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Tax sale method praised in debut

The Baltimore Sun

Presenting a new approach to the annual tax sale auction, Anne Arundel County officials said the efficiencies of the streamlined process that made its debut for yesterday's sale outweighed concern about the preference given to those who bid on groups of properties.

Up for sale yesterday were 1,028 properties being sold in groups for prices ranging from about $18,000 to $89,000. There were 137 registered bidders by the close of the auction, about the same as last year, officials said.

"Our objective is to collect outstanding property taxes, and that's what it does," said William R. Brown Jr., the county's controller. "It's a much more efficient process."

Conceding that the individual bidder faces an uphill battle, Brown noted that in previous years about 10 percent of registered bidders took 90 percent of the properties. Last year, the top five bidders took 75 percent of all liens available and paid an average of $1.6 million to the county.

In switching to sealed bids, the county borrowed from the approach used by Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Stanley Willis, associate director of finance for Prince George's, said that with tax sale auctions stretching over six days, the county moved in 2000 to the group bid process. Properties for sale in that county numbered 3,464 this year.

"We had to do something, and we've been delighted with the process," Willis said. "We found that we sold a lot more properties."

A county resident expressed frustration with the preference that Anne Arundel's new system gives to those who bid on blocks of property.

"If you don't bid on the whole group, you may as well not even bother. So I didn't bother," said William Bundy, who has a second mortgage on a house in Crownsville up for bid at a sale price of $2,937.81. "What the county is doing is eliminating the little guy. I think people are going to lose their houses, and it's the people that have had a hard time."

County Executive John R. Leopold said the change will reduce overtime costs for a process that ran into the night in previous years.

"The overarching interest from the county's standpoint is to collect [on] all the outstanding properties ... and we've achieved that," he said. "If there are concerns raised in the future, we'll want to address those concerns so we can do it in the most efficient and equitable way possible."

The county will notify winning bidders this morning, and winners have until 4 p.m. to come up with the payments.

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