Property tax amendment aimed at protecting homeowners moves forward in state legislature

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LANSING, Mich.-- A state lawmaker who introduced a bill to protect homeowners last month will speak during a committee hearing on Tuesday.

Michigan State Sen. Sen. Rick Jones refers to the property tax act as an outdated law. The property tax act makes it legal for counties all across the state to take a person's home if they get three years behind on property tax payments. Regardless of how small the debt, the county can keep every cent of the money generated once it sells a home residents paid for.

"I think the treasurers see this as their money," Sen. Jones said, "money that they can collect for the county and be heroes to the county government. I don't think this is their money."

Sen. Jones has written an amendment to the property tax act that will simply give a county what it's owed and put the excess money back in the homeowner's pocket.

"I think they [the county] should get every bit of tax owed. They should get any fines and penalties. They should even be compensated for the sheriff's sale," Sen. Jones said. "But beyond that, should they profit tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands? Should they profit like that from somebody who perhaps has dementia? I don't think so."

Sen. Jones wrote the amendment after the FOX 17 Problem Solvers aired the story of Deborah Calley, a Kalamazoo County woman who lost the home she paid more than $150,000 for after missing a single property tax payment. Her debt was less than $2,000.

"That's my children's college education down the drain," Calley said in a November interview. "I will not let that go very easily."

Kalamazoo County initially sold Calley's home at an auction for about $80,000. While the initial buyer backed out, there's no doubt the county would rake in quite a profit.

FOX 17 sought comment from the Michigan Association of County Treasurers to see what they think about Sen. Jones proposed amendment. Due to the holiday, no one could be reached.

However, in September, when FOX 17 spoke with Kalamazoo County Treasurer Mary Balkema, she told us the money the county makes off of foreclosed homes doesn't exactly bring in a surplus for the county.

"It's a pool of money that we use to increase the tax base," Balkema said. "There's some good properties that subsidize the bad properties."

Basically, the profits from one property can make up the difference of those that don't sell, concept Jones doesn't accept.

"I think most people in Michigan believe it's not fair to take money away from someone to pay someone else's bills, and that's what's happening," Jones said.

Sen. Jones will be fighting for the amendment during a committee hearing Tuesday. He said it's a process that won't be easy. "I expect there will be 83 treasurers that will oppose me."

The hearing is open to the public. Anyone is allowed to voice their concerns about the current property tax act and also about Jones' amendment. It will start at 12:30 p.m. in room 100 of the Farnum Building, which is located at 125 West Allegan in Lansing.

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