Dennis Wilkin of Saline has been a farmer for 52 years and has farmed in three counties and ten townships.
This month he got a property tax bill from Van Buren Township that went up by $4,500 from the year before. Now, his tax for the Bradshaw Drain is more than $6,400.
He said he went over to the township treasurer’s office and they said it was a Wayne County charge and they didn’t know what it was for. He had to go to the county.
So, he said, he went to the Wayne County Drain Commission and he was told he owned 53% of the Bradshaw Drain — he was majority owner of the drain –but that they didn’t know why his bill went up. He was directed to Spicer Engineers, who the county hired for the drains. He said Spicer wouldn’t give him information on the Bradshaw Drain.
Wilkin claims there is no plan for the Bradshaw Drain.
Wilkin said he was insulted when VBT’s Public Services Director Matthew Best, in one of his many trips to the township, referred to him as “a gentleman farmer.” He said he is finishing his 52nd year as a farmer and he didn’t begin with an inheritance or anything from his wife’s parents. He worked hard to make a living farming.
“It really stings,” he said of Best’s comment.
Wilkin said the county hasn’t touched the Bradshaw Drain since just after the Civil War and he can’t find out what is planned, if anything. He tried a Freedom of Information Act request with the county and was told there was no information on the drain.
He said his next step is to the state attorney general.
Wilkin said it may be a plan by the township, which has close ties to the county, to extort his property from him. If he can’t pay his taxes, the township eventually could get his land.
The property he refers to is the 280 acres south of Hull Road that he bought in seven parcels in 2012. It had been mentioned as the sites of a new Kroger store and then for the new Belleville High School, but both plans fell through. He bought it from the property owners as farmland.
He said he talked to Kroger three years ago and was told Kroger doesn’t want to go to war with the township. Kroger had offered to bring 70 jobs, he said.
In 2017, the Bradshaw Drain assessment on the seven parcels added up to $572.51. In 2018, the total was $2,148.32. For 2019, it is $6,427.24.
Wilkin has put his property up for sale, but has received no bites.
He named off the land the VBT board has purchased over the last few years, including the DNR property on the lake for a very low price, and the Ford property that is not to be used for a decade, and the Placemaking land for an office/park.
“This whole board needs to be recalled,” Wilkin said. “How in the world does the community let this crap happen?”
He referred to his property tax bill as “taxation without representation.” Since he doesn’t live in VBT, he cannot vote in VBT, but is taxed on the property he owns nonetheless.
He said that 75% of his tax bill goes to education.
“They’re just rifling the taxpayers,” Wilkin said.
“I don’t have a right to vote against them,” he said of VBT officials, school plans, and county proposals.
Wilkin said in 1979 the Michigan Farm Bureau named him Top Young Farmer in the State of Michigan and he came in fourth in the nation.
He said he believes he’s the only farmer in the state who is a sole proprietor of his business, with others getting the land from their mom and dad.
He said he had a heart attack in 2015 and his doctor said he was a half hour from death with the “Widow Maker.”
“These aggravations have got to stop,” he said, noting his father and brothers died at an early age of heart attacks. He is nearing age 70.
He said he can’t retire because the Capital Gains Tax will take so much from him that he wouldn’t be able to provide for his wife, who he thinks will live a long time because her mother died at age 100.
He said the farmers are the true slaves of America today.
He said since he is 53% owner of the drain, wouldn’t it be a priority to let him know what’s going on with it? He said there have been no notices in the mail and no public hearings.
“I have a little too much pride to let it go back for taxes,” Wilkin said of his farmland on Hull Road. “And, I’m not ready to give up nearly 40% of my holdings in Capital Gains Taxes.”
Wilkin said the county could be held liable for the phosphorus draining into Lake Erie because of its failure to clean county drains.
He said he put $180,000 worth of tiles into his property on Hull Road and the water that comes off his field is drinking-water quality. But every year there are 20 to 30 acres of his property under water because it can’t get away in the drain.
Wilkin said the tanker trucks people saw coming through the City of Belleville late last summer were coming to his farmland with treated human waste from Ann Arbor. He said the fertilizer is certified by the state.
(Independent calls to the Wayne County Drain Commissioner have not been returned.)