Casperson introduces bill to aid victims of natural disasters

Legislation to assist those who rebuild structures lost to acts of God or natural disasters was introduced last week by state Sen. Tom Casperson.

“Disasters such as the Duck Lake fire in Luce County last spring result in widespread devastation that have long-lasting impacts on individuals, families, businesses and communities,” said Casperson, R-Escanaba. “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.”

The legislation would clarify state law to ensure that those who lose homes or buildings to acts of God, such as wildfires, tornadoes, or floods, would not be subject to higher property taxes when they rebuild a substantially similar structure within three years of the incident. 

Last year, 136 structures were lost during the Duck Lake fire, which was the second worst forest fire in the state’s history. Of those structures, 49 were homes, cabins, or businesses and 58 were garages or outbuildings. Current law punishes each of the property owners victimized by the fire with a higher property tax bill if they choose to rebuild, even if they choose to rebuild exactly the same structure, which Casperson said is “unjust, unnecessary and unreasonable.”

Casperson was asked by local officials and property owners to amend the state law to ensure that it was clear that people who rebuild would not be penalized with higher taxes on the structures they replaced.

“Many who lost everything in the Duck Lake fire are retirees on fixed incomes,” said Rita Lemanek, vice-chair of the Luce County Board of Commissioners. “Under current tax laws, replacing the homes and outbuildings they lost would result in an insurmountable financial burden. 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.” 

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