I-Team Report: Property tax cheaters

(Source: WNEM)

Paying your property taxes is a necessary and sometimes painful part of owning a home or any property in Michigan.

"It's our obligation to collect those taxes and we do it the best we can and the most amount of grace that we can,” said Cathy Lunsford, Midland County treasurer.

However, not everyone takes that responsibility to heart. The I-Team tracked down the biggest tax cheaters in Mid-Michigan’s four biggest counties – Midland, Saginaw, Bay and Genesee County.

Genesee County

The biggest delinquent property tax offender in Genesee County is the Insight Institute of Neurosurgery & Neuroscience, or IINN, with well over $200,000 owed.

“IINN'S City of Flint property is in a Renaissance Zone, and the tax delinquency that has been reported is based on taxation of its property at full tax rates, rather than the lower Renaissance Zone tax rates. IINN and the City of Flint are both aware of this situation, and they are working together to have the tax records updated to reflect that the property is in a Renaissance Zone,” a spokesman said.

Midland County

In Midland County, the number one tax cheater is occupied by Evergreen Solar.

The County Treasurer said a law firm in San Francisco is handling the delinquent tax listed under Max Era, Incorporated. TV5 reached out to the legal firm and has not heard back.

Bay County

In Bay County, the largest tax delinquent account is still open for business.

The Bay County Treasurer said the Bay Valley Resort owes nearly $231,000. TV5 reached out to the resort several times with no response.

Saginaw County

Saginaw County is a little different because it doesn’t have any huge delinquent taxes, but the Mulholland brothers have wreaked havoc on the treasurer’s books and neighborhoods in Saginaw.

The Mulholland twins, Thomas and James, ran a Ponzi scheme for real estate investment in the county.

"They took advantage of retirees and elderly folks that took all their money with the promise of investment return and the market went down and they lost all their money,” said Tim Novak, Saginaw County treasurer.

The brothers are now in prison. The twins left behind more than 15 properties in Saginaw. The taxes haven’t been paid on them since 2007.

"I have two samples here of properties that have $30,000 owed on one and $17,000 on another and others that have the same thing. Some of those properties just this year we've been able to foreclose, six or seven of them, but there's about eight of them that have U.S. Department of Justice liens on them and we can't foreclose on them,” Novak said.

As a result, blighted vacant houses sit in neighborhoods. They’re eyesores dragging down property values that the county said they can’t do a thing about.

For tax cheats not already under the feds thumb, we’re told most eventually pay up but the interest on that back due bill isn’t cheap.

There's a 4 percent administration fee tacked on. Plus, in the first year there's a 1 percent a month fee added each month.

"After the first year it goes to forfeiture. And forfeiture status means there's 13 months before we have to foreclose. So, there's all sorts of work that goes in there and then the interest is increased to 1.5 percent per month which is actually 18 percent per year,” said Rick Brzezinski, Bay County treasurer.

Then, if the bill isn’t paid, the property is auctioned off.

"The minimum bid is what we need to break even. Even in some cases we know the property is not worth it. But that's what we have to start at,” Brzezinski said.

In the end, many counties make money off those tax cheats. It adds to the county’s bottom line, which means more money for schools, roads, and other operations.

“We're making a loan and the late charges that the taxpayer pays would be delinquent then, plus in Bay County's case we make approximately a million dollars a year on that,” Brzezinski said.

So, if you find yourself on the wrong side of a property tax debt, take action now before things get out of hand.

Each of the county treasurers said if you talk with them, they will work with you.

Copyright 2018 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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