County helping Breitung tax appeal


News Editor

IRON MOUNTAIN – Dickinson County will provide $5,000 to help Breitung Township appeal a property tax reduction for Home Depot.

The township wants to take its case to the Michigan Supreme Court, having spent some $80,000 on unsuccessful efforts to overturn a Michigan Tax Tribunal ruling that slashed the U.S. 2 store’s assessment.

“This is a big deal for everybody,” said County Commissioner Joe Stevens, who proposed the spending.

If the appeal fails, Stevens noted, the county will be on the hook for about $60,000 in repayments to Home Depot. With the case dating back to 2009, any refunds owed are on hold. Countywide, the five-year total (2009-13) puts nearly $360,000 in lost revenue at stake for local taxing units, plus interest.

In a letter requesting county assistance, Breitung Township Superintendent Joe Rogina said the tax dispute has far-reaching implications.

“The (township) board has felt from the onset that this case has great significance and will have a large impact not only to Dickinson County, but to the entire state of Michigan.”

In recent years, Home Depot and other big retailers have appealed assessments to the Tax Tribunal by challenging the “true cash value” of their properties. In most cases, according to the Michigan Association of Counties, a lower assessment is achieved by likening the value of an operating business to that of a closed, abandoned property.

The reduced assessment for Home Depot in Breitung Township equates to a loss of more than 50 percent in taxable value for the property, according to Sid Bray, Dickinson County equalization director.

After hearing arguments in the case earlier this year, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled it was acceptable to value the Home Depot store as vacant and available.

Breitung Township is joined in its appeal by Marquette Township, which has a similar dispute with home improvement retailer Lowe’s.

In other action Monday, the county board:

– Heard Bill Hardacre of Norway question the board’s decision to deny a request from the Dickinson County Humane Society to place a millage question on the November ballot. The humane society, which operates the Almost Home Animal Shelter in Breitung Township, proposed a millage levy of 0.05 mills, which would generate about $48,000 annually. Hardacre said the shelter has annual operating costs of $160,000. It takes in about 1,000 companion animals each year – typically more than half through the county’s animal control officer. The shelter is receiving a 2014 county appropriation of $15,000, which is down from $25,000 in 2012. “Why not let the people decide?” Hardacre asked. Stevens said he would be open to a millage in future years if the shelter board is dissatisfied with the county appropriation in 2015.

– Adopted a resolution supporting the investigation and reform of the administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the implementation of a system that will deliver efficient and timely medical care to veterans. Nationwide, 26 VA facilities are reported to be under investigation, including a Phoenix hospital at the center of allegations about treatment delays and falsified records. (The VA’s network includes 152 medical centers, including one in Iron Mountain, providing care to more than 8.3 million veterans each year.) Stevens, in remarks at the end of Monday’s meeting, called the VA scandal both disgusting and sad.

– After reviewing several proposals, agreed to pursue an energy performance contract with Trane Inc., who will identify and evaluate energy savings that can be used to help fund facility improvements.

– Awarded a certificate of appreciation to Diane Loch in recognition of 30 years of service to the county. Loch is the office manager/legal assistant in the prosecutor’s office.

– Adopted a resolution honoring retired Col. Danny Pummill, for his service to the veterans of Dickinson County and the nation. Pummill, an Iron Mountain High School graduate, is a 33-year U.S. Army veteran and serves as the principal deputy under secretary for benefits in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Pummill has directed the Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Defense Program Office, which is responsible for transition assistance, veteran employment, disability evaluation and wounded warrior programs.

– Approved a donation of $200 to the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 50 for its Fourth of July fireworks display at Millie Hill in Iron Mountain.

– Heard Stevens decry a Washington policy under which some Christian symbols are covered with a curtain when VA chapels are not being used for Christian services. The policy is to prevent VA chapels from being used exclusively by a particular faith group.

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