Hillsdale County Senior Services Center, Inc., is a Michigan non-profit organization doing business as Perennial Park; the center provides classes, Meals on Wheels, counseling, and other services to help seniors remain at home and independent. Perennial Park receives some funding from Hillsdale County. Under the Activities or Services to Older Persons Act, MCL 400.571, “[a] local unit of government may appropriate funds to public or private nonprofit corporations or organizations for the purposes of planning, coordinating, evaluating, and providing services to older persons.” MCL 400.573. The act also provides for local units of government to raise funds for such services through a millage. MCL 400.576.
In 2008, the Hillsdale County Board of Commissioners submitted a millage proposal to levy up to .5 mill for senior services. The ballot language read, “Shall the limitation on the amount of taxes on the general ad valorem taxes within the County of Hillsdale imposed under Article IX, Section 6, of the Michigan Constitution be increased for said County by .5 mill ($0.50 per $1000 of taxable value) for the period of 2008 to 2022, inclusive, for the intended purpose of planning, coordinating and providing services to older persons by Hillsdale County Senior Services Center, Inc., as provided by Public Act 39 of 1976? Shall the county levy such increase in millage for this purpose during such period which will raise in the first year and [sic] estimated $676,532?”
The millage was passed at the August 5, 2008, election. Because Hillsdale County voters had previously passed a senior services millage for authority to levy .5 mill for 2005-2024, Hillsdale County has current taxing authority for a maximum of 1 mill.
In November 2009, Perennial Park and Hillsdale County entered into a contract for Perennial Park to provide services for seniors from January 1, 2009, through December 31, 2010. The contract provided in part “that in no event will the annual compensation to be paid by the County to the Center under this Agreement from the Senior Citizens Millage Fund exceed the sum of revenue from the two millages, unless this Agreement is formally amended.” The contract also stated that, while a July 2005 lease agreement between Perennial Park and the county remained in effect, “the total compensation paid to the Center shall not be less than the revenue received by the County from the 2004 millage, being one-half (1/2) mill less applicable State required rollbacks (e.g., Headlee/Proposition A).” The contract also provided for the center to submit an annual appropriation request to the county commission, and added, “The Center understands that the appropriation request … shall be one of the factors used for the County Commission’s determination of the amount of the approved voted millage to be spread (levied) for the calendar year in question.”
For the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the county board of commissioners approved a budget and appropriated $836,463.00 to Perennial Park; the board levied the full .5 millage from the 2004 millage and an additional .15 mill from the 2008 millage. For the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the board proposed to appropriate $924,517.00, which included the full .5 mill from the 2004 millage and an additional .25 mill of the .5 maximum authorized by the 2008 millage.
On October 28, 2010, Perennial Park, and some Hillsdale residents who receive services from the center, sued the county in circuit court. The plaintiffs argued that, under the 2008 ballot proposal, the board was obligated to levy the full .5 mill each year. The circuit judge agreed, finding that, under the plain language of the ballot proposal, the voters approved a full .5 mill; accordingly, the judge ordered the county board to levy the entire 0.5 mill in December 2010 tax notices “and every year hereafter until 2022….” But the judge declined to order the county to levy the full .5 mill for 2008 and 2009, saying “there is no legal remedy at law to order the restitution of unlevied taxes for those years.”
The county appealed, and in an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed and vacated the circuit court’s order of mandamus.
Under MCL 600.605, circuit courts have “original jurisdiction to hear and determine all civil claims and remedies, except where exclusive jurisdiction is given in the constitution or by statute to some other court or where the circuit courts are denied jurisdiction by the constitution or statutes of this state,” the appellate panel noted. But, under MCL 205.731(a), the Tax Tribunal has exclusive jurisdiction over a “proceeding for direct review of a final decision, finding, ruling, determination, or order of an agency relating to assessment, valuation, rates, special assessments, allocation, or equalization, under the property tax laws of this state.”
Citing Jackson Dist Library v Jackson Co, 146 Mich App 412 (1985), rev’d on other grounds, 428 Mich 371 (1987), the panel said that the Tax Tribunal – not the circuit court – had subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute. MCL 205.703(d) defines a “proceeding” to include “appeal,” and the statute also defines “agency” to include “a board, official, or administrative agency” empowered to make determinations or orders which are subject to review by the Tax Tribunal, the Court of Appeals reasoned. Perennial Park was in effect appealing the county board’s final determination to roll back a tax levy, and the board could be considered an “agency,” the panel said.
“As in Jackson Dist Library, the question presented by plaintiffs’ action relates to direct review of a determination of rates under the property tax laws,” the Court of Appeals declared. “Accordingly, the Tax Tribunal has subject-matter jurisdiction and the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to enter a judgment of mandamus.”
The plaintiffs appealed. In an order dated September 21, 2012, the Supreme Court granted leave to appeal. The Court directed the parties to “address: (1) whether the Michigan Tax Tribunal has jurisdiction, pursuant to MCL 205.731, over the plaintiffs’ claim for mandamus to enforce the terms of the August 2008 Hillsdale County millage that levied an additional .5 mill for funding the Hillsdale County Senior Services Center, Inc., and (2) whether a court has the constitutional authority to issue a writ of mandamus to compel a municipality to levy and spend taxes.”