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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

Posted September 11

The Detroit News. September 7, 2017

Go hard after city's tax cheats

Taking the unwarranted profit out of blight is an important step toward ridding Detroit of derelict buildings and keeping others from falling into disrepair. The city is taking the right step in aggressively pursuing the owners of foreclosed and abandoned properties for payment of back taxes.

Not all of the tax scofflaws in Detroit are individual homeowners.

A significant portion are financial institutions and corporations that are holding onto homes and buildings without paying their property taxes.

Perhaps they're speculating on a boom in property values, or simply overwhelmed with the challenge of moving structures that need expensive repairs.

Either way, if they own the buildings, they should be meeting their tax obligations. And too many aren't.

So Detroit is filing more than 1,000 lawsuits against banks and businesses that collectively owe $30 million in back taxes from the years 2014-16.

Last year, similar action was taken against tax cheats from the years 2010-13.

Some big names are on the target list. The Bank of New York Mellon is being sued for over $865,000 in unpaid taxes on nearly 135 properties it held during the 2011-15 period.

Last year, the giant bank was sued for a $229,121 debt on nearly 30 parcels.

All of those being sued either owned or had a financial stake in properties that have been foreclosed.

Detroit needs the unpaid tax money to remain fiscally solvent.

But it also must demonstrate it will enforce its laws and will not tolerate property owners allowing huge tax bills to build. In many cases, the parcels are eventually seized and sold in a tax sale for less than the debt owed to the city.

Of course, winning in court does not mean collecting the debt. Many owners simply walk away and leave the city holding the property.

But as bankruptcy attorney Doug Bernstein told The Detroit News, if Detroit doesn't try to get the debtors to pay up, "then you can assume you are going to collect none of it."

That's not something Detroit can afford. Just the threat of the lawsuits already has some delinquent property owners coming forward to work out settlements of their bills.

Sending the message that the city is serious about collecting what it is owed may encourage other property owners to stay current on their taxes.

And it tells those who are considering investing in the city that Detroit has moved a long way from the time when it had no certainty of even what it was owed, let alone any hope of collecting the debt.

Efficiently and effectively collecting taxes is a basic sign of a functional city.

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Lansing State Journal. September 7, 2017

The Lansing Pathways Promise school millage is hard at work

It's an exciting time to be part of the Lansing School District.

The Lansing Pathways Promise school millage, approved for $120 million by voters in May 2016, is already yielding results for the more than 11,000 students in the district ... and it's only going to get better.

Lansing students returning to Riddle and Averill elementary schools this week were greeted with building improvements - such as new paint, flooring and windows - that were completed over the summer.

A much more extensive project is clearly visible driving past Fairview Elementary on the east side: A new classroom wing and entryway are under construction, which will allow the school to transition to a K-6 school next year, likely with a new name.

And Sept. 12, the district will be unveiling plans for the new Eastern High School - a $13.2 million update to Pattengill Academy and a brand new $8.1 million sports complex that will include football, soccer, tennis, baseball and softball facilities slated for 2019.

The new Eastern High School will also have an expanded cafeteria, a new competition gymnasium and fitness room. There will also be a three-story classroom wing equipped with biotech laboratories.

These are important investments. Investments in students and helping guide them to career- and college-readiness in one of three pathways: biotechnology, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and high tech/visual performing arts.

It's hard to believe that a millage that costs homeowners only $112.50 per year (for a home with a taxable value of $50,000) can do so much, but it's happening.

To those who are paying the millage and supporting Lansing schools: Thank you. Enjoy these times of transition and watch as the excitement builds.

To district leaders, school administrators and staff: Keep up the good work, and continue to demonstrate to taxpayers that these projects and those yet to come are their tax dollars at work to improve educational opportunities for our children.

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Times Herald (Port Huron). September 7, 2017

Cost to take Lake Huron should be higher, not lower

Beach season isn't over yet in Port Huron and Michigan. Yes, Labor Day has passed but smart alecks will talk trivia about the autumnal equinox. And there are always warm, sunny days in September and October to tempt and torment schoolchildren.

But it is open season on beaches in Michigan.

State Sen. Tom Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba, wants to take them away from you.

Long-established law in Michigan says the Great Lakes and their beaches belong to everyone. You, the public, are entitled by right to swim in the surf and play on the beach — below the ordinary high-water mark — any place the waters of the Great Lakes touch.

Casperson wants to put a wall between that right and his rich donors' waterfront mansions.

In rare cases, lakefront property owners can get a state permit to install a breakwall on their property to protect the shoreline and their private recreational watercraft. Think about the breakwall that surrounds Lexington Harbor, for instance. Property owners can create private harbors such as that for their private, noncommercial use.

As you can imagine, building something like that would be expensive — far beyond the means of most lakefront cottage owners. More than that, though, the Department of Environmental Quality recognizes the value of walling off the part of the publicly owned Great Lakes for private use. Annual leases on Great Lakes bottomland for owners of these private harbors and cost up to $1,000 a year.

Casperson apparently believes that is too rich for his campaign donors. He wrote a bill that would slash lease rates to 1 percent of the property's equalized value. The annual cost of walling off the beach — and walling out the public — would plummet from $1,000 a year to about $60.

His bill passed the Senate 26-12, with all Democrats and one Republican opposed. It next goes to the House. Sen. Rick Snyder vetoed a similar bill in the last legislative session.

Last summer, Port Huron area boaters were in an uproar after lakefront property owners got a permit to create a swimming-only area on Lake Huron to limit boat access near the beach. Imagine the outrage if those homeowners could afford to build a breakwall.

Lake Huron is ours. Don't fence us out.

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Grand Haven Tribune. September 8, 2017

Here's to a safe, productive school year

Grand Haven's students and teachers went back to school on Tuesday, while those in Spring Lake made their return to the classroom last week.

There's an overwhelming sense of excitement that goes hand-in-hand with the start of a new school year.

New classes. New schedules. New friends. New teachers.

From kindergartners heading to the classroom for the first time to seniors ready to cap off their high school career, the start of the school year is a time of new beginnings.

It's a time to accept new challenges, both in the classroom and in the dozens of clubs and teams our schools offer.

It's a time to meet new friends, or to rekindle old friendships.

More than anything, it's a time to grow as a student and as an individual.

Don't limit your learning to what you read in a textbook. Learning is much more than studying or memorizing.

The school year is long and daunting, but it's also an incredible journey, one that you'll never forget. Embrace that journey and enjoy it.

Make the most of this time and realize that being a student — whether in elementary school, middle school or high school — is a privilege and not a chore.

We wish all of our teachers and students a safe and productive 2017-18 school year.

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