Council considers change in assessor 2015.07.22

By DAVID GREEN

Morenci city council members discussed last week at the committee-of-the-whole meeting the renewal of the city's property assessing service.

The contract with the Lenawee County Equalization Department will expire in September and the contract could be renewed for the same cost, $13,700.

City administrator Michael Sessions said that Equalization intends to hire three additional employees, including an office manager and an assessor who focuses on industrial and commercial property.

Councilor Jeff Bell stated that the existing contract specifies what the city wants from the service and holds Equalization accountable for fulfilling the contract.

Morenci mayor Bill Foster stated his dissatisfaction with the agency.

"I'm very disappointed with their service," he said. "Have they improved from last year? No. I've heard complaints from others who have gone over there and gotten nothing."

Foster said that he has called with questions and never received a return call. In additional to poor customer service, he also charged that some parcels are not getting charged at all. He called the tax roll book "a joke."

Councilor Brenda Spiess said she is not a fan of the agency and stated that major errors were made in the city's commercial property listings.

Sessions said he would like to examine Foster's complaints and look into the properties that he said are not being taxed and then report back to council next month.

"We could look at bringing our own assessor in," Sessions said, "but it could potentially cost more money."

The required software, alone, would cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to purchase, he said, and upgrades would be needed. An assessor would also have to be hired.

"If you recoup lost tax money, it could make it more affordable," Foster said.

Spiess asked Sessions to find out how many city properties are visited for assessment updates every year.

WELL REPAIR—Repair of Morenci's second water well was put on hold until competitive bids are obtained. Cleaning the well screen improves pumping ability, said city superintendent Barney Vanderpool. When the city's other pump was serviced in 2013, cleaning and repair cost about $20,000, and $23,000 is in the budget for this year’s work.

Spiess asked during the committee discussion if bids were collected before moving forward with the Northern Pump and Well company. Sessions said it was his understanding that bids weren't needed for repair work, but he would check with the city attorney.

Northern is already familiar with the city's well house, Apger said, and councilor Jeff Bell added that it's almost like the continuation of the company's previous work.

If the attorney says it's all right, Spiess said, then she has no problem with hiring Northern.

COUNTY—County commissioner Jim Driskill spoke to council about several local issues, including the possibility of moving the 911 service fee from $1.18 back to the previous level of $2.52. Equipment upgrades are needed and funds are running short.

Driskill told council not to take lightly the information provided in the State Line Observer editorial July 15 regarding school funding from the state. 

"Public schools are in trouble," he said. "Take to heart what's going on with education."

Driskill said that what Morenci's school board does with limited funds is courageous and he called the state's increase of $30 per student ludicrous in light of increasing costs.

BARREL—An audience member asked about the orange barrel on Main Street at the Silver Creek bridge. City superintendent Barney Vanderpool said that area of the road has washed out and he can't determine the cause. His crew dug into the area and filled it back in, and so far, no additional washing out has occurred.

BRUSH PILE—Vanderpool said that some residents are still leaving tires, concrete and building material behind the DPW building at the back of Wakefield Park. He urged citizens to refrain from illegal dumping.