'New Look' for Michigan Park But at What Cost?
Owners of mobile homes in the Caseville County Park, located in Michigan's 'thumb,' are irate after receiving a letter from county officials last week that states, among other things, they have to have their mobile homes removed from the park by Nov. 1, 2014, according to the Huron Daily Tribune.
“This is something else, I’m telling you that county has no idea the tsunami of rage that’s going to unfurl,” said Patti Walicki, a Flushing resident who owns a mobile home on a lot she’s leased in the Caseville County Park since 1995.
Walicki is describing her reaction to a Jan. 22 letter from the Huron County Road Commission that she and other owners of mobile homes in the Caseville County Park received that included some changes they think are unfair.
But Huron County Road Commission officials say the decisions are in the best interest of the park, and that the county fully is within its right to make the changes, as leases are signed on a year-to-year basis and can be changed each year.
Some of the lease modifications outlined in the commission’s letter state lessees can no longer sell their mobile home and have it stay in the park under new ownership.
“The lease will not be renewed with a change of ownership,” the letter states.
Another provision states that if a resident does not wish to renew a lease in the park, then they must remove their mobile home from the park.
“Your site will then go to the next person on our waiting list who will only be allowed to place a park model or RV on your vacant site,” the letter states. “However, as long as you are the owner of the mobile home in good standing, your mobile home may remain on the leased site until Nov. 1, 2014.”
On that date, all mobile homes will have to have been moved from the park and replaced with a park model or RV. The letter states campground rules define a park model as a “recreational unit that is built on a single chassis mounted on wheels, that has a gross trailer area of not more than 400 square feet in the setup mode, and that is certified by the manufacturer as complying with the American National Standards Institute Standard A119.5.”
“Park models resemble a manufactured home, but are limited to 400 square feet in area. They are equipped with water using sanitary fixtures such as sinks, showers and toilets. Because these fixtures more closely resemble the fixtures found in homes rather than those found in RVs, there are additional water and sewer demands for park models,” reads the definition in the Jan. 22 letter.
The letter notes the lease modifications were decided by the Huron County Park trustees, who are Huron County Board of Road Commissioners Chairman Alan J. McTaggart, Vice Chairman John M. Hunt and Trustee Michael Power.
In their letter, the park trustees explain the changes are meant to “make certain that this park remains a viable entity well into the future.”
On Jan. 27, McTaggart and Huron County Road Commission Secretary-Manager Neal J. Hentschl explained that the park is going for a “new look.”
“We’re going to upgrade the park to more of an RV park instead of a mobile home park,” McTaggart said.
This sort of transformation took place a few years ago when mobile homes were removed from Oak Beach County Park. While there was some negative feedback at the time, the change has benefited the county park system.
“The end result is the park is now totally transformed into a camping park, and there is in fact a waiting list where there never was before,” Hentschl said.
McTaggart said the change from mobile homes to RVs and park models will result in there being room for 30% more units, which will result in increased revenue for the park system.
“The Caseville County Park is owned by the residents of Huron County and it’s operated for the residents of Huron County by the park trustees. All decisions that are made regarding the Caseville Park and every other park in the park system is for the benefit of the system and for the benefit of the residents of Huron County,” Hentschl said.
Road commission officials stressed that the issue of mobile homes in the Caseville County Park has been one brought up numerous times over the years. Also, officials noted that the decision regarding the park’s transformation was made so that mobile home owners would have four years to decide what future action to take. Also, the road commission tried to give residents the option of purchasing an RV or park model so they could continue to renew their lease after the 2014 season.
“The intention is not to aggravate people … and it’s not like we’re throwing people out on the street,” Hentschl said in regard to the four years between now and when the transformation will take place.
But many mobile home owners who have contacted and been interviewed by the Tribune disagree.
“They’re going to lose our money, the tax base, people coming into the village and spending money. It’s a loss for everybody and everybody (who own mobile homes in the park) that I’ve talked to — and I’ve talked to a lot of people the last couple days — nobody is planning on staying there,” said Deb Keller, a Heartland resident who has leased a lot in the Caseville County Park for the past 10 years.
At the time she and her husband, Don, first began leasing the lot, the couple had purchased a 1968 trailer that was on the lot for $45,000, which was the going price for the lakeview property, she said. The couple then purchased a larger and newer mobile home and invested in new appliances.
“By that time, it was $60,000 (that we invested) total,” Deb Keller said, noting the couple’s done other repairs on the home since then, including new paint, a new bath tub, roof, new 6-foot window, and worked on the lot’s lawn.
That is why she said she was upset to learn that she would not be able to sell the trailer to recoup all — or at least a significant portion of the investment, Deb Keller said.
She noted while the mobile homeowners understand the land is owned by the county and leased on a year-to-year basis, the practice for the past 40 years has been that mobile homes are allowed there, and individuals can sell their mobile home to others who will be able to keep that home in the park.
Now, rather than selling the mobile homes for the location, owners face only being able to sell them for the home’s actual value, which is significantly lower than the price they paid for the trailer.
“It could have been an assumption on our part, but it was that we had a right to stay on that property,” said Laura Lootens, a Detroit-area resident who purchased an old mobile home in 2001 that was probably worth about $3,000 for $21,000 because the home was located in the Caseville County Park. “ … We paid for location, now we’re being told we can no longer sell that at that location, or we can sell it for what it’s worth, location not being included. So we’re out whatever money we thought we could sell it for one day because they changed (the rules) on us.”
“We were all just devastated — there’s no option for us … we’re going to lose $60,000,” Deb Keller said. “Our mobile home is a 1995 model, it’s worth something where it is (in the park), but anywhere else, it’s only going to get about $5,000.”
Deb Keller said it’s unfair that mobile homeowners do not have the option of selling their unit if they give the individual who purchases the home full disclosure that they will have to remove the unit from the park and replace it with an RV or park model if the individual wants to remain on that lot after Nov. 1, 2014.
That way, someone who wanted to, could purchase a mobile home in the park with the understanding that in four years they’d either have to walk away or replace the home with an RV or park model, she said.
According to Deb Keller, there are others who are in worse circumstances, such as one resident who has a mortgage on their mobile home, and others whose mobile home is their summer home or retirement nest egg.
Group: Caseville area will lose money
The resident group's website includes a letter sent to the Caseville Chamber of Commerce, asking for support because the result of this decision will have negative consequences on the local community.
“Our leaving might not affect you if there were new tenants/renters ready to move in, as the (road) commission would have you believe. However, the truth is something much different,” the letter states. “Due to the economy, the seasonal section of the park, already available for RVs, has not been filled to capacity for several years… ”
The letter states that if the mobile home section in the park is disbanded, the total loss to the community will be greater than $500,000, because of a loss of county park rent, property taxes, charity and donations and retail business.
“The devastation to Caseville will be unbelievable for businesses,” Walicki said. “We support the town … through everything — charities, the fire department, we make sure all our business is local, and I’m telling you, the bars make out (good).”
That estimate in the letter to the chamber was compiled by Don Keller, a Notre Dame MBA graduate. Deb Keller said while the estimates are based in part on assumptions, they were made conservatively, and the actual dollar amount the area will lose if these individuals leave more than likely will be much higher.
While the Tribune was unable to check all the estimates in the group’s letter, information obtained from the Huron County Treasurer’s Office shows trailer owners who lease lots in the Caseville County Park were collectively billed for roughly $29,000 in taxes in 2009. Of that, $6,416.53 was billed for state and education and county operating taxes and $6,715.54 was billed for village taxes in summer 2009. The remainder, $16,525.08 was billed in winter 2009, and went to other county units, the township, schools, intermediate school district and Pigeon District Library.
The group’s letter estimates the loss in property tax collected from mobile homes in the park is $21,600.
Regarding park rent, the 2009 rate for a non-lakeview mobile home lot is $3,200 for the season, and lakeview mobile home 2009 rate was $3,400 for the season. Given there are 72 sites, the rent from the mobile homes should have totaled at least $230,400, assuming all lots were leased at the non-lakeview rate.
The group’s letter estimated the rent from the mobile homes totals $200,000.
The website created by some of the affected mobile homeowners currently urges lessees not to pay any rent or sign any contracts until this issue is resolved.
Walicki said if this situation isn’t resolved, the future may bring rent strikes, picketing and “litigation will never be off the table.”
“Unfortunately, lawyers will be involved somewhere down the road,” she said.
Hentschl said there were mobile homeowners at Oak Beach County Park who also threatened legal action when mobile homes were removed from that park.
Deb Keller said a compelling case could be made in court, but hopefully things won’t come to a lawsuit.
“We want them to change their mind,” she said. “… This is not a good decision for us, it’s not a good decision for the village, it’s not a good decision for the county, and it’s not a good decision for the park — I don’t see anyone winning in this.”