BANGOR, Maine — The saga of the Brown family and the city’s attempt to keep them in their house — and the Browns’ checks coming to the city tax office — appears to be approaching an end.
At Monday afternoon’s meeting of the City Council finance committee, which all nine councilors attended, the five councilors on the committee unanimously voted to take possession of the house at 110 Pearl St. after the Browns defaulted on an agreement they signed with the city in October 2010.
“I can’t support another extension of your due date because we set a bad precedent when we don’t hold citizens responsible for their taxes,” said Councilor Ben Sprague.
Sprague is not one of the voting members of the committee, but his position was shared by those who are.
“It’s a very hard truth, but I support it,” said committee member Geoffrey Gratwick.
All nine councilors made it clear Monday afternoon they would not vote to give the couple, who owe the city nearly $134,000 for a home loan and related taxes and payments, another chance to get their financial house in order.
Jennifer and Peter Brown attended the meeting with a $4,900 check that would have brought them up to date on their payment plan but since they requested a postponement of the $800 payment due May 18, the councilors opted not to accept the check.
David Little, Bangor’s tax collector and deputy treasurer, said while the city was legally entitled to take the $4,900 check and still begin eviction proceedings, councilors and city staff wanted to be fair and allow the Browns to use that money for their relocation expenses.
“There was no assurance they were going to be able to continue to make those payments and felt we’d be back here again in four months having the same discussion,” said Little.
The Browns, who are five years behind on their property taxes, did make a $400 payment to the city last month.
“That was used to offset the mortgage insurance,” said Little. “Because their payments hadn’t been made, the city was covering that out of other budget money.”
The 2010 agreement between the city and the Browns was initially for 12 months and called for monthly payments of $800 with $200 applied to taxes and $600 going to mortgage loans and property insurance.
The outstanding balance on the city-backed loan now stands at $133,874 and the assessed value of the home is $125,000.
“I have concerns that this long-range plan may not work out for your family,” said Joe Baldacci, one of three councilors who voted to give the Browns an extension at an April 2 meeting. “It’s my concern that this is not an affordable situation for you.”
The next step is for the City Council to issue an order to take possession of the property. There will be a 10-day window to reconsider that order and then the Browns will be given a 30-day notice to vacate the property.
“We’re probably looking at July before the house is empty and ready for resale,” said Little.
The workout agreement was a compromise between the city and the Browns over nonpayment of a $70,000 low-interest loan agreement the Browns and the city had entered into in 2005. Part of the loan had been made through Bangor’s Department of Economic and Community Development and was funded by a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development grant administered through the city.
The other part of the loan included the couple’s mortgage, which the city paid off when the original mortgage holder, Penquis CAP, started foreclosure proceedings for nonpayment. The city chose to take over the mortgage to avoid losing thousands of dollars it had lent the Browns.
“If it were a bank they had a mortgage with, the bank would lose their interest if we took the property,” Little said. “We just happen to be the bank in this case. It’s a very unique situation where we have all of the mortgage due on the property, plus unpaid taxes.”
While the city rarely takes possession of houses — Little says the city now possesses four and this is only the second time in his 19 years with the city where Bangor took a property that was occupied by a family — the city has legal entitlement to at least 100 properties.
“Looking at properties in Bangor with mature tax liens, which means they have at least three years of outstanding taxes due, we have 100 to 114 in Bangor currently,” Little said. ‘Legally we have title to those properties, but we don’t have possession.”