State bill proposes tax relief

MARQUETTE – State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, introduced a bill recently which would provide homeowners who lose their houses to wildfires and other natural disasters relief from increased taxes, if they rebuild a similar structure within three years.

Senate Bill 396 was referred to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

Casperson cited last spring’s Duck Lake Fire in northern Luce County as a prime example of a natural disaster where the bill’s provisions could apply. Started by a lightning strike, the fire charred more than 21,000 acres and destroyed 136 structures, including 49 homes and 58 garages.

Casperson said such disasters “result in widespread devastation that have long-lasting impacts on individuals, families, businesses and communities.”

“Through no fault of their own, property owners suddenly find themselves homeless or experiencing a great loss of property. The bill is meant as a small step to help them rebuild and carry on with their lives,” Casperson said in a news release.

The new law would clarify state law to ensure those who lost homes or other buildings to wildfires, tornadoes, floods or other acts of God would not incur higher property taxes when they rebuild a substantially similar structure, within three years.

Casperson said current law punishes property owners victimized by the Duck Lake Fire with higher property taxes, even if they rebuild exactly the same structure, which Casperson said was “unjust, unnecessary and unreasonable.”

Rita Lemanek, vice-chairwoman of the Luce County Board, said many who lost everything in the Duck Lake Fire are retirees on fixed incomes.

“Under current tax laws, replacing the homes and outbuildings they lost would result in an insurmountable financial burden,” Lemanek said. “Without the relief Senate Bill 396 provides, many will not rebuild. They simply can’t afford the additional encumbrance that comes from an upward surge in one’s property taxes.”

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.