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Baltimore City to postpone its annual tax sale to July because of the coronavirus pandemic

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young is postponing the city’s annual tax debt auction until July. In this low-angle file photo, the dome on City Hall is framed in colorful tulips from the War Memorial Plaza flower bed.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young is postponing the city’s annual tax debt auction until July. In this low-angle file photo, the dome on City Hall is framed in colorful tulips from the War Memorial Plaza flower bed. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced Wednesday that he is postponing the city’s annual tax debt auction until July.

“This is an effort to provide property owners with adequate time to adjust and prepare for the tax sale, while upholding the integrity of the tax sale process," Young said. “Because circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak are fluid and changing rapidly, the 2020 tax sale may be extended in the future.”

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The city typically holds a tax lien certificate sale in May to collect on past-due property taxes or other delinquent charges. Investors purchase the liens from the city during an online auction, giving them authority to collect the debts — with interest. The buyers could eventually foreclose on the property.

Property owners now have about two more months to figure out ways to reduce their lien balance and avoid the tax sale.

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The auction typically brings in about $20 million on a single day. The city is currently projecting a major deficit because of the economic slowdown tied to the pandemic.

Young, a Democrat, also announced Wednesday that he had started a process to make Baltimore eligible for federal reimbursement for coronavirus-related expenses.

Finance Director Henry Raymond said Baltimore expects it will be able to access up to $103 million to pay for things such as protective gear, food distribution and disinfecting products.

While helpful, this isn’t a solution for the city’s financial problems. Money from the federal relief package can’t be used to backfill lost revenue — and the city is projecting a $68.7 million decline in revenues by the end of this fiscal year, and another roughly $100 million lost next year.

“Right now, it can only be used for operating expenses that are directly COVID-19 related,” Raymond said.

In cash-strapped Baltimore, it would also be difficult to come up so much money upfront.

The finance department is working to revise its budget proposal by early May to account for the way the coronavirus has upended the local economy.

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