County paying $130,000 for reappraisalPublished 9:52pm Thursday, May 23, 2013
CASSOPOLIS — Cass County commissioners voted 5-1 at a special meeting Thursday evening to authorize $130,000 from the general fund to reappraise all commercial and industrial parcels for the 2014 tax cycle.
Vice Chair Bernie Williamson voted no. Commissioner Annie File came prepared to join her, but relented after listening to an hour-long discussion with four township supervisors — Robert Benjamin of Milton Township, Bill Saunders of Silver Creek Township, Dr. Frank Butts of Wayne Township and Richard Mickey of Penn Township, plus Milton Township Clerk Sue Kronewitter and Trustee Kelly Sweeney.
County Administrator Louis Csokasy inherited the issue which resulted from outsourcing property taxes to Manatron and has been working to resolve the matter since moving over from the road commission last October.
The county ended its $140,000 agreement to re-establish an in-house equalization department directed by Tony Meyaard from Holland.
“We’re not done with this issue,” Csokasy said, borne out by class-action litigation threats from townships toward the county and commissioners wanting to pursue legal action against Manatron.
“This is our problem. We let it happen,” File said.
“It’s a no-win situation for the county,” Commissioner Robert Ziliak, R-Milton Township, said, but $130,000 will cost less than fending off potential class-action lawsuits from 15 townships.
“Bite the bullet and move on. It’s a shame” to spend money which might have been spent creating a nature center for the parks department, but in the long run will be money ahead as lost revenue recoups.
“The factor the state is threatening to impose on all residential, industrial and commercial properties in Cass County, I voiced Milton’s objection to the State Tax Commission — especially since we’ve allocated close to $90,000 for reassessment to make sure ours is close to 50 percent. Two of the last three years, Milton Township threatened to sue the county because of its equalization department. Sales studies were not provided properly and on time, as well as sometimes being incorrect. This is an issue that didn’t just happen this year, but impacted Milton the last three years. According to testimony provided to the Tax Commission, this has been going on for over five years,” Benjamin said. “If you turn this down, we will turn to litigation and come back to the county for all expenses because of the equalization department. Furthermore, we would go to every industrial and commercial entity because they do not lose appeal rights to the Tax Tribunal. We would do this on behalf of every resident in Milton Township because they’ve lost appeal rights unless they went to Board of Review. We and LaGrange believe our residential is overvalued” before applying 2 percent.
“In nine years I’ve been supervisor,” Saunders said, “I’ve heard nothing but complaints about Manatron, and the board never took action. Your equalization department gives the factors. It’s your responsibility to pay the cost of re-evaluation — not the townships.”
“This is a huge expense for the county,” said Williamson, former Jefferson Township supervisor. “I’m having difficulty assuming the county is responsible. Had the equalization department been doing its job correctly, it would have been interacting with township assessors, properties most likely would have increased in value and the tax base would have increased. I understand increases could be up to $5,000 on a $3 million industrial property. My other issue is once we spend this, the tax base is still going up. At the state level, there may be certain townships under appraised that get hit hard, while others, such as Calvin, the total increase will be $238. But the state cannot impose the factor on individual townships. It seems unfair to use taxpayer money to pay for assessments that should have been done. Residents paying for commercial reassessments have a right to be unhappy. I have a commercial property, so if the state imposes a 25-percent factor, I’m going to notice.”
“The county is obligated to meet requirements the state set,” Ziliak said. “Reappraise the properties and get this resolved. If we don’t spend the money now we’re going to spend it later in litigation. I’d like the administrator to check if we have errors and omissions insurance that would cover us and to see if we can take legal action. I’d also like to see the equalization department audited every three to four years. It makes me sick to pour money down the drain we could give to the parks department to develop that nature center which would attract people instead of to take care of a situation that occurred.”
“I concur with a lot of Mr. Ziliak’s ideas,” Commissioner Robert Wagel, R-Wayne Township, said. “I think we need to go after Manatron after getting letters everything was hunky dory.”
Commissioner Roseann Marchetti, R-Edwardsburg, agreed.
Csokasy said, “The state studied three units — Marcellus, Porter and the City of Dowagiac. Directionally, their studies are correct. We have undervalues. Commercial property land over five acres is valued at $5,000 an acre. Our number for anything over 1.3 acre is $690. If that was the case, our farmers would tear down all the Dairy Queens and plant corn. I could give other examples. Motivating the state tax board to work with Cass County is the aggressiveness we have taken in resolving this issue,” including hiring a respected director.
Csokasy said there are 1,019 commercial properties. “By our best calculations, 608 will be impacted. Over half. There are 241 industrial properties; 158. We have 29,540 residential parcels; 11,907 would be impacted because equalization, which is a county function, has not been done correctly. Amounts vary, averaging $840 in taxable value. Your taxable value under Headlee can go up 5 percent or inflation, 2.6 percent. It’s over half a million dollars revenue to the county. The state has the ability to take over county tax rolls and send you a bill.”