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More residents come forward amid 13 OYS investigation into $27K tax bill

It came as the city council met to consider scrapping the extra fees Monday amid building opposition.

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — Countless others have come forward since a Muskegon Heights man--at wits end after getting a surprise tax bill from the city that amounted to tens-of-thousands of dollars more than he typically owed—shared his story with the 13 Help Team.

The city since revealed the charges stemmed from enforcement of a housing ordinance.

As opposition grew, Muskegon Heights City Council was scheduled to return to session Monday to consider scrapping the extra fees.

Since the original story aired Thursday detailing the $27,000 bill Fred Lakes received toward the end of last year, the 13 Help Team inbox has been flooded with messages from locals, bent out of shape after finding thousands in extra costs on their own tax forms.  

The crux of the issue with which Lakes and others have been grappling hung upon a once rarely-enforced housing ordinance concerning vacant buildings.

Lakes purchased the home in question, a two-story adjacent to the home that serves as his primary residence around 2002.

He gave 13 ON YOUR SIDE a tour of the property and the work he had accomplished thus far, noting the functioning electrical, ongoing plumbing repairs and efforts to address the home’s once blighted exterior.

When he received his first bill for vacancy in 2020, Lakes disputed the snowballing charges and succeeded in having several reversed prior to the arrival of his winter tax forms.

He also suggested the inspector who had rendered the ‘vacancy’ designation had never contacted him.   

Others contacted the 13 Help Team following publication last week.

Linda wrote that she received a bill for some $16,000.

David said he owed the city $5,000.

The owner of an open lot on Broadway, the Muskegon County Treasurer’s Office indicated, had received a $31,500 fine.

Those who have chosen to initiate an appeal have described navigating the process as lengthy and difficult.

Properties owned by the county landbank, the Treasurer’s Office noted, had similarly been assessed more than $40,000 in fees.

In a letter addressed to council forwarded to 13 ON YOUR SIDE in advance of Monday’s meeting, the treasurer mentioned the practice of adding delinquent water bills to tax forms as another area of ongoing concern.

The document went on to detail how the practice occurred in defiance of established state law.

Muskegon Heights Mayor Pro Tem Ronald Jenkins confirmed Monday’s meeting would examine reversing the fees.

It remained unclear at the time of publication, however, whether such a measure would include all or a portion of the vacant building fees at issue and whether water bills would also be addressed.

This story will be updated once a decision is reached following the special session.

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