) or had rental property therein, you would figure that neither landlords or tenants would have representation.  

You would be wrong even if you discount my diatribe against the unjust fees being considered.  Commissioner Eric Thue asked City Manager Newkirk about why the cycle of inspections was reduced to every year and about the reasonableness of the fees under consideration.  Newkirk, clearly disarmed by a commissioner asking him a pertinent question tried to say that he had noticed some law, regulation, or precedent that indicated that having a three-year cycle was not proper, and that if the city continued in that way that it would be patently unfair and pointed to a recent fire in a rental property in town for justification. Thue would accept the hokey explanation without further inquiry, but he would vote against the resolution, the other six would pass it. 

They then passed a motion to note that they did have the first reading of the RI ordinance and the Ludington Torch is hopeful that Scottville landlords and tenants will come out at the next two meetings to fight the changes under consideration.  The problem in Scottville is that citizens have accepted that the city commission is lawless and making its own rules and will not be interested in what concerned citizens think.  The problem will only get worse when the only people that attend these meetings are living at least eight miles out of town, especially if this reporter is not there to spread awareness of the issues in forums more attended than these meetings, the Ludington Torch and Ludington Pitchfork.  

The planning commission appointment was an early scratch from the agenda, so the second comment featured Bill Kerans talking about recent events at the SSC and me reminding the commission of their legacy and their inability to collect special election fees, with a late impromptu addition as a follow up to Newkirk's assertions:

XLFD:  "It's November 27, 2023 and it has been exactly 11 months since the city commission selected a commissioner by a process repugnant to the city charter.  While this commission has changed a lot since then, your own legacy as commissioners will be forever judged by Scottville historians in your actions or inactions in righting the course of this assault versus the city charter and the good people of Scottville. 

As all of you should know, Mason County Central Schools have tried three times in the last two years to pass a bond proposal through special elections and have come up short each time.   The school district by law needs to pay for the costs of those special elections, and records from the school show that the 11 townships part of the district were paid good money for holding them; Amber Township was paid nearly $4000 for holding this May's election. 

But school records received through a FOIA request showed that the City of Scottville never charged MCC for holding any of these elections.  I verified this with their superintendent and finance director.  So while you are squeezing the citizens for every last part of their discretionary income and spending 2/3 of a million to move the Dollar General across the street, you're effectively giving the school donations by not charging them for services rendered for them.  What is the city's rationale for having your citizens bear this burden?

Lastly, a question to the city manager or the city attorney.  Is the City of Ludington out of compliance with state law for keeping its three year cycle for rental inspections?  I heard that they would be from the city manager tonight, is that true?"

After the mayor asked for commissioner comments and got none, the commission adjourned, leaving all of my questions unanswered.  

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It's hard to understand how a town the size of Scottville needs to have so much control over the housing rental business. A town of only 1392 people does not need to have such a drastic ordinance as this housing rental  situation. This will definitely  lower the number of accessible rental units because the costs of the rental business will increase. And we all know that the added expense of this rental program is going to be a burden  paid by the renters which will, of course, cause the price of renting or leasing a dwelling to increase and thus causing the rental market to decrease due to the added expense. Rental inspection programs are for larger municipalities that are dealing with the problem of blight. Thanks for your report X. 

 

 

Those poverty rates need to be taken further in context.  The poverty rate for the State of Michigan in 13.3%, the poverty rate in Mason County is 14.7%, the MI county with the highest poverty rate is Isabella County at 23%. 

Scottville is at 27.7%

Scottville's leaders (American Psychos) are working hard to get those numbers up.

Very interesting numbers. The new housing code inspector won't be on the lower end of the poverty scale. He may well be one of the highest paid citizens in Scottville thanks to City Hall. That is of course, if he  lives in town. It  will be interesting to know where he will be residing. In my opinion, any and all persons who are employed by cities and towns should live in the municipalities that employ them. 

I agree with your opinion, if city administrators aren't living in the city they serve, then they're less likely to be sympathetic to the effects of what their actions cause.  Scottville city admins aren't living in Scottville, Ludington admins are.  Look at the difference in their approaches and their respective city.  Ludington wins, and until lately Scottville was at least competitive.

I've heard a rumor that City Manager Newkirk may be renting out a space in Scottville on the sly, so (if true) I wonder whether his landlord will pass the expenses on his new RI fee (aka tax) hike to the big guy.  

I could be wrong, but don't these towns gain additional tax revenue from these same landlords because they don't have a homestead exemption?  Where is all that extra money going?  

I rented my home before I purchased it.  My landlord was paying $7700 for summer taxes alone.  When I purchased and was able to claim the homestead exemption, my summer bill was reduced to roughly $4200 annually with a higher home valuation than my landlord had.

In my understanding, the Homestead Exemption doesn't affect what a town or township takes in, as the exempted taxes would have been effectively collected by the school.  Generally, commercial properties will have to pay more than residential properties even without the HE, and sometimes it can be substantial depending on your location.  Detroit property taxpayers pay some of the highest rates in the state. Residents pay nearly 70 mills (a mill is equal to $1 of tax for every $1,000 of taxable value) and business owners in the city pay roughly 88 mills.

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