BRUNSWICK — Seventeen residential properties in foreclosure for unpaid taxes may be sold if their owners fail to pay off the debts by a Dec. 15 deadline.
While town officials hope to work with the taxpayers, the deadline is an effort to clean up a backlog of seized properties that goes back nearly a decade.
The town is owed nearly $117,000. Almost two-thirds of the total comes from three properties, including a waterfront home on Mere Point Road where the owner owes more than $47,000.
The smallest bill, $700, is owed by the former owner of a 1989 Skyline mobile home in the Maplewood Manor development off Old Bath Road, according to town records.
The bills include taxes unpaid until the town took ownership of the properties and the amount that would have been due if the taxpayers still owned them, plus interest.
Most of the properties are still occupied, which complicates the matter.
“To own these and sell them is obviously not the outcome we want,” Town Manager John Eldridge said this week. “Our concern is to get the taxes, not to displace people. We’ve tried to make that clear, but we’ve also tried to make clear that this can’t go on indefinitely.”
Town councilors set the Dec. 15 deadline in September, but also gave Eldridge the flexibility to extend payment deadlines on a case-by-case basis.
Councilor Sarah Brayman, who heads the council finance committee that recommended the deadline, echoed Eldridge’s stance on dealing with outstanding taxes.
“It’s a delicate balance we have here,” she said. “It’s not the right message to send to people that ‘you don’t have to pay your taxes and that’s OK,’ but at the same time, I don’t want to be forcing anyone out of their home for taxes.”
Town officials won’t know which taxpayers have paid up until Tuesday, Dec. 16, Eldridge said.
According to a list provided to councilors last week, only two of the property owners were making payments on their tax bills. Four others had arranged a payment plan, and six more were in discussion with town officials.
Julia Henze, the town’s finance director, said Eldridge and town officials have tried to connect with the tax delinquents.
“(Eldridge) has been really trying to talk to all the homeowners, particularly when they are still living in the properties,,” Henze said. “He’s trying to make every effort to keep them in their homes.”
The number of properties taken by the town is higher than the number it would usually be handling, Eldridge acknowledged.
In part, that is because Brunswick has been collecting tax-acquired properties for the better part of a decade without addressing the problem.
The owner of a 1987 Skyline mobile home on Theodore Drive owes a little more than $3,000; the property was taken by the town in 2007. Several others were taken for back taxes in 2008.
Since the foreclosure process begins with a tax lien 18 months before the town takes control of the property, some of the former property owners haven’t paid taxes since 2005-2006. The majority of properties were taken between 2011 and 2013.
According to Brunswick’s tax-acquired property policy, once a property is in foreclosure, the town manager is responsible for deciding whether to keep it for public use, retain it on a temporary basis, or sell it.
“They should have been dealt with every year, and they weren’t,” Eldridge said. “This year we really made it a priority to work on this list.”
He demurred when asked why the properties were left unaddressed.
Councilor David Watson, who has been on the panel for 13 years, said he can only remember one instance when the town sold a tax-acquired property, and he doesn’t believe it will pursue sales on the current cases.
“In all reality, for the town to take the property there would have to be a profit,” Watson said. “The town would not take property that would become a liability.”
Watson represents District 1, in northeast Brunswick. Ten of the foreclosed properties, mostly mobile homes, were owned by his constituents, who owe between $1,000 and $4,000 in taxes.
He has not been in direct contact with any of the residents, Watson said.
Considering the value, age and condition of the different properties, it might not be in the town’s best interest to pursue sales, he noted.
“In some cases, going though that is more of a liability to the citizens of Brunswick and it is just less expensive to work with the people and keep them in their homes,” Watson said.
Still, considering the number of properties and the length of time the town has been holding the debts, it may be forced to act in some of the cases.
The best way to prevent a similar situation from developing again is to keep up-to-date with taxpayers who aren’t paying, Brayman noted.
“I do not want to have backlogs like this going forward,” she said. “I think we need to do a better job of staying on top of this.”