Crawford County treasurer aims to help citizens keep their homes
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
It humbles me that the voters have supported me that many times to serve as treasurer, and it humbles me that I’ve been fortunate enough to not have opposition." – Crawford County Treasurer Joseph V. Wakeley
Crawford County has the distinction of having the youngest and now one of the longest-serving treasurers in the State of Michigan.
Crawford County Treasurer Joseph V. Wakeley began his 45th year in office on Jan. 1. He ran unopposed in the 2016 primary and general elections.
Wakeley began serving as county treasurer on Jan. 1, 1973 after winning the primary and general elections in 1972. At the time, Wakeley was the youngest county treasurer in the state at the age of 24.
Now 68, Wakeley is not the oldest serving treasurer in the State of Michigan, but is the senior treasurer in the state as far as years of service. Treasurers from Cheboygan County and Hillsdale County retired on Dec. 31 after 30-plus years on the job.
“There isn’t any currently serving that have served more years than I have,” Wakeley said.
Wakeley said it gives him a sense of pride to serve the county and its citizens for so long.
“It humbles me that the voters have supported me that many times to serve as treasurer, and it humbles me that I’ve been fortunate enough to not have opposition,” he said.
When Wakeley first started in the position, the job entailed rolls and rolls of paper for adding machines and calculators, calculator ribbons, and large ledger books.
“Everything was done by hand,” Wakeley recalled.
The county implemented its first computer system in 1993-94, which streamlined the process of tracking taxes, following the general ledger accounts for the county’s budget, and producing receipts for taxpayers.
Wakeley said he and other elected officials have been fortunate that members on the Crawford County Board of Commissioners have been supportive by giving them the tools they need to do their jobs.
Wakeley said he has attended Michigan Association of County Treasurers conferences for several years, where he has heard complaints about treasurers having poor working relationships with their county boards, administrators, or elected officials.
That has not been the case in Crawford County.
“I think it speaks volumes for the county,” Wakeley said.
Wakeley served as the president of Michigan Association of County Treasurers in 1996, when its summer conference was held in Grayling and most of the members took canoe trips down the AuSable River.
Wakeley said there have been significant changes in state tax laws over the last four and a half decades.
The biggest change was when Michigan voters approved Proposal A in 1994, which created the state education tax and lowered the home tax on resident’s homesteads or principal residences.
In 1999, the State of Michigan turned over the property foreclosure process to the counties. If a property owner does not pay their taxes for three years, the county can foreclosure on the property to collect the unpaid taxes.
Wakeley said he and Kate Wagner, the chief deputy county treasurer, work with property owners on payment plans and arrangements so that they can maintain their property.
“We want to do anything we can to keep from foreclosing, if at all possible,” he said.
County officials work hand-in-hand with the Department of Health and Human Services and Crawford County Veteran’s Service office to help residents facing hardships that might lead to foreclosure.
In 2017, the number of properties going into foreclosure and the amount of money that may be foreclosed upon has dropped, signs that the local economy is improving and steps to assist property owners are working.
“I’m glad that’s going in a positive direction,” Wakeley said.
Being able to assist property owners and work with other local officials means Wakeley has no plans for retirement any time soon.
“I still enjoy it and I feel like I want to just keep going and try to help these people, if we can help them keep their houses and get caught up,” he said.
Wakeley operated the Jolly Redskin Canoe Livery in Grayling for 11 years. He was also a mainstay on the AuSable River Canoe Marathon committee for 30 years, before stepping down from his position after 30 years of service.
“That’s always been fun and enjoyable, but I retired from that,” Wakeley said. “It’s time for some newer, younger people to take over.”
Wakeley has become more involved with committees for the Michelson Memorial United Methodist Church.
He is also on Grayling’s Project Rising Tide Committee. Project Rising Tide is an economic development program initiated by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Grayling is one of 10 communities selected to take part in the program in the state.
Wakeley is also assisting with the Beaver Creek-Grayling Townships Utility Authority, which was formed to help water and waste water systems for the Four Mile Road business district located south of Grayling. The main user for the utilities is Arauco North America, which is building a $325 million particleboard plant off of Four Mile Road that will create 250 jobs.
Wakeley predicts that good things will come to Crawford County when the particleboard plant opens, and additional commercial and industrial growth occurs.
“I hope that when things come, that they’re good things and positive impacts, but I hope they come slowly with measured growth,” he said.
Wakeley, however, does not want to see urban sprawl occur on a fast track like it has in other northern Michigan communities to maintain Crawford County’s character.
“We have the potential to be something else here besides just a town that is full of big-box stores and I would really like to see that,” he said.
Crawford County Administrator Paul Compo, who has been with the county going on 19 years, said Wakeley is a huge asset for the county.
“I think that any success the county has had or I have had as an individual can be contributed to Joe,” Compo said. “He’s taught me all I know all about county government, and he’s one of the most genuine public servants that you will find.”