BANGOR, Maine — For decades, city government didn’t want to take a home if its owner abandoned it, refused to pay taxes or wouldn’t work with the city to make things right. Times have changed.
City staff rolled out a draft of Bangor’s new policy for taking possession of buildings and properties with matured tax or sewer liens against them during a Finance Committee meeting Monday night.
In the past year or so, the Bangor City Council has taken a more aggressive approach to abandoned properties. Former councils shied away from property takeovers, wanting to avoid being a landlord or realtor for vacant buildings and lots.
“We didn’t want their property. We weren’t in the landlord business,” longtime Councilor Pat Blanchette said during the meeting.
The council’s collective view now is focused on dealing with abandoned and blighted properties scattered across the city, many of which have matured tax liens against them.
In September, city staff came up with a list of 49 properties that were more than five years behind in tax payments. Since then, city staffers have been trying to secure payments and are picking away at the list one property at a time.
In recent months, councilors have voted to take over more than a dozen abandoned and tax-delinquent homes and building lots. Councilors say it’s unfair to allow some residents to get away with not paying taxes for years — and in some cases decades — while neighbors struggle to keep up with their bills.
City staff went to the drawing board and rewrote the city’s matured tax lien policy to “summarize the current thinking of the council,” Finance Director Debbie Cyr said.
David Little, the city’s tax collector, said Monday that the city would start with liens that were more than 5 years old before working back to liens that were overdue by three or four years, in hopes of eventually getting caught up. The city will look at taking over abandoned properties before moving on to delinquent properties that are inhabited.
The first step will be to ask police whether they had “recent contact at the address.” After that, Code Enforcement or another staff member will visit the site to determine the condition of the property, whether anyone is living there, and to leave notification that the city is considering taking it over.
If the owner doesn’t respond or refuses to reach a workout agreement with the city, Little will ensure that all required legal notices have been circulated before bringing the question of whether to take the building over to councilors.
City officials have said the city should not take over every tax delinquent property that comes its way. Some would be too costly to maintain, demolish or renovate. Others might have environmental contamination or other issues that would prevent the city from taking possession.
The full council likely will decide whether to approve the new policy during an April meeting after taking time to review it this month and ask questions or seek revisions from city staff.