September 24, 2019
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Bangor getting ‘serious’ about unpaid property taxes

Gabor Degre | BDN
Gabor Degre | BDN
Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow

BANGOR, Maine — The city of Bangor is preparing to take possession of nine unoccupied properties with multiple years of unpaid tax liens.

According to city officials, final notices have been sent to property owners and — in instances when notices were returned undeliverable — ads are being placed in the Bangor Daily News.

The final notices go beyond the state’s minimum requirement for the city to take possession of the property, City Manager Cathy Conlow said during a finance committee meeting on Monday.

“These notices do not have to go out. They’re a courtesy. We’re saying we are now serious,” she said.

Records obtained from the city through a freedom of information request show taxes have not been paid on the properties for at least three years, with a total of $113,376 owed in matured tax liens. One is 13 years behind.

Tax liens made against properties to secure the city’s interest in unpaid taxes — filed with the Penobscot Registry of Deeds after months of state mandated late notices — mature when 18 months have elapsed without payment.

At that point, the city technically owns the property, though it usually does not take possession of the land, hoping to reach an agreement with property owners that will keep the land on the tax roll and avoid the city picking up the cost of maintenance. The city began tearing down dilapidated buildings it acquired last fall.

“We attempt to work with taxpayers, but eventually it comes to a point where … we need to do something with these properties,” Tax Collector and Deputy Treasurer David Little said.

“It’s unfair to the other taxpayers for them to go year after year without paying taxes or attempting to work out some type of agreement with the city,” he said.

Little told the council that, unless the property owners make arrangements for payment, he expects to recommend they vote to take possession of the first three properties in April and the remaining six in June.

Community and Economic Development Officer Jason Bird said his office will recommend what to do with the properties once they take possession.

In some cases, they could recommend demolition and the creation of green space, sale of the property if it is in good condition or rehabilitation if existing Community Development Block Grant funds are available.

The primary goal is to improve the surrounding neighborhoods and return the properties to the tax rolls, he said.

Even if the city takes possession of the properties, it only will be a small portion of those in the city with matured tax liens. Little estimated there are 120 to 130 citywide.

City officials said the unoccupied properties were selected because they have the greatest negative impact on their neighborhoods, are the furthest behind on their taxes and do not require an eviction process.

That makes them easier to return to the tax roll, city officials said. City officials also hope their move to take possession of properties will make tax debtors take them more seriously and pay their back taxes.

City officials also have identified 24 occupied properties with matured tax liens they hope to give final notice on next. No exact date was given for that action.

Conlow said the city cannot go after all matured tax liens because it doesn’t have the staff to deal with them all simultaneously.

The first nine properties are 45 Patten St., $4,149 owed; 65 Curve St., $1,548 owed; 217 State St., $42,829 owed; 3 Charles St., $23,804 owed; 5 Grove Street Court, $9,434 owed; 76 Market St., $7,773 owed; 20 State St., $19,768 owed; 20 State St., $630 owed; and 130 13th St., $3,441 owed.

The BDN chose not to release the identities of property owners because the city has not successfully contacted all of them to notify them of the debt.

Follow Evan Belanger on Twitter at @evanbelanger.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that owners could not be verified.

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