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HARRISON – Topics touched on during the Jan. 15 meeting of the Clare County Board of Commissioners were varied, but two of them have been ongoing and touch virtually every citizen in the county: taxes and roads.
Commissioner Dale Majewski has for years called for reduced and prudent spending, and prior to the start of the meeting brought out his fave football team bobblehead with a note affixed which read “No New Taxes.” It was, of course, reminiscent of George H.W. Bush’s ill-fated “Read my lips…no new taxes.” Such is the slippery slope of politics.
During his commissioner’s report, Majewski brought up his concerns about the multitude of possible millages voters will be asked to approve at various elections this year. He specifically cited Gypsy Moth, Transit, Mid Michigan College, potential Road Patrol, MSU Extension, and Gladwin Schools. He sought to draw attention to the current tax burden carried by Clare County property owners by bringing out a recent annual published Clare County notice of tax arrears properties.
“There’s almost 1,500 residents of Clare County that can’t pay their taxes,” Majewski said. “What makes you think that adding more taxes to them is going to make this list shrink or get better?”
He further described that listing as “pathetic” and a “clear picture of people not being able to pay their taxes right now,” conjecturing the addition of more pages to the arrears listing.
“There’s some areas where we need to learn how to live within our means,” Majewski said.
Sheriff John Wilson spoke up, saying that the county treasurer and her staff reach out to do everything they can to help those facing tax foreclosure. He noted that less than 1% actually go to foreclosure.
“It depends on financial situations, too,” Wilson said. “There’s always going to be a lot of names in there.”
Majewski held fast, saying he had just been at a residence where an elderly lady could not buy food, could not pay her bills, was getting shut-off notices.
“And this is happening all the time in Clare County,” he said. “And it’s more than most people realize. The only reason I’m realizing it is that I’m in 40-50 homes a month and seeing it first-hand.”
Majewski said there may well be a specific number of people in the county who don’t have a problem with taxes and can afford to pay more, but that he believes the majority of people in the county can’t take another increase in taxes.
Commissioner Leonard Strouse referred to a listing citing Clare County as being second in the state for low to medium income, with Sheridan Township having the highest income in the county, and questioned why there is such low income and lack of industry in Clare County. One audience response was the high availability of low-income housing, which could encourage migration of low-income people into the area.
Majewski added that despite the current low unemployment [3.5 % nationwide], a lot of the jobs that are developed and are filling pay $9, $10, $11, $12 an hour.
“How can a family survive on $10-$11 an hour?” Majewski said. “I guess if you get three of those jobs you’d be OK.”
Strouse again asked “Just what is it that makes our county so poor?”
Chairperson Jack Kleinhardt had a succinct answer.
“There’s a lot of money in Clare County,” he said. “But it goes home at 5 o’clock on Sunday night.”
He, of course, was referring to weekend residents who do help the tax base, but they are not counted in the per capita income data. That data reflects those who live here, regardless of whether they work elsewhere, who get levied the 18 mills.
“There are some high earners,” Kleinhardt said. “If we didn’t have some high earners, that per capita income would be less than that.”
Majewski also pointed out that while there are some good-sized factories in the county, the starting wages are in that lower tier.
Lori Phelps, Senior Services Director, pointed out that there also are many seniors in the county, some 28%-30% of the population. They also are primarily on fixed incomes which affects the per capita income data. She added that her case workers have seen an average of 38 new clients per month since October: up 22% since this time last year.
Later in the meeting, Clare County Treasurer Jenny Beemer-Fritzinger addressed the real data concerning tax foreclosure in the county, specifically the tax arrears notice Majewski had waved about.
“Not all of those are people who are being foreclosed on,” she said. “There are many on there that are lien holders, so it’s anybody who has an interest. So, a lot of those are multiple of the same property – and they have until March 31 to pay, so they’re not all being foreclosed on.”
Majewski said that if they’re listed, they must be having trouble paying their taxes, and Beemer-Fritzinger reiterated that they are lien holders, many of whom have chosen to either let their interest go, or not.
Commissioner Jeff Haskell lightened the moment when he asked if his mother’s name was on the list, adding that it continually shows up despite her having been deceased for 10 years.
Beemer-Fritzinger responded saying it means Haskell’s mom’s name was still on a deed or lien somewhere.