Foreclosure is always the last option for treasurer

Editor,

My No. 1 goal as Van Buren County treasurer is to help property owners across the county avoid having their home or property fall into foreclosure.

My small team and I go to great lengths to ensure property owners know their home is at risk of going into foreclosure and explain what options are available to catch up on back taxes and keep their home.

For instance, we place notices in local newspapers, send letters by certified mail and even make personal visits to the property.

Sometimes, we make several visits, so we exhaust every possible remedy to avoid people losing their homes.

We also offer a Hardship Extension Program, which allows qualified house owners to pay their back taxes in reasonable monthly payments to get caught up. I’m proud to say we helped more than 150 residents avoid foreclosure through this program just this year.

Every property owner’s situation is unique, and we understand it may be embarrassing or uncomfortable to ask for help regardless of the amount owned on a house – whether it’s $5 or $5,000. That’s why, as treasurer, my mission has been to create a culture of compassion, kindness and respect within our office. We use these values to drive our approach to serving the people of Van Buren County.

It’s never our goal to foreclose on a property. When foreclosure happens, the property is transferred to the treasurer and goes to auction. As treasurer, my job is to return those properties to the tax roll and manage the settlement process with local units of government as well as the foreclosure process.

The money collected from auctions covers the debt incurred by the former property owner. That includes paying the overdue property taxes, the foreclosure process, as well as any debt owed to local units of government when the properties were transferred to the treasurer’s office. This process protects other taxpayers in Van Buren County who would otherwise be on the hook for a debt they were not responsible for creating.

Any surplus funds go right back into our community. In the past year, money collected from auctions has been used to eliminate blighted properties, which are an eyesore and magnets for crime. The funds have also been used to reduce the amount the county has to borrow to make payments to local units of government – including schools – for delinquent tax payments, saving taxpayers money in the long run.

A case before the Michigan Supreme Court could upend the foreclosure process and ultimately hurt small, rural communities across Michigan, making it harder for local governments to recoup lost taxes.

It could also make it harder for county treasurers across the state to maintain these properties once they are transferred to our offices, which includes addressing safety concerns. It often takes several months for my team to assess a property and address unsafe structures – which can also be costly.

Like many treasurers from small, rural communities, I view foreclosure as a last resort option, and I hope this important court case will not make what is an already difficult job even harder.

Trisha Nesbitt

Treasurer

Van Buren County