2011-03-31 / Front Page

Gerrish board approves investigation of assessor

In response to a complaint from a group of residents in Gerrish Township, the township board March 25 authorized an investigation of Assessor Cheryl Gillman by the Gerrish Township Police Department on behalf of the board.

The probe, to be assisted by Trustees Mary Link and Gary Long, as needed, is in regard “to personnel issues” presented by resident Regina Markowicz, on behalf of “The Roscommon County Area 30 Homeowners” in a letter dated March 21.

Markowicz, in the letter, demanded that the township board “stop the Board of Review from reaching any decisions until our issues are resolved.”

She claims that the township “wrongfully combined the former ECF (Economic Condition Factors) Area 30 into a new ECF area called “Area 4 West Side.” In the letter, Markowicz claims the assessor is “comparing apples to oranges.” She also claims the properties have been assessed at nearly 70% to 90% of their cash values in violation of state law “as a result of this redistricting...” and that the assessor did not perform on-site assessments in many years.

Markowicz claims Gillman refused to remove two non-existent buildings from her property’s assessment information or visit the property before the March Board of Review. In the letter, Markowicz says, “we allege many reasons for the removal of Cheryl Gillman from office, including neglect of duty.” Markowicz and her fellow property owners allege that Gillman made gross errors in judgment and that disciplinary action be taken for her behavior toward herself (Markowicz) and other homeowners who were seeking information March 14. She claims Supervisor Frank Homola, Gillman and the Board of Review led her and others in circles and were given the “brush off.”

“Everyone’s gotta give them (the Board of Review) a chance to do their job,” Homola said. He noted that the State Tax Commission is expected to perform a full 14-point review in May.

Board of Review Chairman Jerry McReynolds told the Resorter that members had, by Tuesday afternoon, reviewed almost 200 of the more than 400 petitions brought during the March Board of Review. The deadline for completion is the first Monday in April.

“We’re here to help them,” he said. “We’re trying to represent the property owner.”

He noted that the Board of Review has its own authority and is independent from the township board. He said Board of Review members review information on a case-by-case basis.

Most of the questions the board receives pertain to assessed value versus taxable value, he said, adding, in accordance with Proposal A, the assessed value can never be higher than the taxable value. (Proposal A, the school finance reform plan enacted by Michigan voters in 1994, “caps” taxable value at the rate of inflation or 5%, whichever is less – except on new construction – until it is sold.) Taxpayers are to be notified by June whether or not any changes were made, he said.

If a property owner is not satisfied with the decision made by the Board of Review, he or she may take their case to the Michigan Tax Tribunal.

Eric Ostergren, an Area 4 property owner, attended the March 25 special meeting of the township board on The Roscommon County Area 30 Homeowners Group issues. Gillman did not attend.

Ostergren, who has since disassociated himself with “Area 30” group, questioned Gillman’s computations. He provided specific documentation, arguing the ECF groups are incorrect.

“This ECF analysis is extremely flawed according to all assessors guidelines I have researched,” he claimed in a March 26 e-mail to township board members. “Dissimilar properties were combined to arrive at an improper average ECF which was applied to every ‘Area 4’ property...Lake access properties, which are dissimilar and of greater value were incorporated in the ECF analysis.”

In addition to approving an investigation of Gillman, the board approved a motion (Homola voted no) requiring her to complete 10 hours of field work per week until the Board of Review adjourns, then to work 20 hours of field work per week “upon completion of inputting of Board of Review changes.” Gillman is also to update the township board by the end of April.

In addition, the board approved Assessor. Net I and II training for Administrative Specialist Maryann Figley through BS&A (the software company whose computer program the township uses to assesses properties). She also will receive a $1 per hour raise, effective June 24, for additional duties relating to assessing (she will not be an assessor), such as entry of information, including personal resident exemptions.

The board also voted to obtain pricing information from the Roscommon County Equalization on partial and full assessing office coverage, including field work.

“Once again the majority of the board is taking the politically safe stand, instead of supporting their employee,” Gillman told the Resorter in an e-mail. “The Board has decided not to fill the vacancy in the Assessing Department, so in addition to my original duties, and trying to finish the requirements of the 14 point review, they are now requiring that 20 hours a week be spent doing field inspections. Trying to meet their unrealistic demands will probably result in a failed follow up review which I was informed would result in disciplinary action for me – up to and including dismissal.”

“In my defense, in the 14 years that I have been in this position,” Gillman further stated, “I have only had two other complaints like that of the Area 30 group. In both of those instances, the board stood behind me and once investigated, the allegations were proven to be either false or exaggerated. Six months of not knowing where I stand with any of the board members is taking an emotional toll on me, I wish they would either stand behind me and have faith in me or replace me with someone they feel confident with.”

In a follow-up phone interview with Gillman, she said the state instructed her to reduce the number of ECF neighborhoods. There were 261 with 12 factors and now there are six areas with six factors, with which some people do not agree, she said. She noted that there are two different analyses, one for land value studies and one for ECF’s. The same properties are not necessarily used for both, she said, which is a practice common among all assessors.

In a previous interview, Gillman said that documentation is done differently from the days when her department used the Manitron system. Like many townships, Gerrish uses the newer BS&A system.

Gillman told the Resorter she has been the Gerrish Township assessor for 14 years, and “The board always had confidence in me before.”

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