A windfall or a headache.
Grant County will take ownership in April of nearly three dozen foreclosed properties, some with back taxes accumulating since the 1980s. But while a few properties will attract buyers, some have little value, and some actually pose liabilities.
The Grant County Court will decide how to deal with the properties after April 8. The county hasn’t filed for foreclosure on properties with back taxes for a long time, so the county court has requested advice on the process from Ron Yockim, the county counsel in Roseburg.
Grant County Judge Scott Myers said several ideas include holding a sealed auction with minimum bids and possibly hiring a broker to handle the sales.
According to state law, “real property within this state is subject to foreclosure for delinquent taxes whenever three years have elapsed from the earliest date of delinquency of taxes levied and charged thereon.”
“We have taken an oath to uphold the federal and state constitution and the laws of the state, and property owners are required to pay taxes,” Myers said.
Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter filed for foreclosure on 42 properties in Grant County Circuit Court. Judge William D. Cramer Jr. issued a foreclosure judgment on the properties on April 8, 2016.
The owners then had two years to redeem the properties by paying any taxes, interest and fees owed to the county. During that two-year window, Grant County spent $200 apiece on a title search to see if any liens existed on the properties.
The back taxes for the 42 properties totaled $171,460 at the time of the judgment. With interest accrued to that time, the amount totaled $364,756 — more than double the taxes owed.
As of Feb. 7, eight of the 42 properties have been redeemed, reducing the total owed to $305,468. Ten properties had back taxes from the 1980s, and six had back taxes from the 1990s. Thirteen properties were owned by people living in California, Arizona or Washington. Ownership of four properties was unknown.
The most taxes plus interest owed for a property on the list was $78,601 — a 0.41-acre property on Beech Creek Road in Mt. Vernon. Just next door is a 1.6-acre property with $29,819 owed in back taxes and interest — the second highest on the list. A short distance away is a 0.03-acre sliver of land on the shoulder of Highway 395 with $232 in back taxes and interest owed.
The least amount owed on the list was $91, but that property has little value — consisting of a 0.06-acre slice of land in Canyon City where Patterson Drive had been relocated. A 19.87-acre property with $8,077 in back taxes and interest owed since 2000 is the Horace Worcester Mine property.
While some properties have little value because of their size, shape and location, others present liabilities. Myers said the county is reluctant about becoming a landlord — particularly if the tenants live in dilapidated residences.
The most valuable property on the list, according to Grant County Assessor David Thunell, is a 12.8-acre undeveloped property on Orchard View Road in Kimberly. The rectangular parcel extends from orchard land on the North Fork of the John Day River to steep slopes overlooking the valley. A total of $3,411 in back taxes and interest is owed on this property. An adjacent parcel that is similar has been listed for $175,000.
Thunell said he will suggest minimum bids for some properties to the county court. He also wants as many of the properties as possible sold before July 1 so they can be put back on the tax rolls.
“Otherwise they would be exempt from taxes for the next year,” he said.
Cramer issued a foreclosure judgment on four more properties on Oct. 17, 2016, with back taxes and interest totaling $9,516. A foreclosure judgment on four more properties was made on Dec. 20, with back taxes and interest totaling $48,086.
Thunell said he expects the county will continue to pursue tax foreclosures every year. Myers said the process has helped clarify issues.
“It answers questions of ownership,” he said. “Some people who were called said they didn’t know they owed any taxes.”