|A petitioner addressing Dearborn City Council|
Owning a home is a part of realizing the “American Dream.” It is an immense responsibility and a great opportunity. The security a home provides and prosperity it symbolizes come at a cost. Homeowners must make their mortgage payments, maintain their properties and pay their taxes.
Residents must pay their taxes. Nobody would argue against that.
But tax collectors should make the process simple. The city, county and state should do all they can to prevent homeowners from going into default. Foreclosed homes are a burden on the community and the economy.
In Dearborn, property taxes are higher than in neighboring municipalities. The money goes into city services, which is why Dearborn Police response time is four minutes below the national average and city streets are plowed swiftly after snowstorms.
However, too many Dearbornites are losing their homes to outstanding tax bills.
On Monday, the city council allowed several homeowners to buy back their homes, which Dearborn bought from the county after they went into default.
In Michigan, municipalities have a right to buy home that owe taxes for more than three years. If the city does not exercise that right, properties are sold in a public auction a few months later.
The stories residents told the council expose deficiencies in the system that often works against the citizens it is trying to serve.
Cities collect property taxes, but if they are past due for a whole year, they become the responsibility of the county. Wayne County has its hands full with 31,000 tax-foreclosed properties, 85 percent of which are in Detroit.
The size of the crisis makes dealing with the county a lengthy, complicated process that often turns into a bureaucratic nightmare, especially for residents who do not know how to maneuver through the system.
For example, two Dearborn residents whose homes were bought by the city after going into default said they did not understand the payment agreement they made with the county.
Abe Mohamed said he missed a payment and county employees told him to make it up at the beginning of August. He went to the county with a cashier’s check that covered two installments on Aug. 2, but he found out that Dearborn had already bought his house.
The county says it has programs for people enduring rough economic situations, but a Dearborn resident, who was allowed to reacquire his home from the city on Monday, said communicating with the county proved too difficult. He said he had to wait on the phone for a long time only to reach the voicemail of a bureaucrat who never returned his calls.
Several Dearbornites whose homes were tax-foreclosed had made payments beyond 2012. But they still went into default because the broken procedure looks at the amount due from three years ago.
Resident Alasad Alkadhy was one vote away from losing his home because he was $12 short on his 2012 payment.
Yes, you read that right. $12.
The city and county should direct residents to make payments toward their oldest back taxes. But it seems like city employees are not trained beyond accepting checks. Dearborn accepted the 2015 tax payment of a resident, even though his house was already in default. The money was taken but did not apply and may not be redeemed.
Some residents have not paid their taxes due to lack of English skills and civic knowledge. The city should work with community organizations and provide information in Arabic and other languages to prevent this from happening.
However, while circumstances may be difficult for many homeowners who fall short on their tax payments, residents should always do their best to meet their responsibilities.
You must pay your taxes annually. Some residents are taking advantage of the three-year default deadline to avoid payments. That is not acceptable.
Those who are going through a rough financial time should go into emergency mode and do all they can before— not after— their homes are foreclosed.
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” said Benjamin Franklin, whose face is on the $100 bill.
If you can’t pay property tax, do not buy a home.