The Livingston County Board of Commissioners will decide whether or not to approve a property tax abatement for Emagine Theatre in Hartland Township. The requested abatement will reduce the movie theatre's property taxes by nearly one-half million dollars.

It is difficult to see the public policy reason for requiring all Livingston County citizens to subsidize the cost of movie tickets. Additionally, the property tax subsidy provides Emagine Theatre with a competive cost advantage over its local competition. It is not fair that government intervene in the marketplace to provide a handout to a favored business.

You can help stop this cronyism by communicating with your County Commissioner and/or attending one of three meetings next week in Howell.

Details on how you can help are provided below. For a more detailed analysis of the proposed subsidy please read these attached documents. These three attachments include: 1) The Conclusions, 2) The Facts, and 3) The supporting Exhibits.

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We oppose this tax subsidy because::

  • Government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers. Let Emagine’s business plan stand on its own two feet.
  • Allowing Emagine to subsidize its business via a Commercial Rehabilitation District skirts the intent of state legislation. The property under consideration does not need rehabilitation.
  • Activity associated with Emagine Theatre places a burden on our road system, traffic flow, and public safety resources. Emagine should not be allowed to offload the costs of these burdens on local taxpayers.
  • Today’s business climate along with the proposed theatre location offers several advantages for Emagine. These advantages include: Low interest rates, low property tax rates, a recent business tax cut, no costs associated with rehabilitating the property, and high median family income in the local area. Policymakers should not be handing out subsidies to business who can’t survive in this favorable business climate.

Furthermore, the overall market for movie tickets is shrinking. Subsidizing Emagine Theatre could put other businesses under financial strain.

There are 19 movie theatres within 20 miles of Hartland. There are 73 movie theatres within 30 miles of Hartland.

Movie ticket sales have steadily declined since their peak in 2002. On a per capita basis, ticket sales have declined 26.6% from 2002 to 2016. This rate of decline is about 1.9% per year. Using this rate of decline, by 2024, when the proposed tax subsidy expires, per capita ticket sales are projected to decline by 41.8% from their 2002 peak.

These findings indicate the current number of theatres within the Hartland area are more than sufficient to provide movie-goers with plenty of options. The fact that the Fenton Cinema went out of business in 2008 suggests the market is saturated. Couple this saturation with declining ticket sales suggests that commercial lenders are wise to be wary of loaning money for a theatre in Hartland.

Livingston County taxpayers should not be required to subsidize a business venture which cannot stand on its own two feet and secure a commercial loan. A business operating with a government handout has a competitive advantage over others. With a declining market for movie tickets, the proposed Emagine Theatre would draw business away from its local competitors, placing these unsubsidized businesses under government-induced financial stress. With a shrinking market for ticket sales, it is not beyond belief that MJR Theatres in Livingston County could be an unintended victim of government intervention in the marketplace.

Other businesses could suffer financially as well. That Emagine Theatre will be serving alcohol and food as part of their “theatre experience” suggests that local restaurants could suffer business loss as well. Further, with the tight local labor market it is probable that labor costs for local business will increase as subsidized Emagine Theatre is able to pay its employees more.

It would be best if Livingston County stayed out of the business of picking winners and losers. There will be many unintended consequences if this subsidy is allowed to proceed. Governmental bodies should not be tinkering with the delicate balance of the free market.

The decision to approve this tax abatement impacts citizens all across the county, not just in Hartland Twp. Why? The commercial activity generated by Emagine will burden the public safety personnel (Sheriff Department) assigned to our county. Emagine Theatre burdens our existing systems without having to support the extra costs associated with it. As you know, all property taxes are abated – not just those associated with Hartland Twp.

Also, Emagine Theatre will draw business away from already existing business. These business will suffer financially if government decides to subsidize this new theatre. This is not fair to existing business.

Please encourage anyone you know who lives in the county to attend either the General Gov’t Committee meeting on Monday June 12 at 7:30 pm, or the Finance Committee Meeting on Wednesday June 14 at 7:30 am (morning meeting), or the full board meeting on Wednesday June 14 at 7:30pm. Citizens can speak out during the call to the public. Call to the public occurs at the beginning and at the end of each meeting.

This building where the meeting are held is just to the east of the Old Courthouse in Howell. The entrance and parking is located on the east side of this building

Livingston County
Board of Commissioners

304 E Grand River Ave

Suite  201

Howell, MI 48843

Phone: 517.546.3520

Fax: 517.546.7266

One last thing – It would also be helpful if you could send an email to the County Commissioners voicing your opposition to “corporate welfare.” If you know who your individual Commissioner is you could send the email directly to him/her. A map of the County Commission Districts is shown below.

District map for County Commissioners

County Commissioner Contact Info

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The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based think tank, has opined frequently about corporate welfare. The Mackinac Center advocates vigorously for free-markets which are free from government interference. Here are some past opinions written by Mackinac Center analysts.

The Problem with Corporate Welfare

What’s Old is New Again: Another Subsidy Program Being Considered by Legislature

Why Government Fails at Economic Development

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