Bangor shores up rules for takeovers of properties with long-standing back taxes

An abandoned home at 82 Smith Street in Bangor in August 2013.
An abandoned home at 82 Smith Street in Bangor in August 2013. Buy Photo
Posted April 16, 2014, at 7:03 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Bangor City Councilors adopted a policy during Monday night’s meeting that streamlines the process of taking control of properties with lengthy, repetitive histories of neglected tax payments.

For decades, Bangor has been hesitant to go after property owners with back taxes, but the council’s approach has changed in recent years.

Citing fairness to other Bangor property owners who devoutly pay taxes, and a desire to crunch down on the number of abandoned and blighted properties in city limits, councilors told city officials to start cracking down.

In response, city staff rolled out a new policy last month to reflect the path they’ve been zeroing in on since last summer. Councilors approved it unanimously Monday.

The new policy states that 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, David Little, the city’s tax collector, will ensure that all required legal notices have been circulated before bringing the question of whether to take the building 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.

Back in September, city staff came up with a list of 49 properties that were more than five years behind in tax payments. Those are the city’s first targets. The amount owed varies widely, from a few hundred dollars to nearly $50,000. Since that list was released, city staffers have been trying to secure payments. When efforts to secure the debt or find property owners have failed, the option of a takeover has been brought to councilors. So far, the council has been willing to take action.

Councilors have voted to take control of more than a dozen properties, including run-down buildings and vacant lots. Little says they’ll be seeing more in future meetings.

There are more than 100 properties in Bangor with matured tax liens against them. It takes about 2½ years for a lien to mature, according to Little. The newer liens may be attacked after the ones that are more than 5 years overdue are handled, he said.

 

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