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County Commissioner MacInnis explains property taxes in Emmet County

By Charlie MacInnis, Emmet County Commissioner, District 3 (Harbor Springs)

July 2013 — Property taxes – which fund almost all local governmental services – may be the most mysterious taxes we pay.  I just paid my summer taxes, so I thought I might try to take away a bit of the mystery. I hope I don’t just add to it.

Let’s start with that summer tax bill which should have arrived in mailboxes just a few weeks ago.  If you were expecting a bill and haven’t seen it yet, contact your local city or township treasurer right away.

If you own your property outright, you pay the bill yourself.  If you have a mortgage, you will see your bill, but your lender may pay it for you using money that was included in your mortgage payments.   Some lenders, like mine, don’t do that so I pay my bill myself at the Little Traverse Township hall.  It’s a good chance to say “Hi” to Jane who works in the office.

If you are a renter, you don’t get a tax bill, but your landlord does.   He pays the bill and passes the cost on to his tenants as a part of the rent.   We’ll talk in a minute about what happens if he doesn’t pay his bill.

Harbor Springs and other cities, villages and townships send out tax bills twice a year, in July and December.    Payment deadlines vary for summer bills:   Harbor Springs’ charter specifies an August 10 deadline.  In the townships, summer taxes are due September 14.   Winter taxes must be paid by February 14.  When I worked at the nuclear power plant in Charlevoix, I delivered a check from Consumers Power Company for almost $800,000 to the Hayes Township treasurer each Valentine’s Day.

The taxes paid to your local treasurer are deposited in a special account.  The money is disbursed about every two weeks to the taxing authorities:  the township or city, Harbor Springs Public Schools, the Char-Em Intermediate School District, North Central Michigan College, Emmet County (for operations, the ambulance fund, and the senior citizens fund), the cemetery fund and to the State of Michigan’s education fund.

Not everyone pays his or her taxes on time.  After the deadline for payment has passed, the city and townships turn over the tax collection responsibility to Emmet County.  The county reimburses the taxing authorities for any taxes that haven’t been paid yet.  In that way, the schools and government can count on a predictable revenue stream.

Where does the county get the money to cover unpaid taxes?  Starting on April 1, the county begins a long process of identifying, notifying and billing property owners who haven’t paid their taxes.  Some taxes are in dispute and that is part of the process handled by the county.  Ultimately, the county has the authority to take ownership of any property for which the taxes haven’t been paid.  The county then can sell the property to recover the taxes.  If the sale proceeds are greater than the amount of taxes owed, the county can keep the difference to help offset costs.

In the case of rental properties, the county will alert tenants when the landlord has failed to pay his or her taxes and a legal process is under way.  The county doesn’t want tenants to be left out in the cold.

Part of your property tax bill pays for our fine public school system.   You pay a 6-mill state education tax which goes to Lansing, where it is distributed statewide to public schools to pay for operations.  Each district in the state is entitled to an amount based on the number of students enrolled.

If you are a non-resident, you pay an additional 13.9911 mills on your vacation home here (half in the summer and half in the winter).  That money goes directly to the Harbor Springs school system.

Because the amount received by the Harbor Springs district from non-residents exceeds the state’s guaranteed per-student allotment, the school district is “out of formula.”  The six mills paid by everyone goes to Lansing but doesn’t come back directly to Harbor Springs.   It goes to other districts with lower non-resident revenues.  In Harbor Springs, 69 percent of the property value is taxed as non-homestead, among the highest in Michigan.

We owe a major debt of gratitude to our many part-time residents whose non-homestead tax pays for our public school system operations.

Both residents and non-residents pay other small millages for Harbor Springs school debt, recreation authority and sinking fund.

As most everyone knows, property taxes are based on the value of the property.  Assessors calculate the value, which owners can dispute if they think the amount is too high.    Thanks to Proposal A, sometimes taxes can go up even though the property’s value has gone down.  That’s a discussion for another day.

In recent years, the Michigan Tax Tribunal has reduced the taxes previously paid by some large property owners, who then are entitled to a refund.  When that happens, the county has to go back to the local governments and schools and take money back from them to pay for the refund.  That has been costly and painful for some local school districts.

The debate over how to fund our government and schools has gone on for decades.  Proposal A was passed in 1994 to help solve some problems but it created some new ones.  The debate over taxes will never end.

Treasurer’s Office program helps those delinquent on tax payments

(February 2013) — The Emmet County Treasurer’s Office is participating in a program helping homeowners pay delinquent property taxes. It is called the “Helping Michigan’s Hardest-Hit” program and is available through the Michigan Homeowner Assistance Nonprofit Housing Corporation (MHA) acting through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA).

In addition to delinquent property tax aide, homeowners may be eligible for help with delinquent mortgages. The program is intended to prevent avoidable foreclosures.

The funds will be made available on a first-come, first served basis statewide. The assistance is a one-time award of up to $30,000 per household. This assistance is available to households who have a qualifying, involuntary hardship resulting in mortgage and/or property tax delinquency. MHA is determining eligibility. 

Applications are currently available online at www.stepforwardmichigan.org or by calling 1-866-946-7432. Those seeking help with the application process can contact Alice Yeoman at Northern Homes Community Development Corporation, (231) 582-6436 or alice@northernhomes.org

 

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