Council sessions stay online for now

Watertown City Hall. Sydney Schaefer/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — More than 100 prospects gathered outside City Hall on Thursday looking for deals to buy tax sale certificates.

The city Comptroller’s office held the annual tax sale certificate auction underneath the City Hall overhang to ensure state social distancing rules for the coronavirus were followed. It’s usually held in City Council chambers on the third floor.

“I’ve never held an outside auction before,” Comptroller James E. Mills said afterward.

During the auction, the city sold tax sale certificates for 101 properties for $214,632, while the city acquired 69 properties. It was an average year, Mr. Mills said.

“Everything seemed to go fairly well,” he said. “We heard no complaints. The weather was nice.”

As it has done for several years, the Marietta investment firm of ICA Renovations LLC has been the biggest bidder at the public auction, gobbling up 42 tax sale certificates for a total of $84,984.

The auction begins a two-year tax certificate process.

The city holds tax sales annually for properties that have gone one year in arrears with city, county or city school district property taxes. The city is made whole when bidders, usually investment firms, pay those delinquent taxes following tax sale auctions.

Delinquent owners have two years after a tax sale to redeem their properties before the owners of the tax sale certificates can request to take ownership of the properties. To do so, they must pay all outstanding taxes and any interest and penalties.

The city imposes a 1-percent-per-month interest charge on properties, which then is given to the tax sale certificate holder, along with the money paid for the certificate, if the property owner pays in full.

On Monday, the city ended up with 17 properties from owners not paying back taxes for a deadline that day, culminating with the two-year process.

Six of the properties were homes or apartment buildings and 10 were vacant lots. The remaining 17th property is a building that houses an auto mechanic business at 413 Factory St.

The houses are at 703 Franklin St., 802 Franklin St., 328 Keyes Ave., 427 Mullin St., 535 Olive St. and 125 N. Rutland St.

The city’s codes enforcement office will examine the buildings and determine the houses that should be demolished or sold at auction. The City Council also could decide whether any of the houses can be designated for a housing rehab program and then sold.

Before Monday’s deadline, John Vest paid off the $18,808.12 in back taxes for the former Clueless nightclub at 545 Arsenal St., avoiding losing the property, Mr. Mills said.

The city might not redeem the auto mechanic property because of its potential for environment issues that would have to be cleaned up, he said.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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