Chief judge of state Tax Tribunal offers pointers, update

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By Frank Weir

Legal News

The chief judge of Michigan's Tax Tribunal highlighted a meeting of the Washtenaw County Bar Association's Tax Law section last week.

Patricia Halm offered an update on the tribunal and practice tips.

"We are getting a whole new docketing system and we hope to offer efiling by the start of next year," she said. "We've had only one computer person who is retiring and has had to cover several agencies in recent years so it was imperative that we have a change. We've been pushing for the ability to offer efiling.

"The first phase of the upgrade is done and I am hoping testing will begin by the end of this year."

Halm also noted that the tribunal now is at full force for the first time in since she became chief in 2007.

"We have seven members including a CPA, an assessor, an appraiser, two attorneys and two at large members. It took a long time to find an assessor member and it always seemed like we had two or three vacancies. But we are now fully staffed and we are starting to move tribunal cases fairly quickly."

Current issues facing the tribunal, according to Halm, include the imminent dismantling of the Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, of which the tribunal is a part.

"We won't leave the group but there will be a new name and I assume I will not be named chair again so I'll return to being a judge. It's a very fun job though and I look forward to continuing with the tribunal.

"I might add that we are always looking for contract attorneys around the state including here in Washtenaw County. These are all small claims cases, typically residences. If anyone is interested, they should contact the tribunal," she said.

Halm reminded the meeting that a conditional principal residence tax exemption was enacted in 2008 that allows homeowners to have both their principal residence and a former residence that has not been sold, to qualify for the exemption.

"You are allowed to have both houses receive the principal residence exemption for up to three years when you are trying to sell your former home in which you no longer live.

"People are not taking advantage of this in my opinion. You file papers with your assessor just like a current home.

"The tax savings are significant so it's certainly worth the paperwork expense."

In other practice pointers:

--Halm said that the tribunal is developing a mandatory trial docketing form that will require all the information the tribunal needs to open a case.

She put out a request on the tribunal listserve for comments on the proposed form but has not received many responses, she said.

She welcomes comments and suggestions about the form.

--She noted that property owners have the burden of proof in small claims cases that go before the tribunal and that evidence is essential.

"Lots of times home owners come in with listings and something does seem out of whack and if someone deserves a break we want to give it to them. But its hard if they don't give us enough to do anything about it.

"Just listings or news articles or anecdotal comments about their neighbors' assessments don't help us.

"In small claims cases, it's best to get an appraisal done. If values are indeed incorrect, then the homeowner will quickly recoup their costs after an adjustment."

--"Don't bother asking for an extension, they are just not being granted."

--"Get appraisers well in advance if you indeed plan to file a case in the tribunal.

"We are seeing fewer and fewer appraisers who are willing to appear at the tribunal and those that appear get snapped up quickly.

"Many appraisers are not used to being cross examined and challenged and they just will not appear at the tribunal."

--"If you have an appeal with us on an assessment and you've not had a hearing yet, you don't have to go back to the Board of Review again.

"If you have a small claims case and you are just waiting for a hearing and you want to include the current year in the appeal too, then you need to file a motion to amend adding the year, filing the fee and giving notice to the other side."

Published: Thu, Feb 24, 2011

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