The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site - www.ag.state.mi.us)
STATE OF MICHIGAN
JENNIFER M. GRANHOLM, ATTORNEY GENERAL
Exemption from special assessments made under township police and fire protection act
Lands exempted from ad valorem property tax under the General Property Tax Act are not thereby exempted from special assessments made under the township police and fire protection act.
Opinion No. 7042
February 18, 2000
Honorable Ken DeBeaussaert
Lansing, MI 48913
Honorable William J. Callahan
Lansing, MI 48913
You have asked whether lands exempted from ad valorem real property tax under the General Property Tax Act are thereby exempted from special assessments made under the township police and fire protection act.
The General Property Tax Act, 1893 PA 206, MCL 211.1 et seq; MSA 7.1 et seq, exempts from ad valorem real property taxes certain lands because of their ownership or use.1 See sections 7a-7ff. But these exemptions apply only to taxes imposed under the General Property Tax Act. The exemptions do not extend to any other tax or to any special assessments. LeFevre v Mayor of Detroit, 2 Mich 586, 596 (1853); City of Big Rapids v Mecosta County Bd of Supervisors, 99 Mich 351, 353; 58 NW 358 (1894); In re Auditor General's Petition, 300 Mich 80, 86; 1 NW2d 461 (1942). A person seeking exemption from other taxes or from special assessments must look to the applicable tax act or special assessment act to ascertain whether an exemption is available and, if so, whether the person qualifies for that exemption. See In re Smith Estate, 343 Mich 291, 297; 72 NW 287 (1955); see also Mich Civ Jur, Local Improvements and Assessments, § 52, p 438.
The township police and fire protection act (Act), 1951 PA 33, MCL 41.801 et seq; MSA 5.2640(1) et seq, authorizes a township board, or boards of adjoining townships acting jointly, to provide police and fire protection services, and to finance the cost by levying special assessments on the value of lands and premises to be benefited. This act, however, contains no express exemptions. Nevertheless, federal-and state-owned lands, as well as lands owned by local units of government, are impliedly exempt from special assessments unless the act under which the assessment is made expressly subjects them to assessment. People v Ingalls, 238 Mich 423, 427; 213 NW 713 (1927), relying on Cooley, Taxation (2d ed) p 172, and 4 Dillon, Municipal Corporations (5th ed) § 1396; see also 2 OAG, 1958, No 3099, p 11, 13 (January 13, 1958).
The only reported Michigan appellate case which reviewed a township special assessment on the valuation of all lands in the township for fire protection services is St. Joseph Twp v Municipal Finance Comm, 351 Mich 524; 88 NW2d 543 (1958). There, township electors approved the creation of a special assessment district consisting of all lands in the township, a special assessment of two mills per year for five years, and the issuance of bonds to defray the cost of establishing a fire department. Since the special assessment was levied only upon real property in the township, the court held that it was not a tax.2 Instead, it was held to be a fair means to apportion the cost of fire protection services for all lands in the township.
Assessments made under 1951 PA 33, the township police and fire protection act, are special assessments, not taxes. Exemptions provided in the General Property Tax Act do not exempt lands from special assessments under 1951 PA 33. With the exception of lands owned by the federal government, this state, and its municipalities, lands benefited by township police and fire protection services are not exempt from special assessments levied to apportion the costs of such services, unless there is express statutory authority for such exemption. 1951 PA 33 itself provides no exemptions from special assessments regarding any benefited lands.
It is my opinion, therefore, that lands exempted from ad valorem property tax under the General Property Tax Act are not thereby exempted from special assessments made under the township police and fire protection act.
JENNIFER M. GRANHOLM
1 Examples of tax-exempt lands include state lands (section 71), local governmental lands, including school districts (section 7m), nonprofit cultural or educational organizational lands (section 7n), nonprofit charitable institution lands (section 7o), nonprofit hospital or clinic lands (section 7r), houses of worship and parsonages and the lands upon which they stand (section 7s), and burial grounds (section 7t).
2 The court explained the difference between a tax and a special assessment. A tax is a charge on all property, real and personal, in a prescribed area. A special assessment can only be levied on land, and is based wholly on benefits, i.e., the benefits flowing to property value as the result of public improvements. Id., at 532.