Tax Appeals Swamp U.S. Cities, Towns as Property Prices Plunge

Wednesday, December 8, 2010
By Paul Martin

Jeff Green & Tim Jones
Bloomberg.com
Dec 8, 2010

A fiscal flood that threatens to swamp local government budgets across the U.S. overflows from file cabinets in the office of Patty Halm, chair of the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

The backlog of cases from taxpayers seeking to lower property-tax bills of more than $100,000 shot up to 14,236 this year from an annual average of about 6,000 during the past decade. The backlog of smaller claims was at 28,558 at the end of September, eight times higher than a decade ago, according to records at the tribunal, a Lansing-based administrative court.

From Los Angeles to Atlantic City, the New Jersey gambling resort whose credit rating Moody’s Investors Service cut by three levels last month, property owners are demanding lower taxes after real-estate values plunged. The disputes over billions in dollars come as municipalities are already slashing services such as police and fire protection and may depress revenue further as communities try to recover from the longest recession since the 1930s. In Michigan, Governor-elect Rick Snyder has warned that hundreds of towns face financial crises.

“We’re just getting swamped,” said Halm, 54, who was appointed in 2003. “We’re constantly buying new file cabinets to hold all the cases. We even have six surplus file cabinets in the courtroom.”

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