By Alyssa Firth and Molly Cassidy
Meridian Times staff writers
Feb. 14 is a day to express love and send out Valentines, but Meridian Township would like its Valentine’s Day love expressed in the form of a check.
Due twice a year, residents and business owners across Michigan pay taxes towards a variety of services in their communities such as libraries, K-12 schools and community colleges, roads, transportation systems and public services.
“Last year, 94 percent of our taxes were paid on time and in full,” Meridian Township Treasurer Julie Brixie said. “Sixty-five percent of people have paid as of today (Feb. 7), but the percentage of the people that don’t pay either can’t afford it, moved away and we have to track them down and then there’s a certain percentage of them that just plum, forgot.”
Taxes are lower compared to last year due to decreasing inflation and property value, unless an improvement was made to the property, Brixie said.
“Everybody is in the same boat; the property is devaluing and at the same time the state is giving all of us governments less and less because people are spending less,” Brixie said. “In Meridian, though, at least 75 percent of owners are paying a lower tax bill this year.”
Resident of Okemos for 22 years and vice president of Farenheight Creative Group in Okemos, Dennis Green says he has no problems paying his taxes on time, but doesn’t agree with what he’s paying for.
“I think we pay an unduly amount of taxes for the services we actually receive in this community. We pay separately for garbage pickup and other things that are regularly included in millages,” Green said.
Voters rejected a Headlee Amendment override on November’s ballot that would have let taxes rise. Green sees the proposed millage as inappropriate.
“I think if you ask residents, they feel they are not getting enough services for their money. For us to be asked to pay even more, that’s adding insult to injury. We see service declining, not increasing in this marketplace,” Green said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 63 percent of occupied housing units in Meridian Township are owned and 73 percent of those owners have a mortgage. Green thinks property taxes may put more of burden on those struggling with finances.
“I would think families that are undergoing any financial (difficulties) would have a hard time paying on time. When their property was bought, it was probably valued by over 30 or 40 percent. With property values going down, property taxes are high,” Green said.
Consequences for not turning in taxes on time is a 1 percent increase to the current bill each week for two weeks and then will be turned over to Ingham County by March 1, where after 2½ years, tax foreclosure notices will be sent to the property if there is still no payment, according to Brixie.
Township resident Richard Makin said he and his family used to live in Lansing working with his father on a custom wood workshop, but moved to Meridian Township because he did not want a dime going to the Lansing school system.
“I never pay on time and used to get the letters about foreclosure and everything else, but they do hit you with a ton of penalties, I’ll tell you that much,” Makin said.
After hitting rock bottom financially, Makin said his church and the school his daughter attends helped get him back on his feet.
“The church gave me the idea that with each paycheck I go put $100 in the bank to go toward things like taxes. But if taxes are due this next Monday the 14th, I’ll mail them a check, but it won’t be until the 14th of next year because they take so darn long to mail out these checks in the first place, so it’s only fair to do the same to them,” Makin said.
The budget for Meridian is set for 2011, and discussions for 2012 will not begin until July, but the township board knows there will be issues next year.
“We know we’re gonna have a shortfall because property tax revenues have gone down because the the value of the township has gone down,” Brixie said.
Regardless of the shortfalls, property taxes are still due at 5 p.m. Brixie wants residents to pay on time so they don’t have to pay the late fees.
“If anyone hasn’t paid, they should try to pay by Feb. 28th to avoid having them moved over to Ingham County.”
With Lansing City Council Vice President Kathie Dunbar and Mayor Virg Bernero asking for a 4-mill property tax increase, ($4 for every $1,000 in taxable property, both Brixie and Makin agree Meridian is better off than Lansing.
For information on property taxes, visit the Meridian Township tax information page.