Lawmaker Mistaken On Deferments

March 28, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Despite what the Senate Majority Leader said, KentCounty can't issue property-tax deferments to low-income households.

Because of billing date changes lawmakers made to the state's property tax act last year, county commissioners are concerned that homeowners with little discretionary income won't be able to pay the third of their tax bill that is due this summer.

Board members aren't sure that low-income residents have enough money in escrow to meet the new payment date and want these taxpayers to be able to get a deferment if they want one. Right now, most can't and the county can't do anything about it.

State law limits deferments to those who are disabled, blind, paraplegic, quadriplegic, in military service, veterans, widows or widowers, or aged 62 and older with an annual household income of $25,000 or less.

"A deferment has to meet that criteria. We want it with no age restriction," said Daryl Delabbio, county administrator and controller.

Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, R-Wyoming, told the Business Journal last month that the county could go ahead on its own and grant the deferments, if Kent could afford to do so.

But Delabbio and County Fiscal Services Director Robert White said state law prohibits the county from handing out deferments. In addition, the county doesn't send out tax bills. Property tax bills are sent to homeowners by their respective city or township treasurer and state law reads that only the local property-tax collecting unit can grant deferments.

White told commissioners last month that deferring some payments wouldn't be a big fiscal blow for the county. But he said that some local units might suffer a revenue hit from having some summer collections put off.

Becky Bechler of Public Affairs Associates, the county's Lansing lobbyist, told a handful of commissioners that two bills with changes to deferments have been introduced but neither addresses Kent's concern. Both raise the annual household income level for a deferment, one to $30,000 and the other to $35,000. One has been passed by the House. Neither, though, changes the age of a homeowner that can request a payment delay.

"Neither bill addresses our issues," said Bechler.

Bechler said Sen. Bill Hardiman, R-Grand Rapids, was planning to introduce legislation that would meet the county's need. And Sikkema said last month that he wouldn't oppose the county's effort to get low-income homeowners a deferment for the summer tax bill.

"We don't have a problem with that," he said. "We'd be willing to look at it."   

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