A talk with Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz
Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz has established quite a reputation during his tenure as the county’s top “money man.” And, by many reports, it’s a good one.
The treasurer serves as the county’s chief administrator to collect delinquent property taxes. He is the architect of the highly successful delinquent taxpayer assistance programs, which last year collected more than $250 million in delinquent taxes despite Michigan’s lackluster economy.
In 2011, over $200 million dollars was distributed to government units throughout Wayne County thanks to the success of a program called the Delinquent Tax Revolving Fund (DTRF) and auction revenue distributions made from programs administered by Wojtowicz.
In office more than thirty years, Wojtowicz is experienced in all areas of fiduciary management through property tax collection. He has logged a steady stream of accomplishments from successfully brokering a deal to fund essential governmental services during the toughest economic decline since the great depression to initiating an online auction of tax foreclosed properties which generated more than $32 million in sales last year.
Wojtowicz’s department has received favorable reviews for its commitment to treat distressed taxpayers with honesty, dignity and respect.
Although challenges remain, the treasurer manages to address the fight against blighted neighborhoods and property neglect by speculators with the introduction of “reverter” clauses in deeds. His efforts to implement electronic record management of deeds in collaboration with Register of Deeds Bernard J. Youngblood provided welcome improvement to the county’s outdated record management system and efforts to institute the electronic certification of deeds and 43-municipilaties filing of tax rolls are worthy of applause.
Last year, the Treasurer’s Office tax collection and taxpayer assistance efforts assisted more than 10,000 property owners avoid foreclosure, thereby preventing further blight and deterioration of neighborhoods.
The Michigan Chronicle sat down with Wayne County Treasurer Raymond Wojtowicz to learn more about how county residents can avoid tax foreclosure.
MC: What are the duties of the Wayne County Treasurer?
WCT: The Wayne County Treasurer is responsible for collecting delinquent property taxes in the forty-three municipalities. I am also responsible to manage the finances of the county. While I do not approve or prevent expenditures I am responsible to make certain there is money available to cover those expenses.
MC: Are there things the treasurer cannot do about property taxes?
WCT: I cannot change anyone’s property assessment, nor can I forgive penalties and interest that accrue. The assessment is determined by the local community and the interest and penalties are set by state law. If a taxpayer cannot or will not pay taxes I am required to foreclose on the property.
MC: How many real property tax bills does a property owner received each year?
WCT: The local treasurer will send two tax bills each calendar year, a summer tax bill in July and a winter tax bill in December. Taxpayers who do not receive a summer and/or winter tax bill should call the city, township or village treasurer where the property is located and request a tax bill. Property owners should make sure the treasurer has the correct mailing name and address.
MC: When are current property taxes due and when do they become delinquent?
WCT: Each year, current summer taxes are due July 1 and the current winter taxes are due December 1. The taxes are payable to the local treasurer until the last day in February.
According to State law, on March 1st taxes are delinquent and are sent to the County Treasurer for billing and collection with additional penalties and interest computed with a 4% penalty and 1% interest per month for the first year.
MC: What is the deadline for paying current taxes to the local treasurer?
WCT: The local treasurer can accept current real property tax payments through the last day in February.
MC: How are property taxes used?
WCT: Property taxes provide for essential government services for our 43 local communities as well as for the county. This includes police and fire protection, trash collection, and schools for our children.
MC: How many properties are facing foreclosure in Wayne County?
WCT: This year a record setting 42,000 properties in Wayne County face tax foreclosure. These are properties that have taxes from 2009 and earlier that have not been paid. We want to do whatever we can to assist distressed taxpayers in avoiding foreclosure.
MC: What is the state law governing property tax collection?
WCT: There is a three year period that property owners have before they go into foreclosure. The three stages are year one Delinquent, year two Forfeiture and year three Foreclosure.
In 1999, a Michigan Law, Public Act 123 (MCL 211.78) shortened the time property owners have to pay their delinquent taxes before losing their homes. The Public Act 123 timeline for 2009 taxes is as follows:
• July and December 2009: 2009 property taxes are billed by city and township local treasurer.
• March 1, 2010: Unpaid 2009 property taxes become delinquent and are forwarded to the county treasurer for collection. State law requires a 4% administration fee and 1% per month interest.
• October 1, 2010: A $15 collection fee is added for each parcel.
• March 1, 2011: Property is forfeited to the county treasurer. State law requires the addition of a $175 fee and $26 in recording fees. Interest increases from 1% per month to 1.5% per month, back to the date the taxes became delinquent.
• November 2011: Publication of forfeited properties subject to tax foreclosure on March 30th.
• March 1, 2012: Circuit Court enters a judgment of foreclosure. Property owners may redeem their property by paying the t
axes, interest, and fees by March 30th.
• April 1, 2012: Property is foreclosed. Property owners lose all rights. Title to the property passes to the county treasurer.
• September and October 2012: Foreclosed property is sold at public auction. Properties not sold at the Wayne County auction are offered to the local communities. The treasurer has no control over properties once they are taken by the local municipalities or are sold at auction. Any property not taken by the local will enter the Wayne County Treasurer’s inventory and determination will be made at a later date as to how to proceed on those properties. The Wayne County Treasurer makes no representation as to what will happen with unsold properties.
MC: What if a property owner has paid the current taxes to the local treasurer and has a paid receipt but they get a delinquent tax notice?
WCT: Unpaid taxes are forwarded to the County Treasurer from the local municipality treasurer for collection on March 1 of each year succeeding the year it was due. Notices of unpaid taxes are sent to the name and address on the delinquent tax roll received from the local treasurer. Any questions or concerns regarding current tax payments must be directed to the local treasurer’s office. Should a taxpayer have a receipt and is unable to work things out with the local, we will work together with all to seek an appropriate resolution.
MC: Is there help for property owners to try to assist them in keeping their homes?
WCT: Yes, I don’t want anyone to lose their property. As county treasurer I established the Taxpayer Assistance Department and staffed it with trained professionals who are helping taxpayers with programs we have developed. It is best if those facing foreclosure contact my office right away to determine what options are available to assist them in paying their taxes.
Last year there were more than 23,000 properties that went into foreclosure and my office was able to help over 10,000 taxpayers arrange to keep their homes through our assistance program.
MC: What are the programs available?
WCT: The following taxpayer assistance programs are available:
The Stipulated Payment Agreement (SPA) allows for partial payments of 2009 and prior property taxes. The SPA agreement must be signed and returned by March 30, 2012. The terms are that the agreement must be completed and returned with a cashier’s check or money order for not less than 20% of the unpaid 2009 and prior years’ taxes. Agreements without a payment will not be accepted or processed. The agreement is not valid until signed by the Treasurer’s Office.
Taxpayers who own and occupy a home a home that they live in as the principal resident and are unable to pay the 2009 taxes by March 30th may be eligible for a Distressed Owner Occupant Extension (DOOE). When approved, property owners can receive up to an additional year to pay 2009 taxes. Interest continues to accrue.
MC: Can the Treasurer’s Office offer legal advice on foreclosure situations?
WCT: The Treasurer’s Office cannot offer legal advice. We have partnered with many non profit community organizations who can assist with legal adviceFor a list of community partner organizations visit our website.
MC: How do people get in touch with your office?
WCT: Those interested in taxpayer assistance information on the SPA or DOOE programs should contact my office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Others needing assistance should contact our office right away at www.treasurer.waynecounty.com or email us at email@example.com. To contact the Taxpayer Assistance Department call 313-224-6105.
Taxes can be paid by online by credit card at www.treasurer.waynecounty.com. Payments can also be paid in person at the Treasurer’s Office located at 400 Monroe, 5th Floor, Detroit, MI.
MC: Do you have any final words for those facing property foreclosure?
WCT: March 30th is the deadline to pay or arrange payment for 2009 and earlier year taxes. My office is ready to help. Our message is clear; we don’t want anyone to lose their property due to foreclosure, so contact us right away. Let’s work together.