BANGOR, Maine — City officials’ announcement on Monday that they were mailing about 600 foreclosure notices this week isn’t quite as troubling as it sounds.
The number of notices just about tripled the typical number issued annually only because for the first time in at least five years, the city is automatically mailing warnings to delinquent sewer and storm water accounts, Debbie Cyr, city finance director, said Tuesday.
“It is likely that many of the sewer and storm water liens relate to the same location,” Cyr said in an email.
The city started the automatic mailings of delinquent sewer and storm water this week as part of a recent computer software upgrade. The notices address nonpayment of 2014 sewer, storm water or 2015 property tax accounts that remain unpaid as of Dec. 7, tax collector David Little said in the announcement.
The city typically mails about 200 foreclosure warnings on delinquent tax accounts per year. Real estate foreclosure notices have followed a pretty consistent pattern since 2013, when the city filed 222 notices for property tax bills still unpaid from the previous year. The city filed 233 notices in 2014 and 239 in 2015, according to statistics Cyr provided. Of the 600 notices sent out this week, 189 are for last year’s unpaid property taxes. The city did not have an exact number, but the remaining notices were sent out for the unpaid sewer and storm water bills.
It is difficult to say exactly how many homeowners or properties are represented because accounts can be arranged in a variety of ways, Cyr said.
The city has about 13,000 tax accounts. Before the upgrade, the city sought payments on delinquent sewer and storm water accounts several ways, including via collection agencies, repeated mailings or by talking to property owners when they came to City Hall, Cyr said.
Homeowners have 18 months to pay outstanding bills and fees before a municipality can claim ownership, according to state law. Owners are granted 35 days to pay an overdue bill, according to maine.gov.
Most municipalities wait at least a year to tax-acquire properties, and it’s not uncommon for them to avoid assuming property ownership for fear of incurring expenses and liability.
During Monday evening’s City Council Finance Committee meeting, Cyr and the panel members reviewed the city’s housing and tax-acquired property situation generally and didn’t discuss exact counts. Cyr and City Manager Cathy Conlow told councilors that before the administration pursues ownership, it tries first to determine whether a property is salvageable and whether the salvage effort fits the neighborhood around the property.
Small neighborhood parks, green spaces or renovated housing are usually the result, they said. Sometimes the city works with abutting landowners to revitalize a property, Conlow said.
“If it is a developable lot we will try to put [landowners] together,” Conlow said during the meeting.
Councilor David Nealley said he approved of the city’s case-by-case approach to abandoned properties.
“This is a pragmatic issue that has more to do with the neighborhoods and the particular situations,” Nealley said.
Councilor Gibran Graham said he found the review helpful given the 600 notices.