Second Ward Councilwoman-elect Tina Houghton owes Ingham County and the city of Lansing a combined $3,317.74 in back taxes and late fees on her home, at 6231 Coulson Court on Lansing’s south side.
According to the Lansing City Charter, Houghton cannot hold office unless the debt to the city is paid off.
Houghton said that she is making arrangements with some family members to raise the money to pay off the debts, which she said she intends to make whole before she would take office in January.
Houghton said that the reason she and her husband had not paid the taxes was they were “raising four children” and “got in over our heads.”
“These times are hard, and my family has not been excluded from these times,” she said.
Houghton owes $1,919.77 in taxes from 2008 to Ingham County. Delinquent taxes are passed from the city to the county on March 1 of the year after they are past due. However, Houghton still has not paid $1,397.97 in 2009 summer taxes, which were due Aug. 31.
According to the City Charter, Houghton had to sign an affidavit when she registered to become a candidate in May stating that she was eligible for office. Because her back taxes had been passed off to the county at that time, and her 2009 taxes were not yet due, Houghton was at that time eligible for office, City Attorney Brig Smith said.
“The longstanding opinion of this office is that being in default does not prevent a candidate from running or winning, it prevents them from taking office without curing the default,” Smith said.
Houghton said that the back taxes did cross her mind when she registered to become a candidate, but she said she knew that since the taxes were owed to the county she was still eligible to run.
Houghton made note that this is the first time that she has fallen behind on paying property taxes. However, according to county records, it is not. Houghton’s 2007 taxes were not paid until May 2008, as was a $356 charge from 2006. In May 2005, Houghton paid a $430 charge leftover from her 2004 taxes. Houghton said she was not immediately aware of the other past charges.
Houghton beat 16-year Second Ward Councilwoman Sandy Allen in the Nov. 3 election, 55 percent to 45 percent. According to Ingham County and city records, none of the other candidates elected last week are delinquent on taxes.
When asked, Allen was unaware of Houghton’s tax situation, but later she brought it up at Monday night’s City Council meeting, asking Smith for an opinion on the matter.
Houghton spun her debt into a positive, saying that it has taught her an important financial lesson that she will carry into her duties as a Council member — that it’s important to “say no” and to not overextend your finances. She also said that the experience caused her to feel sympathy with other Lansing residents who are facing similar financial situations and foreclosure. (Houghton said that her home was not in danger of being foreclosed).
“I want the citizens of Lansing to know that when they’re struggling, to be silent and by yourself, it’s a difficult situation, and not to be ashamed of your struggles,” she said. “Hopefully when I get in office I can help those people and give them a voice.”