By LISA M. REED
QUINNESEC - Breitung Township Board of Trustees decided on Monday to pursue an appeal of the Michigan Tax Tribunal decision on the Home Depot property.
The township will pursue the appeal with Marquette Township. Marquette Township has a similar case and the same attorneys with Lowe's, a home improvement store.
Superintendent Joe Rogina said the township did not prevail with the case at the Michigan Tax Tribunal level.
"The next step in the process is to appeal the case into the court of appeals," he said.
Township Attorney Bill Fahey and Rogina are convinced that the Tax Tribunal decision favors big box stores, is flawed and should be taken to the courts beyond the level of the Tax Tribunal.
Rogina said if the township accepts the Home Depot appraisal, then all other taxpayers in the township will demand the same treatment for their assessments.
"The loss in tax dollars will be far greater than the cost of going to trial with Home Depot. The worst case scenario is an estimated loss of $275,000 per year, or about seven-tenths of a mill to the general fund due to reduction demands of other commercial/industrial properties to equal the assessment reduction of Home Depot," Rogina said. "Again this is if we give in. On the other hand, if we fight the good fight, first of all we could win the case. Secondly, if we lose, then any other commercial/industrial property that comes to the Board of Review asking for the same treatment would be directed to take the case all the way to the Tax Tribunal or Supreme Court."
Rogina said by following through and getting a judgment, it would only apply to the Home Depot property and will not affect the rest of the township assessments.
"That is unless the township gives in. Then we are admitting that commercial property is overvalued and at that point, it is impossible to defend the assessments at the local level," Rogina said. "If we win in court, even if it is somewhere in between, we would only lose on that one property. Think about the other taxing authorities such as the schools and the school bonds. Then there is the library, health department, senior citizens, road commission, etc."
Rogina added that the judgment stands for the three years in question, 2009 to 2011.
The township said Home Depot's taxable value for 2009 was $2,923,400; $2,914,629 for 2010 and $2,925,100 for 2011.
The Tax Tribunal ruled the 94,984 square-foot store should be taxed at $1,450,000 for 2009; $1,330,000 for 2010 and $1,187,500 for 2011.
Home Depot had said that the taxable value was $1,350,000 for 2009; $1,200,000 for 2010 and $1,100,000 for 2011.
An appeal for 2012 is a separate case under appeal at the tax tribunal.
Supervisor Denny Olson was not thrilled about the decision handed down in this case.
"We cannot just take this sitting down. We need to stand up and be accounted for," he said.
Fahey said judges in the Tax Tribunal are trying to find ways for taxpayers relief.
"The court of appeals will read the statues and I believe reach the correct solution," Fahey said.
Of the 569 "big box" cases statewide, Fahey said 10 have been decided and there were 90 settlements at $30 to $50 per square foot.
Fahey said appealing the case to the court of appeals could take two years, but is essential for three judges to issue a written decision in the case.
Board member Ben Peterson said someone needs to set a precedent.
"Move forward and keep everyone involved. Get what we can out of this," he said.
The township board in a 6-0 vote, trustee Mary Beth Dixon was excused from the meeting, decided to pursue the appeal of the Home Depot Tax Tribunal case.
They also authorized Fahey and Rogina to work with Marquette Township and to contact the Michigan Township Association and Michigan Municipal League's legal defense for relief on legal fees that will be occurred.
It was noted any refund to Home Depot is on hold pending the appeal process.
Olson said in his 10 years with the township, he feels this is the most important thing he has had to deal with.
"I was really disturbed with the 48-page document (decision) and how they treated the professionalism of Closser & Associates (township's appraiser) and Fahey law firms," he said.
The appeal could be filed as soon as Wednesday.
Fahey said briefs from both sides are submitted relatively fast and then the township board waits a long time for a hearing date.
Marquette Township filed an appeal in the case against Lowe's two weeks ago.
In other action, the board:
- Hired a temporary office assistant for the treasurer's office. This was after much discussion on how the new township Treasurer Carol Taylor was not comfortable hiring a deputy treasurer for the job she is still learning. She did not feel she was in a position to train her deputy treasurer. Peterson voted against the motion.
Lisa M. Reed's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.