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'Relief' as massive $27K tax bill, others cancelled amid 13 OYS investigation

Some officials questioned the accounting behind the inflated bills many residents received from their city this winter.

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — Amid controversy, the City of Muskegon Heights will reverse the extra fees that appeared on many residents’ tax bills this winter.

City Council met Monday to consider a resolution empowering the Muskegon County Treasurer’s Office, with which it had been coordinating, to remove the charges.

Following its adoption, staff had already begun to review a list of affected residents at the time of publication, Deputy Treasurer Dan Hansen told 13 OYS during a Tuesday telephone conversation.

At issue was a rarely used special assessment levied against vacant properties, in accordance with the terms of the city’s building ordinance.

Delinquent water bills, Hansen believed, had also been assessed to many property owners, including the Muskegon County Land Bank, which discovered tens-of-thousands of dollars in additional charges across its stable of properties.

Fred Lakes, the Muskegon Heights resident who originally approached 13 OYS after receiving a bill for some $27-thousand, more than double the taxable value of his property, said he felt a sense of relief:

"I'm feeling pretty excited... I don't have any ill will toward this city. I'm glad we were able to bring it to light though and hopefully, they can get a handle on how it happened and get that cleared up."

During a typical tax period, Lakes said he paid between $200-$600 on the secondary property he purchased in 2002 and which he recently discovered the city classified as vacant.

Credit: WZZM

Seeking to reverse the fees prior to Monday’s decision, Lakes described the appeals process as problematic and felt it was getting him nowhere.

The adversity prompted him to contact the 13 Help Team, which spent the subsequent several weeks contacting city and county officials for information and clarification with regard to possible next steps.

Lakes credited the persistence with bringing about the resolution for which he’d hoped.

“I appreciate all the hard work that you and your team have done to help bring this to light and get it cleared up," he related. 

The fees were, according to numerous sources, reimplemented by now former Muskegon Heights City Manager Troy Bell.

Attempts by 13 OYS to reconcile the charges with the fee schedule appended to the ordinance, in large part, were unsuccessful in that the amounts provided failed to add up.

County officials expressed skepticism Tuesday when asked about the accounting at issue, questioning how the city ‘validated charges.’

The fees, they said, would be removed manually once the county was in receipt of the city’s taxes.

Physical refund checks would be issued to those who already submitted payment.

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