Essex County officials are working to put together their first tax sale in seven years.
Many counties hold auctions every year or every other year to sell properties the county has foreclosed on after property owners failed to pay their taxes.
But it's something that has fallen by the wayside in Essex County, where the last tax sale was held in 2008. According to Enterprise records, that auction generated more than $1.6 million for the county.
In 2010, county officials started to put together a list of properties whose owners owed taxes, but apparently that sale never came to anything.
"It's something that we definitely have to get back on track with," county board Chairman Randy Douglas told the Enterprise. "It's not fair to the taxpayers that are paying their taxes in a timely fashion."
The people who haven't paid taxes still possess their property, but that is about to change.
A county judge had approved the properties for sale for nonpayment on 2006 taxes, and county Attorney Dan Manning was working on getting the judge to approve the 2007 and 2008 properties, Douglas said earlier this week. Thos will be for this year's sale.
County officials plan to hold another sale in 2014 for properties whose owners haven't paid 2009 through 2011 taxes, Douglas said.
"And then we'll get back on a regular schedule of doing it every two years," Douglas said.
Douglas said he's not sure how the county got so behind on holding tax sales, but he noted that the one in the works is taking up a lot of time for people in the county attorney and treasurer's offices. Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava suggested at a committee meeting last week that the county contract out the service.
"It needs to be done," Scozzafava said.
County Treasurer Michael Diskin, at a committee meeting this week, warned supervisors that if the county is going to get back on a regular schedule of holding tax sales, it should take some steps to educate taxpayers about it.
"The public has gotten used to us not doing this," Diskin said.
He said people don't think they're going to be foreclosed upon, so they don't work as hard to pay their taxes. He said he believes the number of people not paying would decrease if the county were to have an auction every two or three years.
He said he sent out, at the beginning of the month, letters warning people that their properties will go to auction soon if the taxes aren't paid, and he said people are calling or stopping in to pay up.
Diskin noted that the county would also likely make more money if auctions were on a regular schedule.
"The longer we wait, probably the less money we're going to make on a property versus if we sold them in the third year," Diskin said. "It's going to depreciate the longer you wait to sell it."
The county is looking at selling about 140 properties.
Scozzafava has warned his fellow supervisors several times in recent meetings that they should put together a list of properties in their town that the county shouldn't foreclose on due to existing hazards like mine shafts or environmental issues like a brownfield. If the county takes control of a property like that, it might not be able to sell it as is and have to pay to clean it up before it could be sold.
Supervisors have also expressed concern about people who buy foreclosed-on properties at auction, rent them out, don't pay taxes or other bills, and just make money on the property until it's foreclosed on again.
"They know they can get away with it, and they come in and they do it," Scozzafava said at a board meeting earlier this month.
County Attorney Dan Manning told him the county can include, in the terms of sale on the properties, that they can't be sold to people who habitually do that. But he said he doesn't believe it's something that happens often.