TRAVERSE CITY — Leelanau County commissioners affirmed the county treasurer’s decision to perform a tax exemption audit from that department for the first time since 2006.
For the last seven years, the county’s equalization department audited Principal Residence Exemptions, or PREs. The exemption allows some people who own and occupy a property as their primary home to opt out of paying local school operating costs.
This year the county’s treasurer, John Gallagher III, decided to take over the audits without first informing commissioners. Commissioner Carolyn Rentenbach was uncomfortable with the move, and planned to make a motion to bring the power back to the equalization department in the hopes the state would have to decide the issue.
Commissioner Debra Rushton beat Rentenbach to the punch and made a motion to take no action on the issue. The motion passed.
“All of Leelanau County voted this treasurer in and he has the right under the law to assume that position,” Rushton said. “I’m not going to argue with an elected official and undermine his authority or his duties.”
The law gives either the treasurer or the equalization director the ability to conduct the audit, with board approval. County Administrator Chet Janik said he discussed the issue with the county’s legal counsel and there’s no clear indication of whether one has authority over the other.
Rentenbach and Commissioner Jean Watkoski voted against the motion.
“The Equalization Department has been so efficient and diligent as to what they’ve done. They’ve brought a lot of money into the county,” Watkoski said. “I just couldn’t see a reason to switch it over.”