Wednesday Wisps

June 24, 2009

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Today we introduce what I will call “Wednesday Wisps”. This is similar to the potpourri term I have used in the past, except that Wednesday Wisps uses alliteration to creep insidiously inside your brain. Wednesday Wisps will feature an assortment of very short news stories, opinions, or ideas – typically, not much more than 100 words.

How long until we can stop using the word “dial”? We don’t dial phone numbers any more – rotary dial phones are something that the younger generation isn’t even aware of (except for the popular toy for infants). I’m struggling to find a better term. “Enter the number” doesn’t seem to have the same panache.

PGA star John Daly sheared the roof off his RV and sent it flying into the path of an oncoming vehicle when he became confused by signs and hit a tunnel. The other driver suffered back and neck injuries, as well as damage to his vehicle. Just as Daly has started to get his life back to a semblance of normalcy, this happens.

Detroit city council member JoAnn Watson will be forced to pay a maximum of three years of back taxes after having the city correct its assessment of her house. Watson’s home had been re-classified as a vacant lot in 1999, and she had been pay $68 annually in property taxes since then. However, the law only allows the city to collect three years of taxes when a property has been incorrectly assessed. It has been pointed out that the absence of the $300 city trash fee should have been a red flag to Watson – since she had actively fought the fee. Watson believed that the property was reassessed after a tornado damaged the home, although no official records of the tornado can be found, and Watson did not file an insurance claim at the time of the tornado.

University of Georgia gymnast Courtney Kupets won the Honda-Broderick Cup, awarded annually to the top female college athlete in the US. Kupets, the winningest gymnast in NCAA history, won four individual titles at this year’s NCAA meet. More impressive is the fact that Kupets was able to bounce back from a torn Achilles tendon that cost her most of her junior season. Not only did Kupets recover from the injury, but she was able to compete at the very highest level.

Voting for Major League Baseball’s All Star Game, held in July, begins in April, when some roster slots are not even set. This is wrong. Delay the start of voting until June 1. With internet voting, anyone who wants to vote will still be allowed to vote. While you’re at it, change the limit from 25 votes per email address. Restrict the voting by IP address instead, to avoid having someone use multiple email address. I personally have more than a half dozen email addresses.

The smart phone war escalated, with Palm releasing their Pre model and Apple releasing their iPhone 3GS to legions of adoring fans. I personally am a “dumb phone” sort of guy, relying on a Samsung Slider – my data connection to the world consists solely of text messages from

Apple CEO Steve Jobs has begun working by email as he bounces back from a battle with pancreatic cancer. The charismatic Jobs, 54, received a liver transplant in April.

Reality stars Jon and Kate Gosselin – from TLC’s Jon & Kate plus 8 – have filed for divorce. This had been widely rumored for months.

Ed McMahon, longtime Tonight Show sidekick to Johnny Carson, and also the longtime spokesman for Publisher’s Clearinghouse, died at age 86. McMahon had suffered several health problems in recent years.

$68 Property Taxes – The JoAnn Watson Saga

May 27, 2009

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A reporter recently discovered the fact that Detroit city council member JoAnn Watson had been paying just $68 in annual property taxes for about a decade.  Her home was incorrectly classified as a vacant lot by the city, when in fact there had been a house on that property since 1926.

Watson said that she noticed the change in taxes, but believed it was due to the fact that a tornado had hit the house.  Let’s digest a few points of the story.

Did she know?

If Watson had escrowed her taxes (as many people do) , then it would be somewhat believable that she simple wasn’t aware of the amount of property taxes she was paying.  Although I can probably guess my property taxes to within $50, I suspect that a lot of people don’t pay a lot of attention to what individual amounts make up their escrow payments.  Watson did not escrow her taxes, though, so she would have been very aware of the amount, since she would be physically writing a check for the taxes.  Watson does freely admit that she was aware of the amount of her taxes.

I find it a bit strange that her tax accountant wouldn’t have pointed out a disparity when comparing her mortgage interest deduction to her property tax deduction – but perhaps she did her own taxes.

The tornado

The tornado is a fascinating aspect of the story.  Watson says the the tornado did great damage to the home, specifically to the roof and foundation.  She felt that this damage caused her home’s assessment to be lowered.  A few question about the tornado remain unanswered:

  • Watson says that the tornado occurred in either 1993 or 2002.  I have never suffered a direct hit from a tornado, but I have come frightening close.  I sincerely doubt that I’ll ever forget that the tornado that passed about a block from my house before ripping through another part of town was in 2006.  It made enough of a lasting impact that I doubt I’ll err by nine years on an estimate.
  • Watson also says that she never informed the city (assessor), nor did she file an insurance claim.  Why on earth would you NOT file a claim?  I understand the logic of not filing small claims for fear of higher premiums.  However, a tornado directly hitting your house is a near worst case scenario – it’s the reason why you would buy insurance in the first place.  If you aren’t going to file a claim in such a situation, why ever bother to have the insurance?


Watson obtained a mortgage in 2002 (after the tornado, apparently) for $60,000.  It never dawned on her that the fact the  the appraisal was high enough to warrant the loan was an indication that it had regained value (for reference, she paid $40,000 for the home in 1990).  Watson says that she thought that appraisers used their “financial wizardry” to help her get the loan.  That’s a great quote, because I wasn’t aware of the fact that appraisers used financial wizardry, nor did I realize that it is their job to try to get you a mortgage.  I thought they were simply trying to estimate the fair market value of the house.

The future

First of all, Watson should probably stay away from neighborhood barbeques.  The neighbors are not happy that they were paying roughly 40 times what she paid in taxes.  I suspect that her time on the city council (along with the $80,000 salary and use of a car) is also coming to an end.  Watson has informed the city of the error and is prepared to pay back taxes that are owed on the property.

You can read more about this in the Detroit Free Press.