Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Putting a face on a tax foreclosure

Jeanette Hubright has lived in her Main Street Marion home for 44 years. The County seized it for back taxes, so why didn’t she ask for help before it was too late?

The interior and facade of the home shows its age. The front steps need repair, the front porch has a definite lean and little has been done in the living quarters over the past decades. Still, after 44 years, Jeanette Hubright calls 3767 Main Street, Marion, home. She raised her family there and watched Main Street change, age as time passed.

Jeanette’s husband died in 1989, leaving her with no pension and she retired at age 62 from a number of jobs with $942 in social security and little else. The attached apartment has seen several bad tenants come and go, each leaving the place a bit worse for wear.

Recently, after cleaning and trying to fix up the place one more time, Jeanette found the perfect match for the small apartment, a girl she went to school with, and once worked with. The $350 per month rent would definitely help with the bills. Still, there is no money left for improvements, although a new roof was a necessity a few years back.

The mortgage on the place was paid off long ago, but property taxes keep accruing. The home is assessed at $ 90,000, with taxes accumulating at over $2,900 plus penalties per year. Ironically, when Jeanette hits the age of 65 in October, she was slated to receive a large senior break on her school taxes.

Jeanette let things get out of hand. She was able to stay on top of monthly utility bills, but nothing was left for those taxes. Stubborn, perhaps a bit proud, Jeanette never asked for help. She did manage to arrange a monthly payment plan with the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office, but even that only delayed the inevitable. In January she was notified she not only had to make up the payments missed in the original payment agreement, but had to pay the 2011 taxes. Again she tried to work out a payment plan, but the clock kept ticking. She was finally notified that the County was foreclosing and would seize her home for back taxes. The next step was the County property tax auction held in June.

Jeanette’s is only one of a small handful of owner-occupied homes that the County seized this year and sold at auction. Unlike either abandoned, or contaminated properties, owner occupied homes bother County Treasurer Tom Warnick. His department is responsible to ensuring property taxes are kept up, and distributed to the various taxing municipalities. His department also prepares the list for the auction, where buyers eagerly scoop up properties at discounted prices. The County sells the seized properties to pay off the taxes and occasionally, even makes more than the past tax bills.

Jeanette’s three bedroom home, with gum wood trim and a once elegant stairway and a past tax bill of $10,320, sold at auction for $20,500. After the auction, Jeanette swallowed her pride and asked for help. Her son-in-law anted up the past tax monies and penalties accrued and the Marion woman turned them in to the Treasurer’s Office last week and she was given a receipt. Warnick presented the scenario of allowing owner-occupied homes that have since paid the past taxes and penalties after the auction to the Board of Supervisor’s Finance Committee on Tuesday. “We’re in the business of collecting taxes, not to take their houses,” said Warnick in pushing for the move.

After hearing several stories similar to Hubright’s, the Committee voted down any grace for the foreclosed homeowners. They voted to allow the winning bids to take possession. The consensus of the Finance Committee was that the homeowners had ample warning and time to address the tax situation. Marion Supervisor, Jody Bender, said she is going to present a resolution at Tuesday’s (7/17-9 a.m.) Board meeting. The resolution would allow Hubright, and other owner/occupied home owners who have paid their taxes after the deadline, one last chance to keep their homes.