Detroit may seek return of $16 million site

UPDATE:  City of Detroit Council- Photo Gallery


September 27, 2012  PLYMOUTH EAGLE.


Detroit officials are finalizing a course of action regarding a $16 million piece of property in Plymouth Township erroneously sold for back taxes

Plymouth Township was the buyer of the land, paying $606,000 for the property, the former site of the Detroit House of Corrections. Township resident and independent candidate for supervisor Richard Sharland has attended meetings in Detroit regarding the issue and said that he has been informed that the city will make a final decision based on the recent report of the Detroit city attorney.

According to reports at the meeting, Detroit representatives have been in contact with Plymouth Township regarding the matter.

Plymouth Township purchased the land from Wayne County for back taxes late last year. The entire 323-acre site was recorded as having been purchased in 2006 by Demco 54 by the assessor’s department in Plymouth Township, when in fact, Demco 54 purchased only a 133-acre portion of the property. Demco 54 failed to pay taxes on the property for several years and the county included the land in the tax sale. The county put the entire 323-acre site up for sale as the assessor’s records indicated that Demco 54 was the owner. All tax bills for the entire 323-acre site went to Demco 54, rather than the bill for the 133-acres actually purchased. Therefore, Detroit never received a tax bill from Plymouth Township for the 190 acres the city still owned.

State law allows options for the true owner of the land in such situations, one of which is the reclaiming of the land and/or financial damages up to double the price of the property. The land was on the tax rolls for twice $8 million, or a true cash value of $16 million,

The property was valued on tax rolls at one time in excess of $30 million. At a meeting of the Detroit Budget,

Finance and Audit Committee last week in the Detroit City Council chambers, Timothy Beckett, Supervising Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of Detroit presented his formal report.

He told the committee members, “The way the transaction was handled was not consistent with State Law.”

Beckett said the Detroit legal staff had contacted the Wayne County Treasurer’s office through their corporation counsel and discussed the forfeiture of city-owned land and the State Tax Commission laws pertaining to the sale.

The Wayne County Treasurer’s office reproved the claim responding, “…all actions taken by the Wayne County Treasurer in the foreclosure process were consistent with the information provided by the communities. Consequently, this matter should be resolved between the municipalities-Detroit and Plymouth Township.” Earlier this year, Sharland notified Detroit that Plymouth Township had purchased the vacant farmland still owned by the city. Chairman Kenneth Cockrel, Jr. requested the city law department review the purchase.

Beverly Kindle-Walker from Wayne County, who helped Sharland wade through the complicated paperwork and county records, told the committee, “We (the City of Detroit) want to get what is ours back. This is an opportunity to reclaim property valued at $16 million.”

Sharland was prompted to find the true owner of the property when a friend of his was leasing the land, which is adjacent to Sharland’s property, to farm crops. Sharland was curious about his friend’s requirement to pay Demco 54 a rental fee for part of the land and another fee to Detroit for the other section. When he heard the entire parcel was sold to the township for back taxes, he was even more curious, he said.

“Detroit was getting rental and lease fees on the land, but never got a tax bill. Demco 54 got both the tax bills for the entire parcel and lease fees for the portion they actually purchased,” Sharland said. “The whole thing just didn’t seem right.”

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