Detroit council OKs property tax break law

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News
Council President ProTem Mary Sheffield, left, expresses her feelings about her proposed tax break law for the residents of Detroit during this morning session on Nov. 20, 2018.

Detroit's city council Tuesday approved an ordinance designed to help needy residents get tax breaks on property.

After a lengthy public hearing Tuesday and a couple of amendments to the proposed ordinance, the nine-member council passed the law by a vote of 8-1 during its meeting.

Councilwoman Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, who represents District Six, was the lone vote against the measure because the proposal requires many applicants for the tax break to get their applications notarized before submission.

Initially, the proposal had the requirement, the council removed it, but then reinstated it.

Gabe Leland, (foreground), and other members of the Detroit City Council are in attendance for the morning council meeting.

"This is another policy that leads to class-ism," she said after the vote. "I encourage you all to look at who supported what."

City council President Pro Tempore Mary Sheffield introduced the ordinance in September as part of a package of laws she authored and calls the "People's Bills."

ReadMary Sheffield reveals details of 'People's Bills' to help Detroiters

Democrat from District 5, Sheffield created the People's Bills to address community benefits from developments, water rates, affordable housing and more.

"We didn't get everything we wanted, but it's a win," she said after the vote. "Hopefully, we can come back in the future and remove the notary requirement."

Officials with the city's administration told the council requiring applicants to have their applications notarized was a safeguard against fraud.

John Roach, a spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan, said Tuesday the administration supports a property tax exemption and the settlement.

"We are in full support of a property tax exemption ordinance and the settlement agreed to by the city and the ACLU," he said. "We believe the ordinance should include a notary requirement and a hardship exemption for those who need it most as agreed to by the ACLU and city in the settlement." 

Erin Stanley, graduate social work student at Wayne State University gives her remarks in support of the tax break for residents during the public comment portion of the session.

However, Sheffield and Lopez argued the requirement didn't necessarily prevent fraud and added a barrier to getting the tax break for many of the city's struggling residents. Many residents don't have access to public notaries to get the required seal on their applications, they said.

In July, Detroit settled a 2016 lawsuit from the ACLU over how it administered the state-mandated property tax break for the poor.

Sheffield said in September she wanted to put the settlement into law and make it easier for residents to obtain the tax exemptions. She said in 2016, nearly 40,000 owner-occupied households qualified for the tax breaks, but a majority did not receive them because they did not know they existed or applying was too difficult.

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez