Lawsuits in state could affect sales of properties for unpaid taxes

CRYSTAL FALLS — A class action suit and a lawsuit pending before the Michigan Supreme Court could affect how counties handle the sale of property seized for unpaid taxes, Iron County officials heard Tuesday.

Both cases challenge the counties keeping any profit from such sales, or the difference between the delinquent property tax amount and county’s costs to administer the sale versus what the property brings at auction.

County officials counter any extra money from such sales help compensate for the properties that are in such poor condition when finally taken over that the only option is demolition, at the county’s expense, civil counsel Steve Tinti told the Iron County Board.

While the lawsuits are working their way through the courts, counties are being advised to hold proceeds from such sales in escrow in case the rulings find the money must be returned, said County Treasurer Melanie Camps, who in late January attended a meeting of treasurers from across the state where the main topic was the court challenges.

The state Supreme Court case is slated to be heard later this year, Tinti said. But that ruling likely will be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, a process that would take perhaps three years, meaning a quick resolution on how the counties should proceed won’t come soon.

Counties are being advised to consider maintaining and securing dilapidated properties obtained for delinquent taxes rather than tearing them down while the cases play out, Tinti said.

In other business, the county board:

— Approved a policy change to align the county’s mileage reimbursement rate to what is set every two years by the State Officers Compensation Commission. The board learned in January it had erred in raising the amount per mile last year to match the IRS rate, rather than adhering to what was set by the state commission, which also uses the IRS rate but only meets every two years, so didn’t change the mileage reimbursement in 2018. The board also authorized sending invoices to its current and past board members to repay what they were overcompensated.

— Heard the U.S. Forest Service is not interested in taking over the historic Cooks Run fish hatchery property if it includes the buildings. The county has been considering its options on the property, built in the mid-1930s as a federal works project and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It includes a caretaker’s log cabin, a fish hatchery habitat in the Cooks Run stream and a network of trails. The state turned it over to the county after acquiring it for non-payment of taxes, with the stipulation it be for public use or it reverts back to the state. It has sat idle for several years and now needs a new roof and other repairs.

— Directed County Administrator Gene Smith to develop a policy that spells out who will decide when the county courthouse should be shut down for inclement weather and how that will be handled among courthouse employees.

— Learned the Iron County Sheriff’s Department has received additional grant funds: $10,000 for snowmobile law enforcement, to be used for a new snowmobile; and $7,780 for road patrols.

— Was advised the judge has set the salary for the county court administrator at $49,862 and the magistrate at $37,622.

— Re-appointed Carol Dallavalle and Pam Kritz to the Authority on Aging Board for three years ending Dec. 31, 2021; and Jim Brennan to the NorthCare Network SUD Policy Board for two years ending Aug. 31, 2020.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or