Who has Authority to Assess Property?
Townships and cities are the only two local governmental agencies that assess property. Villages are required to have assessment rolls, but the assessments must be identical to those set by the township assessor.
The Michigan Constitution and property tax law requires that all property be uniformly assessed at no more than 50% of true cash value, which is the cash price a property could bring in a competitive and open market. Proposal A, the March 15, 1994 amendment to the Michigan Constitution did not eliminate the requirement that property be uniformly assessed. The assessing officer is responsible for determining this assessed value.
There are two types of property subject to assessment:
Real Property - land, land improvements and structures, farms, businesses, industry, residences, timber cut-over land and development property.
Personal Property - furniture and fixtures, machines and equipment belonging to a business, certain public utilities, oil wells, structures on leased properties, and other similar tangible property.
The General Property Tax Act [MCL211.1, etseq] requires real and personal property to be assessed annually in each township and city by a certified officer. The assessment roll must include the name and address of every person subject to taxation in the municipality. The roll must also contain a full description of real property, including the number of acres contained in it.
Who is Responsible for Assessing Property at the Township Level?
The township supervisor is the chief assessing officer of the township. If the supervisor is not certified at the proper level by the State Assessors Board, MCL 41.61 requires the township board to appoint a properly certified assessor. According to MTA’s records, approximately 38% of all Michigan township supervisors also perform the assessing function. This number has declined over the past 20 years.
Township assessors can work as employees of the township or as independent contractors, providing assessing services on a contractual basis. The township board determines the appropriate compensation for the assessor based on the amount of time needed to get the job done and the wages received by other assessors at the same certification level.
The law states that the assessor is subordinate to the supervisor, even if the supervisor is not a certified assessor. As chief assessing officer, the non-certified supervisor is still responsible for the assessment process.
Upon completing the assessment, the assessment roll must be deposited with the supervisor. [MCL41.61]
It is important to note that MCL 211.10d(7) requires the assessment roll to have a certificate attached that has been signed by the certified assessor who prepared the roll. If the supervisor is not certified at the proper level, the supervisor does not sign the roll. In that case, the certified assessor who prepared the roll signs it.
Under the General Property Tax Act, the supervisor is required to act as secretary to the board of review, keeping record of the board of review's proceedings and all changes made in the township's assessment roll. [MCLs 41.61 and 211.33]
In a charter township, a superintendent may be appointed and delegated specified duties of the supervisor. However, MTA Legal Council believes that the supervisor's role as chief assessor and the board of review secretary do not appear to be among the duties that may be delegated.
MCL41.61(a) authorizes the township board to appoint additional assessors and employ an independent appraiser or appraisal firm to make a township-wide appraisal or to assist the supervisor as directed and authorized by the board in performing assessing duties. The appraiser is paid from the township's general fund in an amount determined by the township board.
If a township does not employ a certified supervisor/assessor or assessor, the assessments must be made by the county equalization department or the State Tax Commission, and the cost of preparing the assessment roll is charged to the assessing unit.
What are the Assessor's Statutory Duties?
The assessor is required to annually prepare the assessment roll for the assessing unit in accordance with the General Property Tax Act and the legislatively mandated level of valuations required by the Michigan Constitution.
Two very important requirements must be met as closely as possible:
The assessments must be uniform and they must be at the required percentage of value as stated in the tax laws, which is no more than 50% of true cash value.
The General Property Tax Act requires that the assessor use the official Assessor’s Manual or any manual approved by the State Tax Commission as a guide in preparing assessment. The assessor must maintain records relevant to the assessments, including appraisal record cards, personal property records, historical assessment date, tax maps and land value maps consistent with the standards found in the Assessor’s Manual.
In preparing the assessment roll, the assessor and any available staff must complete several tasks:
The assessor must locate, identify and establish the taxable status of each property in the township. This includes inspecting and inventorying all taxable real property. Personal property subject to taxation may be discovered by the use of statements mailed or delivered to taxpayers and by canvassing locations with taxable personal property.
Ownership of the property must be established so correct assessment and tax billing records can be maintained. It is also important to establish the location of personal property on tax day, December 31, so that no taxable property is omitted and no non-taxable property is assessed.
The description of property, both real and personal must be kept current. This includes not only the assessment and tax rolls, but tax maps as well.
Property must be valued using all appropriate appraisal techniques, such as the cost, market and income approached. The requirements of uniformity and required assessment level-should be the objective.
The assessment roll must be prepared and ownership, descriptions, and assessed and tentative taxable valuations determined. On or before the first Monday in March, the assessing officer must prepare an assessment roll covering all taxable real and personal property within the township, with the valuations being determined as of December 31 of the preceding year. [MCL 211.24. The roll is then presented to the board of review by the Tuesday following the first Monday in March. [MCL 211.30] Notification of assessment increases must be prepared and sent to taxpayers in a timely manner, which, according to the General Property Tax Act, is 10 days prior to the first board of review meeting. The board of review must complete its review by the first Monday in April [MCL 211.30]. On the Tuesday following the second Monday in April, the board of county commissioners meets in an equalization session on all assessment rolls throughout the county. County equalization must be completed by the first Monday in May. On the second Monday in May, the preliminary state equalization is presented. The final state equalization order is issued the fourth Monday in May.
The assessments often must be defended before the board of review and then again before the Michigan Tax Tribunal. This may require a considerable amount of the assessor’s time and resources.
Affidavits for homestead and qualified agricultural exemptions, which exempt certain properties from paying the 18 mills of school operating taxes, must be processed and exemptions granted or denied by the assessor. If the assessor chooses not to determine the eligibility of claims for the exemption of homesteads, the assessor must forward a recommendation regarding the eligibility of the exemption to the Michigan Department of Treasury.
The board of review is authorized to meet on the Tuesday after the third Monday in July to correct any clerical errors or mutual mistakes on assessments. Effective July 10, 2000, the board of review can meet in July even if school taxes are not collected. [PA284 or 2000] The board of review may also hold a July or December session to hear homestead and agricultural property tax exemption appeals, poverty exemption appeals, and place real or personal property that was omitted from the assessment roll on the roll for the current and previous year.
By September 30, the township clerk must deliver certified copies of all certificates for levying taxes to the supervisor and the county clerk. [ MCL211.36(1)] If the supervisor certifies any clerical error or mutual mistake of fact on the assessment roll to the board of review, it may meet on the Tuesday following the second Monday in December to correct the roll. The error may be in the current roll or the preceding year’s roll.
Tax rolls and tax bills must be prepared so that the local taxing authorities receive the revenues to perform their assigned task and the services for which they exist.
How Should an Assessor Appraise Property?
The assessor has three traditional appraisal techniques to use when estimating the value of property:
Cost approach-Provides an estimate of value based on a determination of land value added to the depreciated cost of buildings and other improvements. The cost approach must be tested against local real estate market activity. Cost manuals for agricultural, commercial, industrial and residential buildings are approved by the State Tax Commission for use by assessors.
Market approach-This is used for the valuation of vacant land and to defend assessments in any appeal proceeding. Sometimes called the direct comparison method, this approach compares a property with similar properties that have sold recently to estimate the value of the property. The selling prices of the comparable properties are adjusted by judging their advantages and disadvantages measured against features of the subject property. Adjustments are usually made for comparisons in physical features such as size, quality of construction and condition, location, and time of sale. The value of land is most frequently estimated by the market approach. Soil type, zoning, public improvements, shape, size of parcel, topography and cover are factors considered when valuing land. The advantages of market approach are that it reflects the actions of buyers and sellers of property, and it is the method most easily understood by people who are not property valuation experts and by the courts and other review bodies. It is more useful as a defense of assessments than as a technique in the mass appraisal of property.
Income approach- The income approach can be used to appraise commercial property, but is primarily used in Michigan Tax Tribunal cases. Often referred to as the capitalization of income approach, it provides an estimate of value by analyzing the income producing capacity of investment property. It is based on the premise that the value of investment property is directly related to the income it is expected to produce over its economic life. Investment property is worth the present value of income that is to be received in the future. While the income approach is used primarily to defend assessments, it is also used in some assessing units to establish assessed values for income-producing properties. This approach is more difficult to use than the other approaches because the appraiser needs extensive training regarding real estate investments, income and expense analysis, and various income appraisal techniques. It is important that assessors have an understanding of the basic concepts of the income approach because they will encounter such appraisals prepared for owners of investment property during the appeals process.
What is the Equalization Process?
Equalization is necessary because taxpayers may contribute to several taxing districts including the local school district, intermediate school district, community college and county government. In addition, a local school district may cross several townships and one or more cities. If assessments in each district are not at a common level, taxpayers would pay varying amount of taxes for the same service from the same school district. Therefore, the Legislature created a system of equalization. It also created a system for intercounty equalization, referred to as state equalization.
Equalization of assessments is a three-step process:
Step 1: If there is a lack of uniformity among individual assessments on an assessment roll, the assessor and board of review examine and adjust the value as necessary. The Michigan Tax Tribunal can provide relief for lack of uniformity only to those taxpayers who appeal their assessment.
Step 2: After the assessor and the board of review finish their work, the tax rolls are given to the county. The county board of commissioners, with the assistance of the equalization department, reviews the assessment rolls and approves the totals, or adds to or deducts from those totals not representative of the required level of true cash value.
Reports of assessment roll changes made by the assessors, board of review and county equalization department are submitted to the State Tax Commission for review. Townships can appeal county equalization to the Michigan Tax Tribunal within 30 days of its adoption. Individual taxpayers may not appeal county or state equalization.
Step 3: On the second Monday in May, the State Tax Commission issues a preliminary report of its determinations of the totals for each class of real property and total personal property for each county. The tax commission adds to or deducts from the total county values that are not representative of the required levels of value.
If the total assessments fail to meet the required level after the county adjustment, the State Tax Commission applies an adjustment factor to the assessment in each class of property in an entire county. This is the state equalized value.
How are Taxes Calculated?
The taxable value of a property is the amount used to calculate the property tax bill. Taxable value is the lesser of state equalized value or the prior years taxable value minus losses, multiplied by the lesser of 105% or the Consumer Price Index plus additions. The taxable value multiplied by the township’s millage rate equals the tax bill. For instance: $50,000 taxable value x 40 mills = $2,000 property tax bill.
General property taxes are charges to taxpayers who are not otherwise exempt from the tax for the costs of government activities that benefit the general public or for payments of indebtedness that finance public capital improvements, such as a new jail or an addition to a school.
Good Record Keeping
MCL 41.62 requires the supervisor to preserve and keep all books, assessment rolls and other papers belonging to the office in a safe and suitable place and deliver them on demand to the successor in office.
The completed assessment roll is deposited with the supervisor until the board of review meets and completes its review of the roll. The supervisor or assessor then must deliver the roll to the county equalization director no later than the 10th day after the board of review adjourns or the Wednesday after the first Monday in April, whichever occurs first. [MCL211.30]
MCL 41.62 requires the supervisor to provide certified copies of any papers or abstracts from any assessment roll or book in his or her office if requested. A reasonable charge may be made for these copies.