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Genesee County treasurer won’t foreclose on homes with unpaid water bills because “water was poison”

Jul 7, 2017

The Genesee County official charged with collecting delinquent taxes says she won't collect money for tax liens placed on homes with overdue water bills. That means Flint homes with delinquent water bills will avoid the threat of foreclosure. 

Flint’s state-appointed Receivership Transition Advisory Board recently ordered the City of Flint to resume placing tax liens on homes that didn’t keep up with their water bills during the time when Flint’s water wasn’t safe to drink or use for bathing.

Genesee County Treasurer Deb Cherry’s office is currently collecting delinquent 2015 taxes. She says the city placed liens on homes with overdue water bills in 2015, which she did not accept.

“It was an extra extraordinary situation because the water was poison,” Cherry said. "People couldn’t drink the water, so my office and I decided we were not going to put those liens on [delinquent 2015 tax bills] because if they’re not paid, the law says I have to foreclose.”

Cherry says her office did accept liens placed on homes for unpaid sewage bills.

Michigan Radio recently found more than 10 percent of Flint homes owe more than $1000 in overdue water bills.

Cherry says not accepting the delinquent water bill liens was a moral issue.

“This was an extra extraordinary event, and it was a fraudulent tax because the water is poison,” Cherry said.

She says she is not overriding the Receivership Transition Advisory Board’s (RTAB) authority because RTAB had not yet taken any action in 2015. She says the city of Flint applied the liens for that year. Still, Cherry believes the law gives her authority to consider the broader context of the Flint water crisis, and to refuse to accept the liens on those grounds.

“My concern is with the citizens of the city. I do not believe that we should be foreclosing on property just because of water liens … It’s up to the city and state as to how they get that money,” Cherry said. 

While Cherry says she’s trying to prevent foreclosing on homes that didn’t pay for water that was “poison," RTAB and the City of Flint are focusing on collecting delinquent water bills to pay for the maintenance and operation of the city’s water system.

“It is a mess, but it doesn’t mean that it’s right to foreclose on people’s homes because of it,” Cherry said.

Listen to the entire conversation with Genesee County Treasurer Deb Cherry, above. 

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