BANGOR, Maine — Officials have targeted a building on Court Street and a vacant lot on Larkin Street for acquisition by the city as part of a continuing effort to reduce the number of abandoned properties in Bangor.
City councilors will discuss whether the city should take possession of 147 Court St., a long-vacant property with a pair of matured tax liens against it, and 91 Larkin St., an empty lot with an assessed value of $17,800, during a committee meeting Wednesday night.
David Little, Bangor’s treasurer and deputy tax collector, updated councilors on the status of the properties in a memo leading up to this week’s meeting.
Little said the Court Street property, a 9,000-square-foot building near Coe Park, “has been abandoned for some time, is a blight to the neighborhood and has cost the city additional funds for securing the property.” Its assessed value was not immediately available Monday.
When a property is abandoned, city staff have to use up time and resources to ensure that buildings are boarded up and secure, so no one can enter to squat there or steal pipes or wiring. The buildings also become fire hazards and eyesores.
The Court Street property has four years of outstanding taxes, including a pair of matured tax liens against it totaling more than $10,000, according to Little. It typically takes 2½ years of unpaid taxes for a lien to mature. Legally, the city already owns those properties, but it has seldom chosen to take possession of them in the past.
If the city acquires the building, it likely would be torn down, leaving an empty lot that could be sold to a new owner to build a house or apartment.
Little said numerous attempts to find the owners of 147 Court St. have failed. The assessed owner told the city he lost possession of the property during bankruptcy proceedings several years ago. The city hasn’t been able to track ownership of the building because the mortgage was transferred several times without filings being made at the Registry of Deeds, Little said.
On Larkin Street, the vacant lot has 11 years worth of overdue taxes totaling $5,750, including nine matured liens.
Attempts to reach the out-of-state owners about the back taxes have been unsuccessful, as the owners moved and left no indication of what their new address was, Little wrote in his memo. This is a common problem for the city, and is part of the reason it struggles to deal with abandoned properties quickly and efficiently, officials have said.
If the city takes the property and sells it to a new owner, that owner could choose to build on the lot, according to Little.
“However, it also is located within a congested residential area and the council may wish that it remain undeveloped or have limited development,” Little wrote.
The owner of a home next to the vacant lot has expressed interest in purchasing the property after the city takes possession of it, according to Little. If that abutting owner were to purchase the lot, it would be joined with his current property and would only be allowed to house a garage or outbuilding.
Little also is expected to update councilors on how the city collects its taxes.
Between 1996 and 2013, Bangor’s total personal property and real estate tax commitment grew from $31 million to nearly $49.8 million. Along with that growth came a growth in uncollected taxes and outstanding accounts. Over that span a total of more than $2 million in tax commitments in the city went unpaid, but that was out of a tax commitment total of more than $692.8 million.
In 2013, there were 738 outstanding real estate and personal property accounts in the city, with outstanding commitments totaling $791,000. Still, the overall collection rate in 2013 was 98.4 percent, Little pointed out. That percentage has fallen in recent years. In 2012, the collection rate rate was 99.4 percent, and was on a slow but steady decline from previous years as the number of tax accounts in the city grew.
“The current methods we utilize for collecting taxes has, overall, been very effective,” Little said.
Little said the department also has been discussing whether to publish a list of people who haven’t paid taxes on their properties, but that idea may not have the desired effect.
“Many smaller communities prepare these lists and included them with the town report,” Little wrote. “While informative, the [lists are designed] to embarrass taxpayers into paying their obligation. While it may be effective in some circumstances, the list also would cause unintentional embarrassment to taxpayers who have fallen on hard times and are not necessarily ignoring their tax responsibilities.”