Eric Sabree urges residents to take advantage of tax aid programs


Wayne County Treasurer Eric Sabree has urged residents who owe back property taxes to take advantage of aid programs that would help them pay what their liabilities and keep their homes.

In an interview with the Yemeni American News, Sabree – who has been serving as treasurer since 2016 – outlined several initiatives to assist people struggling to pay their taxes to avoid foreclosure.

“We’ve been working with people. We don’t want their homes. We want them to stay in their homes and just pay the taxes, and we want to help them find the easy ways to do it,” Sabree said.

Sabree cited the Michigan Home Taxes Assistance Fund, a federally funded initiative that offers up to $25,000 in property taxes and other housing expenses for people who can demonstrate suffering financial hardship – such as losing income – during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The other program is Pay as You Stay, which provides affordable payment plans and eliminates penalties, interest and fees for low-income people who qualify.

There are also the simple payment agreements that allow residents to pay their back taxes in monthly installments.

“Those are the programs that we have. We urge people to take advantage of them,” Sabree said. “Contact us. Don’t wait until the last minute and try to pay these delinquent taxes the first year because you save on interest and penalties. You don’t want to throw money away.”


Online services

In Michigan, a property is considered forfeited after two years of unpaid taxes. The property is foreclosed upon at the end of March of the third year if the taxes remain unpaid.

Sabree said foreclosure rates have been drastically down in recent years because of assistance programs as well as laws during the pandemic that halted foreclosures.

COVID-19 had shaken up the way the Treasurer’s office does business, leaving some positive lasting effects.

Sabree said to avoid crowding during the pandemic, his office started an appointment system, so instead of large numbers of people showing up at once, now the process is streamlined.

“You go online to the Treasurer’s website, and you can make an appointment,” he said.

“It takes about two or three minutes. And then when you come to the office, you go right to the cashier window, get your help and leave. You don’t have to wait in line. So, it worked out really good for the staff and for the taxpayers.”

Sabree said his office also improved its online services, including making payment agreements available online.

“We made a couple of adjustments and increased our online activity,” he said. “The majority of our payments are now received through the website – over 60 percent. It used to be about 25 percent. So we made a difference, and we’re still collecting the same amount of money. And people find it easier – no parking fees, no trip downtown, no lines. It’s much better.”


Reaching people

Asked about the biggest challenge for his office, Sabree said it was reaching out to people. The county is home to more than 1.7 million residents who use different channels of communication.

“We always feel like reaching people – to the right people at the right time – is a challenge for us,” he said.

“We already do a lot of marketing, targeting our marketing to certain zip codes, certain areas where we know people are in trouble, certain cities. And we go to work with them,” he said.

“We know who the people are, we have the list of those individuals who are far behind, in danger of foreclosure. So we use text messaging; we use door to door contact, the media, the newspaper, TV, radio, but we want to do more targeted marketing.”

Another issue is finding the right employees and offering them competitive wages. “It’s hard to attract people; it’s hard to find employees,” he said.

But Sabree added that he was proud of investing in his staff to do the best job possible.

“It’s important that we continue to invest in training, so that employees are at their best, doing the very best,” Sabree told the Yemeni American News. “So that they know as much as they possibly can about their job, and they can improve their own personal skills, as well as the atmosphere and service to the public.”