News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, December 5, 2013
Increase in foreclosures drives policy for tax acquired properties
An island, Main St. property are among those foreclosed on

Gallery K is one of nine foreclosed properties in Stonington

Gallery K, formerly the Eagull building on Main Street, was one of nine properties recently foreclosed on by the town of Stonington for non-payment of taxes.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Rich Hewitt

Faced with a sharp increase in the number of tax acquired properties, the selectmen on Monday adopted a policy to guide the process of disposing of those properties.

The number of tax acquired properties jumped last month to a total of nine, according to Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris.

“We’ve always had a few,” Billings-Pezaris said. “The thing that worries me is that they’ve tripled in a short amount of time.”

The list includes properties throughout the town, including Andrews Island, the former Eagull building on Main Street, and several homes. A total of $43,501 was owed in back taxes on those nine properties before they were acquired by the town. That figure does not include any water or sewer bills that are outstanding.

The new policy does not alter the way properties become tax acquired, which is set by state law, but it establishes procedures for the selectmen to follow once the town has acquired them. Under the policy, the selectmen make the final decision on whether to keep the property for a public use, sell it or, in the case of a single-family residence occupied by the taxpayer or immediate family members, to convey it back to the taxpayer once all the outstanding taxes, accrued interest and costs have been paid.

In response to selectmen’s questions, Billings-Pezaris stressed that the policy does not require the selectmen to convey the property back to the taxpayer. It is just one of the options the selectmen have, she said.

Although the selectmen make the determination on each property, the town manager and code enforcement officer will review each property to determine potential liabilities, what level of insurance might be required and, if the property is occupied, whether the town will need legal assistance to require those occupants to leave.

The policy also provides guidelines for the selectmen for properties that the town will keep, and also outlines the procedure for selling tax acquired properties through the public bid process.

The policy is “pretty cut and dry,” said Selectman Chris Betts, but some aspect drew discussion. Betts raised concerns about properties on the current tax-acquired list and urged Billings-Pezaris to make sure the town was covered.

“Somebody could break in and get hurt,” he said. “And even if they’re breaking in, they could sue you.”

The town manager noted that some of the properties on the list are just land and would not require insurance. Others, however, do have buildings on them, including the one property that is currently occupied. Billings-Pezaris said she would review those properties and determine if they need to be insured.

The selectmen had little sympathy for the taxpayers whose properties had become tax acquired. Selectman Donna Brewer said the policy and the sale of those properties would “set an example” and perhaps encourage more taxpayers to keep current with their taxes. Billings-Pezaris noted that the town is owed between $100,000 and $150,000 in back taxes on properties that have not yet become tax acquired.

There was some sentiment among the board to put all nine properties on the list up for sale in order to get them back on the tax rolls. But with one of those properties still occupied, the selectmen were reluctant to start a process to evict that resident. They took no action on any of the properties and Billings-Pezaris said she would put together detailed descriptions for the board to review before the selectmen make a decision.

Below is a current list of the town’s tax acquired properties:

Tax Map 8A, Lot 53, Eagull Inc., 70 Main Street, total outstanding taxes, $5,931.99.

Tax Map 3, Lot 62-A, Amy Brewer, Oceanville Road, total outstanding taxes, $1,754.91.

Tax Map 3, Lot 95-A, Jennifer Gregory, 291 Oceanville Road, total outstanding taxes, $3,666.48.

Tax Map 4A, Lot 50-HINT-2, Elizabeth Glover, et al, Andrews Island, total outstanding taxes, $12,241.78.

Tax Map 4B, Lot12, Clare Grindal, Burnt Cove Road, total outstanding taxes, $379.13.

Tax Map 8A, Lot 27, Gretchen Jost et al, Main Street, total outstanding taxes, $656.07.

Tax Map 8A, Lot 29, Gretchen Jost et al, 56 Main Street, total outstanding taxes, $9,649.69.

Tax Map 5, Lot 2-TQINT, Gretchen Jost et al, Childs Street, total outstanding taxes, $1,173.

Tax Map 6, Lot 36, Penn Rhodeen, 68 Indian Point Road, total outstanding taxes, $8,052.35.