Mowing Costs Were Properly Assessed as Part of Property Tax Bill
In Calhoun County Treasurer v. Swafford, Michigan Court of Appeals, No. 293272, November 16, 2010, the Court of Appeals ruled that taxpayers were properly assessed mowing expenses by a city as part of their local Michigan summer property tax bill because it was their duty to destroy the noxious weeds and female box elder trees growing on an unpaved strip of a city street abutting their two vacant parcels of property.
The unpaved strip of real property was located between the taxpayers' two vacant parcels and the blacktopped portion of the city street. The streets in the subdivision plat were dedicated to the public pursuant to statute rather than by common law.
At issue in this case was whether the city owned the unpaved strip such that the taxpayers had no duty to destroy the noxious weeds and female box elder trees growing on the unpaved strip. The taxpayers maintained that if properly considered under statutory dedication principles, the city was the owner of the strip of land and consequently they could not be held responsible for mowing it.
When the public had an easement in a street, the owners of land abutting the street were presumed to own the fee in the street to the center. Accordingly, the taxpayers owned in fee the rights to the street that were not held by the city. Under these circumstances, the court concluded that, for purposes of the applicable local ordinance, the taxpayers were the owners of the unpaved strip of the city street that abutted their two lots and were under a duty to destroy the noxious weeds and female box elder trees growing on the unpaved strip. Further, a state law clearly authorized the city to assess any expenses incurred by the city to destroy weeds when the property owners failed to do so, to assess any expenses incurred by the city to the property owners, and to create a lien against the property in the amount of the expenses.