County Rejects Resolution on Foreclosure Bill

Oct 18, 2017

Credit Sehvilla Mann / WMUK

The board also faces a November deadline for overhauling its indigent defense system.

A number of Michigan counties have come out against a bill that would change the state’s tax foreclosure laws, but Kalamazoo won’t be joining them. On Tuesday the Board of Commissioners narrowly defeated a resolution protesting the legislation. The bill would give homeowners wider grounds for challenging a tax foreclosure.

Supporters say they want to make sure that counties protect property owners’ rights. But opponents say the bill will muddy what’s now a clear and fair tax law. Commissioner Scott McGraw supported the resolution against the bill.

“I don’t know who would buy a tax-foreclosed property if the former owners have a long period of time to come back and claim it as their own,” he said.

Kalamazoo County Treasurer Mary Balkema says the proposal makes a muddle of the state’s tax laws. She says property owners who fall behind on their payments get ample notice before the county forecloses.

But Commissioner Mike Quinn, who voted against the resolution says he can’t assume that’s true everywhere.

“There probably are counties where people are more at risk of abbreviated foreclosure procedures. Which are very drastic – it ought to be difficult to foreclose,” he said.

The bill passed the Senate handily and is now in committee in the House. Opponents say they’re hopeful it will never emerge for a vote.

Indigent defense

Kalamazoo County is weighing its options for overhauling its indigent defense system. Michigan has set new guidelines for public defenders. They’re intended to ensure that everyone gets a competent defense in court.

The county’s administration says it might be best to create a nonprofit to handle those duties. The office could even raise money to help support itself. But Commissioner Kevin Wordelman expressed concern with that idea.

“Do we really want our public defense office out in the community trying to raise money? Does that potentially raise some obstacles to their independence?” he asked, saying the board needed to take a close look at the proposal.

Administrators say private donations would serve as a backup, not a mainstay of the public defender’s budget, but Wordelman was skeptical. He pointed to the City of Kalamazoo’s plan to shore up its budget with a privately funded endowment, a step Wordelman said was precipitated by ever-decreasing state funding for local governments.

The county’s assistant corporate counsel Amber Beebe says a dedicated office would help ensure that public defenders come to court prepared, starting with the arraignment. She says the current system doesn’t always work that way.

“I’ve seen it in practice, where there’s a defendant and the attorney runs in and they have file and they just looked at it and they really don’t know what’s doing on and they haven’t had an opportunity to meet with their client. This would change that quite a bit,” she says.

The board has until late November to finalize a plan.