Dexter revising town-owned property ordinance
DEXTER — Before last year Dexter and other Maine communities had been able to keep net proceeds from sales of tax-acquired properties that exceeded the amount of taxes owed by the property owner. In order to comply with new regulations, the town is working to revise its ordinances as was discussed during a Feb. 8 meeting and is set to be the subject of a public hearing next month at the Thursday, March 7 session.
In May the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Tyler v. Hennepin County, Minnesota, that municipalities could no longer keep these proceeds. Now municipalities must try to contact the former property owner and then attempt to sell the property through a real estate agent at the highest price, even if it goes to a former owner who did not maintain the property before.
The Maine Legislature revised the state tax lien foreclosure law to reflect the Supreme Court’s ruling. The law states that municipalities should pay to the former property owner any sale proceeds leftover after deducting total taxes owed, property tax value that would have been assessed after foreclosure, total interest from unpaid taxes, property listing and real estate broker’s fees, unpaid utility bills, and costs that the town accrues from property maintenance or the foreclosure process, like lawyer fees.
Town Manager Trampas King said Maine and Minnesota were the only states that previously allowed municipalities to keep tax-acquired sales net profits. He gave an example of a property selling for $10,000, with $8,000 covering all the related fees and this leaving $2,000 for town which goes into a specified account. Now this is considered unconstitutional after the U.S. Supreme court ruling and town ordinances need to be revised to reflect this.
King said it can be a challenge to contact property owners at times, as they may live out of state or may have passed away and the heirs cannot be immediately located. He said the council also had some discretion during the bid process, such as accepting an offer from an adjacent property owner if councilors felt this would be in the best interest of the town even if their bid was not the highest. Communities could also have opted to keep the property.
“We are not here to be property owners, we just want the tax money,” King said.
For eligible property owners and lien holders needing to pay off their accounts, an extension to pay in full through March 6 was granted by the council. Municipal quit claim deeds will be issued at the April 11 meeting on properties that have satisfied full payment of taxes.
“We’ve got possession of properties but we’re giving them a chance to get their property back if they pay that three years within the next 30 days,” King said.
In other business, the council accepted an $1,800 donation from the Hartley Family Charitable Fund.
King said the contributions began more than a half decade ago with the Hartley family wanting the monies to go toward initiatives to benefit the community that would not be funded by tax dollars. He said past uses have been banners and children’s summer camp.
“They’re great people, really nice, and I thank them a lot,” the town manager said. He said the late wife formerly lived in Dexter while her husband lives on Mount Desert Island.
The Dexter Fish & Game Associations annual Ice Fishing Derby will be Saturday, Feb. 17 and Sunday, Feb. 18 on Lake Wassookeag, with derby headquarters at the Lakeshore Restaurant.
“If you guys have never seen it it gets really busy and if it is nice weather it gets really busy,” King said, estimating 400-500 people to be on the ice.
“This is their big fundraiser of the year,” he said.
Melissa Lizotte of the Aroostook Republican contributed to this story.