OTISCO TOWNSHIP — Delinquent property taxes are causing a headache for township officials.
During a regular meeting of the Otisco Township Board on Tuesday evening, Treasurer Cara Johnson brought it to the board’s attention that some property owners owe back taxes dating back nearly two decades.
Johnson said she learned how to look up tax records dating back to 2000 — with the exceptions of the years 2004 and 2005 as there is no record of them in that specific system — and it was like “opening up a can of worms.”
“There are personal property taxes — which is the township’s responsibility to collect; they do not get sent to the county — owed to us all the way back to 2000 that have not been collected,” she said.
Johnson said the total owed for back summer taxes is $5,744.70 and the total owed for winter taxes is $35,304. The interest compounded on that over the years totals $39,000, leaving a total of $80,338 owed.
“I looked back at the previous treasurer’s files and it appeared the majority of this has been an oversight and not done and collected on,” she said. “I did find a few letters that were sent out. I have a total of maybe five to 10 letters that were sent out in an attempt to collect on property taxes.”
Johnson said she talked with an attorney and officials at the Michigan Township Association (MTA). She was told the township has a responsibility to collect taxes owed.
“It requires a series of three letters that have to go out,” she explained. “After the three letters, we can seize property for the amount that’s owed. To get it struck off your roll, you have to go to court. This is going to be a long, long process for myself and my deputy on top of my already statutory duties.”
Johnson didn’t ask for any action from the board but said the issue will be ongoing.
There is some conflicting information from the attorney and officials at MTA. Johnson said the attorney she spoke with believes there is a statutory limit of seven years for owing back taxes; however, officials from MTA told Johnson there is no such statute of limitations.
According to Johnson, there are some delinquent taxes on the rolls that aren’t actually owed, but exist on paper, such as Smyrna Grocery, which hasn’t been in business since 2010, but still appears on tax rolls as owing money. The township will have to go to court in order to have those stricken from the rolls.
Johnson said taxes need to show delinquency for at least five years before they can be stricken from the tax rolls.
“We still have to show due diligence. I still have to send a letter to previous owners if I still know the address …(I have to) send those three letters before I can take it to court to have it struck from the roll and show that’s not owed to us,” she said.
The township board also discussed the playground equipment that sits near the Township Hall.
Supervisor Joseph Daller said there have been some concerns expressed through phone calls and face to face comments about the “dangerous equipment.”
“It’s very unsafe. We have a lot of young mothers and they play out there and it’s really not real safe for the children, but it’s all they’ve got,” Clerk Lynda Sower added. “It does get used.”
Johnson said she believes the equipment is important for the township to have, as there are no other parks or playground equipment in the community. Other board members echoed that sentiment.
Daller said if the township decides to move forward with removing the playground equipment and installing new equipment, he’d like to develop some kind of mini recreational plan for the township, as he wouldn’t necessarily like to see new equipment placed in the same spot as existing equipment.
“It’s going to take effort and thought to develop a plan,” he said.
Daller said he will research options for grants the township can apply for to help defray the cost of new equipment.