MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town officials will try to sell an additional 13 properties acquired through foreclosure next month unless the former owners of the homes pay the $37,730 they owe, Town Manager Peggy Daigle said Monday.
The properties range in quality from those that must be razed to what Daigle described as a lovely Rush Boulevard family home valued at $78,200 that the town acquired for the somewhat misleading figure of $1.97. The $1.97 is what is owed in 2012 property taxes. It does not account for another $2,102 owed for two years of sewer service bills and a half year of property taxes, Daigle said, but its owner might have retained it longer had he paid the $1.97 promptly.
Daigle said she and town staff find selling foreclosed properties distasteful but must do it to ensure the town’s continued solvency. As of Monday, Millinocket had a $1.7 million fund balance — healthy under the circumstances but not as vast an amount as town security would require, she said.
“We hate it, but the town cannot afford to not process these properties as quickly as we can. We cannot allow them to languish,” Daigle said Monday. “If taxpayers want to retain their properties, they have to exercise their due diligence and see what they owe us.”
The town’s $1.7 million balance will rise once Great Northern Paper Co. LLC or its parent company, Cate Street Capital, pays the approximately $1 million it has owed in property taxes since September. That amount covers the first half of the $2.2 million the company owes for the 2013-14 fiscal year. The next half-year payment is due Jan. 15, she said.
The 13 properties join a list of 41 that town officials have sold since September as part of belt-tightening efforts aimed at forestalling bankruptcy that also reflect decades of population and economic decline in the Katahdin region of northern Penobscot County, which was punctuated when the paper mill closed in 2008.
Millinocket once claimed more than 9,000 residents, but now, Daigle said, the town needs to decrease its housing stock and its governmental costs to reflect its approximately 4,500 residents, many of whom are elderly or unemployed.
The 41 sales netted the town $218,518. Back taxes collected on another 22 properties netted the town about $110,913 for a collection rate of about 53.65 percent, according to a report Daigle filed with the Town Council on Dec. 23. None of the $37,730 owed on the 13 sewer-liened properties has yet been collected, Daigle said.
Daigle hopes to sell the 13 properties via sealed bids to their former owners, to adjoining property owners who can raze the houses and add the property to their own lots, or to entrepreneurs who will redevelop them. Their former owners received final notice of a chance to regain their properties on Dec. 17. Their payment deadline is Jan. 17 at 2 p.m., Daigle said.
During a meeting on Jan. 9, Daigle hopes to discuss with councilors allowing a private company to sell any remaining unsold properties via a public auction, possibly in February, she said.
Of the homes that have been sold or paid off, one will be razed to add to another property owners’ land, while several others are being reoccupied by their former owners or, in the case of a Bermuda native who bought a former apartment building on Central Avenue, redeveloped commercially.