ROCKLAND, Maine — The city became the owner last week of four new properties — including three homes — for non-payment of property taxes.
City Tax Collector Susan St. Clair said the four properties were the most properties she can recall being foreclosed on in a single year in more than 35 years with the city. She said typically only one or two properties are acquired each year by the city for non-payment of taxes.
City Attorney Kevin Beal said the increase appears to simply be a convergence of unusual individual circumstances.
“This doesn’t seem to be due to overall economic conditions,” Beal said.
Beal pointed out the city makes many efforts to notify people of the tax situation and to work with them.
The foreclosures are for taxes owed for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011.
Tax bills are sent to property owners. Then a notice is sent to them if the taxes have not been paid six months after the second half of the bill is due. Notices also are sent when the city files certificates of liens with the Knox County Registry of Deeds, which was done 18 months ago for the four properties.
The city also sends out notices 45 days before the property is taken — March 13 this year — informing the owners that the foreclosure occurs automatically under state law.
The municipal attorney, tax collector and other city staff work during those 45 days trying to reach the owners. Beal said there were about 40 notices of foreclosures sent out but that number was whittled down to the four that were foreclosed on last week.
The properties include a duplex on 14 State St.; a single family home at 9 Pine St.; a single family home at 59 Broadway; and a parcel with only a large shed at 67 Warren.
The properties are all vacant other than 14 State St.
The city’s policy is to work with past owners to allow them to re-acquire the properties if they want. The owners, however, must pay off not only the taxes that led to the foreclosures but any taxes assessed in the ensuing two years, interest, any filing costs incurred by the city and a small amount to reimburse the city for adding properties to its insurance policy.
The city also requires that any code violations are corrected before ownership will be returned to the former owners.
St. Clair said that in the case of the Pine Street property, the owner lives in a nursing home and has refused to allow her family to sell the home. The property has not been lived in for years, she said.
The property has been owned by the same owner since 1967, according to city tax records. The property is assessed by the city at $66,000. The taxes owed at the time of foreclosure were $1,227.
The Broadway home also is owned by an older resident who is out of state. St. Clair said the city was not able to track down the woman or her family.
The Broadway home has been owned by the same person since 1991 and by other family members as far back as 1976. The city values the property at $74,400. The taxes owed were $1,103.
The State Street, two-unit residential building was purchased by the most recent owner in 1985. The property is assessed at $105,200 with taxes owed of $2,052.
The 67 Warren St. property had been divided and leased to another person who had planned to operate an upholstery business out of the outbuilding. The assessed value on the parcel was $34,820, with owed taxes totaling $679.
If the former owners do not want the properties back or are unable to work out a reconveyance agreement, the city will sell the properties. The money from foreclosure sales goes into a land sales reserve account.
State Rep. Elizabeth Dickerson, D-Rockland, who also serves on the Rockland City Council, has sponsored legislation at the state level that would require municipalities or the state, in unorganized territories, to return any money received from sales of foreclosed properties above what was owed, to the former owners.
The towns, cities and state can keep the money if the former owner fails to claim the excess funds.
No public hearing has been scheduled for the bill.
Dickerson has voted against sales of tax-acquired properties when they have occurred since she joined the city council.