Blizzard Warning

January 27, 2004
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West Michiganders are weather watchers.

And with some local stations throwing two and three meteorologists on the air at a time, things can get a little, shall we say, sensationalized

Case in point: Last Tuesday’s “blizzard warning” calling for 5 to 12 inches of snow and wind gusts up to 35 miles an hour.

That also happened to be the same night as sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine’s “A Grand Culinary Affair,” which celebrates the area’s top restaurants and chefs at a huge party put on by staff and students at Grand Rapids Community College.

So, were attendees a little fearful of a blizzard that would immobilize traffic and strand partygoers downtown?

Uh, yeah.

“At 6:10 you couldn’t even get into the ramp,” said CaroleValade, editor of the magazine and Grand Rapids Business Journal. “I mean, everybody got there early.”

She estimated that more than 350 guests had crammed into the venue by 6:30.

Fortunately, the snow didn’t materialize (hmmm, how did everybody get that wrong) and the students had a grand time preparing and serving food to the masses.

**Grand Cul also provided a platform for another “misunderstood” situation when the The Sierra Room owner and manager, RitaWilliams and Colleen Gill, not only picked up an award but debunked the rumor that the well-known downtown dining spot would be closing. “It is a very vicious rumor someone continues to spread,” Williams said. All nine Grand Rapids Magazine winners and the Grand Rapids Magazine Restaurant of the Year are featured in the February issue.

**There’s nothing like a captive audience, even an early-arriving one. Representatives from The Michigan Wine and Industry Council in the 11th hour asked for a few moments at the podium to introduce themselves and thank everyone, and then proceeded to pull a page from JohnCanepa’s book on acceptance speeches (see Newsmaker luncheon, Jan. 12), adding almost 15 minutes to the program. (Don’t worry, John, VerneBarry told the Journal no one else had anything else to say anyway and the triumvirate of Newsmaker winners were pleased with the remarks. Of course, there was nothing left to say.)

**Area businesses have until the end of the month to run through a property tax checklist.

JeffAmmon, a lawyer with Miller, Johnson, Snell and Cummiskey, said it’s a good idea for businesses to check that they have received all their assessment notices for land, buildings and land improvements.

He stressed checking that the notices cover every parcel of land, noting that one location or address can consist of more than one parcel of property.

He said it’s important to check immediately whether any notice indicates that a transfer of ownership occurred in 2003.

“If so,” he advised, “do you know what event caused the transfer of ownership? Do you know whether that event really constitutes a ‘transfer of ownership’ under the somewhat complicated statute defining those events?”

Whatever the case, he said, a property owner must appeal any transfer of ownership dispute within 35 days of receiving the notice.

“If you wait until the typical March board of review,” he said, “you will be too late.”

Ammon indicated that if a business leases property, it’s prudent to check immediately whether the assessment notice went to the landlord, especially if the tenant is responsible for the property taxes.

“If you are responsible for the property taxes, either through the lease or otherwise,” he stressed, “have you seen a copy of the notice? Will the landlord let you tell the city or township to send the assessment notices directly to you? Does your lease address these issues correctly?”

Ammon also said to check that all assessment notices for property covered by tax abatement have been received.

Business owners also should determine whether the property’s “taxable value” for 2004 increased from 2003 and, if so, whether that increase exceeds 2.3 percent (the applicable Proposal A inflation rate for 2004). If such an increase has occurred, he said, is there an explanation, such as additional construction, renovation, purchase of additional property, etc.?

He said 2004 brings with it a change that requires assessment notices to separate state taxable value for leasehold improvements. He recommended double-checking with the landlord to make sure an assessment for such improvements isn’t being levied against both tenant and landlord.

One test to determine whether a property is over assessed, he said, is to double the property’s “taxable value” entry on the assessment notice. “Could you sell that property for that amount?” Ammon asked. “If not, you may be over assessed.”

He said that for property owners suspecting problems with assessment notices, taxable values, transfer of ownership issues or other matters, it’s necessary to make a quick decision regarding whether to appeal.

“To do so,” he said, “you must carefully consider the pros and cons of filing an appeal, including the likelihood of success and the impact on other relationships with your local city or township.”

He said experienced real estate lawyers can help assess whether an appeal makes good business sense.    

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