by Peter Jakey–Managing Editor
“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
That famous line came from a Scottish poem “To A Mouse” from Robert Burns, but easily could have been the inspiration of an experience by a Michigan contingent, who traveled to the U.S. Supreme Court last week to hear arguments presented in a tax foreclosure case that could have a lasting impact on local government finances.
Included in the group of five was Presque Isle County treasurer Bridget LaLonde, the treasurer of the Michigan Association of County Treasurers.
LaLonde, who had never been to the nation’s capital, was in line to get into the highest court in the land at 7 a.m. as directed because tickets are given out on a first-come, first serve basis.
LaLonde and her colleagues should have been shoe-ins to get in the courtroom with only a dozen people in front of them.
However, an overzealous security guard(s) handed out 100 tickets the night before. Word filtered out about the distribution of the tickets, but not to the Michigan contingent, who were in line, April 26.
“There were definitely circumstances that nobody planned,” said LaLonde. “We had no idea that they would pass out tickets before the actual formation of the line. We were told to be in line by 7 and that tickets would be distributed to the first 50 between 7 and 7:30 am., and we would have to wait until we were called.”
Before the group knew what was going on, there was a line wrapping around the block with people holding yellow tickets.
“We stood in line for three hours, because it took that long to figure out that something went wrong,” said LaLonde. “The security guards were going back and forth, talking to each other, and going into the Supreme Court, and at the end of the day it was a big mix-up that should have never happened. Unfortunately, we were the casualty of it.”
LaLonde may write to U.S. Rep. Jack Bergmann to see if something can be done to make sure it does not happen again.
The group went over to the U.S. Capitol across the street to hear the arguments of the case being presented to the seven justices on their cell phones. Proceedings of the U.S. Supreme Court are not available via video live stream, however the audio is available.
It’s a case originating out of Hennepin County, Minnesota that will decide if a homeowner, who lost a condo in the tax foreclosure process, is entitled to compensation after the county has sold it. Minneapolis, the state’s largest city, is the county seat in Hennepin County.
“I think the main argument for the plaintiff is they believe there is a taking when government acquires property for more than what is owed to the government for interest, taxes and fees,” said LaLonde. “And that any amount collected, above and beyond what is owed, should go back to the prior owner, and that is a representation of equity.
“There were arguments on fair market means and what determines equity. There has to be a fine line of creating enough of a deterrent for people to pay taxes, without feeling at the end of it, something in the process is unbalanced.”
The state of Michigan has already instituted measures as amended within the General Property Tax Act to include a claims process for those taxpayers that have a legal interest in a property that has been foreclosed on for unpaid property taxes.
This allows the property owner to claim any funds that have been collected above and beyond what is due to the county.
“It is going to be interesting to see if they are going to change a process that has been in place for years,” added LaLonde. She flew out the day before and left the following day, April 27, and provided a report to the Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners the next morning. She got to see some sights in a short amount of time, but ultimately, looks forward to going back.