Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Property Tax Issue In Saugatuck, Michigan

Readers of the Holland Sentinel have voiced their opinion on the change in property tax in Saugatuck that has an unfair effect on Aubrey McClendon. Andrea Crossman and Evonne Gritter have wrote in as reader contributor expressing their thoughts on the issue.

MY TAKE — Aubrey McClendon is standing up for his rights

Holland, MI — For months I have remained silent in response to articles in the newspapers regarding Aubrey McClendon and his fight with Saugatuck Township over rezoning his land and over-the-top property taxes. I have never met the man, but I would much rather recall the entire Saugatuck Township board than to vote to raise property taxes and give the township even more power to fight you and me and Mr. McClendon in our right to appeal our property taxes when we feel they are out of line.

The millage on the May 4 ballot would allow the township to fight every one of its property owners when they appeal their taxes, although the newspapers and the township board seem to be unfairly singling out Mr. McClendon, whom I believe is already the township’s largest taxpayer by far. As a Realtor I have seen every municipality that I deal with fight tooth and nail for all the tax dollars they can by raising property assessments and ignoring the fact that average real estate values have gone done nearly 30 percent since 2006 in West Michigan.

Some of the salient points relating to the McClendon (former Denison) property that I have tracked from reading the news articles: The Saugatuck Township board, at the 11th hour before the sale to McClendon closed, unfairly changed the zoning to severely limit what he could do with it, “downzoning” the land from one home per 1.5 acre to only one home per five acres. The township should have worked with McClendon and not against him to come up with a great plan that involved green space but still allowed higher density development and a marina on the less environmentally sensitive areas. The township also took away any rights to build within the first 100 or 150 feet from the river’s edge and to have a marina or any multi-family development. All of those uses were permitted prior to his purchase.

After the McClendon purchase, the township assessor took the taxes in 2006 (at the height of the market) while in the Denison family name from about $100,000 (on the parcels on both the north and south sides of the channel) to nearly $1 million. Mr. McClendon is now being asked to pay nearly 10 times as much in taxes on the same parcels as three years ago despite a huge decline in the value of real estate in West Michigan and stricter limits on what can be developed on the land.

This is not fair to Mr. McClendon. Taxes far exceeding $1 million could be raised if the township would only work with its property owners. And just think of how full the coffers of the township would be if it collected property taxes on the kind of business and waterfront homes that were proposed for the northside parcel.

Mr. McClendon compromised in selling the southern, more ecologically sensitive parcel to the a city/conservancy group. Now let’s see the township use some common sense and compromise with Mr. McClendon. Who knows, maybe those new taxes generated could even help keep the Kalamazoo River dredged and cleaned up?

Saugatuck Township is asking residents to pay for a fight that I not only disagree with but takes millions of sustainable tax dollars annually out of the public’s hands — money that is desperately needed for schools. Why not ask the unemployed builder who has a chance at millions of dollars worth of contracts?

Private property rights are one of the last vestiges of private enterprise that we should all enjoy. Please vote “’no” to raising a special millage to give Saugatuck Township even more power to hire attorneys to fight property owners who have a right to complain about their property tax bills and fight back against unfair zoning changes.

— Andrea Crossman is a real estate broker in Holland.

LETTER — Saugatuck Township has given Aubrey McClendon no choice

Saugatuck Township, MI — Thank you for the well-written commentary by Andrea Crossman on the opinion page Monday. I am a resident of Saugatuck Township and am very disturbed by the actions of the township against Aubrey McClendon. They have taken away both the former value of the property and then have not been reasonable on reducing the taxes on the reduced value. Their handling of this matter has left Mr. McClendon with little option but to go through the courts to protect his rights as a property owner and now they want the taxpayers to foot the bill.

This could be a great development for the township with a much needed economic stimulus for the retail stores, golf courses, harbor and schools in the area. The township should have been willing to wait for the development plan and then worked with Mr. McClendon to make it the best possible for all parties.

The township has done all the taking and none of the giving and I am disturbed at the use of taxpayer money in this way. If they want to put up roadblocks to development, then they should not come back to the taxpayers for increased taxes, as they are making the choice to cut off sources of funding.

Evonne Gritter


keith said...

Good Day...Here are some facts that Seem to be missing posted by two realtors who both happen to live in the township...as a good reporter always says...the facts speak for themselves..


Keith Charak

Good Day...Here are some facts that Seem to be missing posted by two realtors in the local paper who both happen to live in the township...as a good reporter always says...the facts speak for themselves..


Keith Charak

To the editor: We, as members of Citizens in Support of Saugatuck Township and as realtors who actually live in Saugatuck Township, are writing this in support of the 2-year, 0.5 millage increase (amounting to $50 per $100,000 of taxable value) being sought May 4.

Some townships have not reduced assessments, but Saugatuck Township has reduced them considerably. Our taxes are going down in 2010 due to reduced assessments in a much greater amount than this minor millage will increase them.
As realtors, we want to correct errors expressed in letters to the editor last week by other realtors, some of whom are not even township residents but still feel that they have the obligation to tell the residents how to vote. What would these out-of-area realtors say if their township was being sued?

First, Saugatuck Township is not suing anyone. It is being sued and has two choices: either it needs the millage to defend itself or it can “roll over and play dead.”

To defend a State Tax Tribunal case filed against it, the township must pay for an appraisal ($30,000) because a large landowner wants $900,000 in taxes that he paid for the last three years refunded to him.

When the landowner paid $39.5 million for a piece of property and the Headlee cap on the taxes was removed—as happens every time a landowner buys property in Michigan—did he think his taxes would not increase from the previous ownership? If that is what he thought, he probably should have used a local realtor and gotten his facts straight.

The entire $900,000 he wants refunded would not come from Saugatuck Township. Only $40,000 of that total went to the township. The rest went to schools, fire department, roads, senior services, etc.

First, the township is between a rock and a hard place. If it does not fight the tax tribunal, we all will lose a lot more. If the landowner does not have to pay his taxes, we all get to pay them for him. If he could afford $39.5 million to purchase the property, he can afford the taxes. If you can’t afford the gas, don’t buy the car.

The taxes on the property reflect the value the landowner paid it. Property taxes are assessed on the value of the property in the year they are levied. Because my property value is less in 2010 than it was in 2006, I don’t expect to get a refund on my 2006 taxes.

Second, the township rezones parcels all the time. Every realtor knows that. The ordinance changes, including R-4 rezoning, was discussed by the planning commission early in 2005. There were hearings in July that year. The change passed the planning commission in January 2006 and was fully adopted by the board that May.

The property was purchased after all this was done. It was no secret. Any due-diligence procedure would have uncovered the R-4 zoning. The landowner did not have to purchase the property if he did not like the R-4 zoning.

Third, there never was a marina on the property. There was a boat-manufacturing facility allowed by a special use permit.

Vote “yes” for the millage to defend our township May 4, or vote “no,” roll over and play dead. If we lose the millage and cannot defend ourselves due to lack of funds, we can all pay the fair share of taxes for someone who does not want to pay his fair share. The choice is yours.

Dee Dee Hanson and Liz Engel
Saugatuck Township residents

keith said...

Here is the rest of their letter, I could not publish this part because of size restrictions


keith Charak
Just for the record, these are the steps to getting the use for a property approved:

Apply for a planned unit development (PUD).

If the zoning for the property does not support your requirements, present your case for a zoning change.

Ask for special use permits.

Appeal if you do not get your approval.

As a last resort, sue.

Those are the steps that the rest of the township citizens follow. We don’t bully our neighbors by filing frivolous lawsuits against our own township that our neighbors have to defend.

No plan for that land’s use been presented. How can the township work with someone who refuses to provide a plan for review and approval and just goes straight to federal court?
The rest of us follow established procedure. No one is above the law.