Situation Is First In At Least 26 Years, Trustee Walker Reports
BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The Greene County Property Sales committee faced a situation on Tuesday that Trustee Dan Walker said was the first in his 26 years in office -- the need to sell properties deeded to the county due to delinquent taxes.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the circumstances, however, is that two of the six properties in questions have homes on them -- and the prior owners are still in residence.
One such property, at 1065 Ryan Road, in Fall Branch, is still occupied by prior owner Stevan Quillen, Mayor Alan Broyles said.
Quillen, according to the county's records, lives in a double-wide trailer he purchased in 2000. That home sits on 2.6 acres, and the property is appraised at $80,000.
County taxes on the property are about $300 per year, according to the documents.
Walker noted that the taxes have been delinquent since 2006.
The county begins collecting taxes each year on Oct. 1. Taxes are overdue as of the following Feb. 28, but property-owners may pay a penalty until April 1.
At that time, Walker said he turns the matter over to the Clerk and Master, where the property collects another penalty, interest, court costs and attorney fees.
The Clerk and Master will hold the property for a year to give the owner additional time to pay the costs before holding a delinquent tax sale on the property.
"Even if the property is sold and paid for that day, the owners of the property that originally started with it have one year from that day to redeem it from the courts," Walker noted in a follow-up interview.
On this and the other five properties considered on Tuesday, however, no bids were placed on the properties during the tax sale, the year to redeem has more than passed, and the property has been automatically deeded to the county, he explained.
Walker, Broyles, County Attorney Roger Woolsey and members of the committee all expressed their consternation at the situation.
Broyles had shared the matter with Woolsey, who contacted the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) for a legal opinion on what the county must do to resolve the issue.
CTAS responded with specific steps as set out by state statute, requiring the county to sell the property for the best price offered, not to be less than the amount owed in back taxes, penalty, cost and interest.
If no bid or offer is made at the sale, the County Commission must consider offering the land at a lower, fixed amount, according to information from CTAS Legal Consultant Stephan Austin.
The committee, including Commissioners Nathan Holt, who was elected chairman, Hilton Seay and Phil King, asked if there is any way to avoid the sale or just let the properties sit untouched.
(Commissioner Ted Hensley, whom the committee elected as secretary, is also a member but was not present at the meeting.)
Walker noted that he has had churches and friends of Quillen request to pay his fees on the property. He researched the total owed and found it to be $4,100.
However, Woolsey told the committee that too much time has passed and, with the land now legally deeded to the county, the only legal option is to offer it and the other parcels for open sale.
"You all are fiduciaries for the taxpayers," he said, explaining it is their responsibility to get the properties back on the tax roll.
He said it will be the committee's decision if such a sale is to be through closed bids or in an auction.
"We're going to look like vultures taking people's land," Walker said.
"It's a sad situation, but it's not fair to everybody else," he added in reference to property-owners who are paying their taxes.
Walker and Holt agreed that it legally has to be done.
"We've really never, with these improvements [such as the homes] on them, never had this to happen," Walker said in the follow-up interview.
"Somebody usually buys it at the tax sale and, nine times out of 10, the property gets redeemed by the owner."
He noted that the county has a delinquent sale every year, but, out of the 45,000 parcels in Greene County, there are between eight and 10 parcels that make it to the sale.
Most of those, Walker said, are landlocked and are redeemed by the original owners during the year after the sale.
"Very few times have people actually completely lost their land because of delinquent taxes," he said.
"Very, very few would ever completely lose it after the redemption time has passed."
The committee agreed to meet at 9 a.m., Tuesday at the Courthouse Annex to travel together to on-site inspections of the properties before holding a meeting at 2 p.m. that day to make a formal decision on how to sell them.