Harford County experienced a significant drop in the number of liens against properties with delinquent tax bills, which were up for this year’s tax sale Monday.
The county had 347 properties subject to the annual auction for 2019, nearly half the number of properties eligible for last year’s auction, when 620 properties were subject to the tax sale. This year’s number is also the lowest since the 2013 sale, when 433 properties were eligible for the tax sale, according to county statistics.
The Harford County government holds the tax sale each June, during which liens filed against properties with delinquent bills on property taxes or other expenses such as water and sewer, are sold via online auction. The county recoups the funds owed on the accounts via the sale, the process of which is governed by state law.
County officials attribute the drop in the number of affected properties this year to multiple factors, primarily the local government’s efforts to reach out to owners — in partnership with organizations such as the local Office on Aging — and make them aware of their options if they have difficulty paying their property taxes. County officials also want homeowners to know about various tax credits they can apply for such as the state’s Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit and the 20 percent credit for retired military 65 and older and homeowners who have lived in the same residence for at least 40 years, which the County Council adopted in late 2017.
“We always try to work with property owners, particularly homeowners, and the sooner we can start working with you the better,” Treasurer Robert Sandlass Jr. said Monday during the tax sale.
The tax sale happened Monday morning and afternoon in the county administration building in Bel Air. Sandlass monitored the auction in the treasury department conference room along with Rachel Holmes, chief of the bureau of revenue collections; Paula Anis, assistant supervisor of revenue collections and outside counsel Alan Getz.
Prospective buyers could bid on the tax lien only. They must go through the courts if they wish to acquire the property itself through foreclosure, according to Sandlass. Owners also have the option of redeeming their properties by paying off the taxes owed as well as any fees and penalties.
“The county, at no point in this process, is taking control of the property,” Sandlass said.
The 347 affected properties, including those in the county and in the municipalities of Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace, had a combined value of $992,639.24 in money owed for property taxes and other expenses such as water and sewer bills, according to county statistics.
Sales were made on 321 properties, recouping $803,122.80, according to county government spokesperson Cindy Mumby. There were 48 qualified bidders, and 19 of those were winning bidders, Mumby stated in an email Monday afternoon.
The county netted more than $828,000 on 597 property accounts during its 2018 tax sale last June — more than $1 million was owed on the 620 total accounts. Accounts that do not get sold one year can roll over into the next year’s sale, according to Sandlass.
She emphasized that county staffers “make multiple attempts to contact a property’s owner before it goes to tax sale.” Anyone in need of assistance can call the treasury department at 410-638-3314 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, according to Mumby. More information on property tax credits is available on the county website.
Property tax bills for the 2019-2020 fiscal year go out July 1; taxes on residential properties can be paid on a semi-annual basis on Sept. 30, with the final installment due by the end of the year Dec. 31. Owners of commercial properties can also pay their taxes in semi-annual installments as well if their bills are lower than $100,000, according to Sandlass and his staff.
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The county treasurer said property owners are encouraged to contact the local government as soon as possible if they need assistance with their property taxes. Sandlass said officials do not want people to lose their property “by any means,” and they want to work with owners “while at the same time meeting our obligations to collect taxes.