Stamas pressed on assessors reform legislation at Harrisville meeting

HARRISVILLE — State Sen. Jim Stamas, R-Midland, of the 36th state Senate District, was in Alcona County on Thursday to discuss with local assessors proposed legislation that could completely reform the assessment industry in the state.

Stamas said he believes the changes are necessary, while assessors have growing concerns about what it could do to their jobs.

Property taxes generate billions of dollars for the state each year, and Stamas said he was asked by Michigan Treasurer Nick Khouri to work on this particular reform.

According to documents Stamas provided at the meeting, the main purpose of the legislation is to improve assessment accuracy with standardized procedures across the state, to increase the number of qualified assessors, and to help prevent the need for costly appeals by taxpayers.

While the objectives appear to be black and white, assessors — especially those in northern Michigan — have found a variety of snags in the proposed legislation.

During the meeting, Stamas stressed he was not there to debate the legislation because it is still in a Senate committee during Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s lame duck period. He said the bill is still in its infancy and it will likely be some time before action on it is taken, if there is any taken at all.

Legislation that does not pass both chambers of the Legislature by the end of each two-year session must be reintroduced when the new session. The current session expires New Year’s Eve.

Rather, Stamas said he was in Alcona County to take suggestions and listen to concerns.

There were many areas assessors were concerned about, saying the legislation lacks a clear explanation on many issues.

One of the key areas of concern was a proposed requirement for higher-level assessors in all municipalities. Some townships or other regions have been able to utilize lower-level assessors. Stamas assured the assessors on Thursday that the state will not do away with lower-level assessors.

Assessors discussed the proposal’s call for the creation of regional boards of review, instead of the current localized boards that many utilize. Some assessors said local boards provide a better understanding of property values rather than broader regional boards.

There is also concern about creating mandatory districts, which Stamas said was only an option that could be decided upon by the assessing entity to pursue, if necessary. It is only meant as an option.

Alcona County Road Commissioner Theodore Somers said one of the most debated issues at an earlier meeting on the reform, held in Gaylord, was the new stipulation that elected officials would not be allowed to serve as assessors.

Somers asked Stamas why he decided to help with the legislation when there appeared to be so many problems.

“These things that you just brought up have the potential to affect your district in a pretty dramatic way,” Somers said. “Why, out of 38 senators, did you feel the need to bring this forward?”

“I was asked by the treasurer to bring something forward,” Stamas replied.

“But you represent us,” Somers interjected.

“I am not against you,” Stamas told the room. “I am here trying to put something forward, have a discussion. If it works, great. If I don’t put something forward, everyone keeps going down the same road.”

The meeting covered a variety of problem areas that assessors currently face and how this new legislation could potentially change the entire profession.

It was also discussed that there are no firm funding proposals on how to make the changes.

Stamas assured them he is open to suggestions on how to make the reform better.

Kaitlin Ryan can be reached at kryan@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 989-358-5693.