The owners of more than 360 Washington County properties owed taxes as of Friday afternoon, leaving the parcels vulnerable to being sold for a fraction of their value.
This year’s Washington County auction of properties with tax debts will be Tuesday. The minimum bid for each property is the amount of taxes owed, plus interest and penalties.
By mid-afternoon Friday, the initial list of 625 properties advertised several weeks ago had shrunken to 369, according to Treasurer Todd L. Hershey.
Hershey said last year’s tax-debt list started with 672 properties.
The smaller initial list this year and the fact that more tax payments have flowed in could be signs that the economy is improving, he said.
Also, there are fewer developers on the list this year.
As of Friday, R&J Builders had 21 properties on Stonecrest Circle and 11 properties on Mercer Drive on the list.
The most valuable property on the list, by assessment, was the Vinayaka Missions America University parcel on Downsville Pike. Vinayaka, based in India, purchased the property — 45 acres and the former Allegheny Energy headquarters — in 2008.
Its promise to offer degree programs didn’t materialize and the property was placed back on the market.
The property, which also was on last year’s initial tax-debt list, is assessed at $7.9 million.
If Vinayaka doesn’t pay its tax debt by Monday afternoon, the property will be sold in the auction if there is a bid of at least $91,612.22. That’s the amount of taxes owed, plus interest and penalties, as of Friday afternoon.
Several downtown Hagerstown properties owned through limited-liability companies tied to Demcore Development were on this year’s initial tax-sale list.
Some were removed when the tax debt later was paid, according to Hershey. Others still were on the list as of Friday afternoon, including 6-16 W. Washington St., the building where Demcore has its headquarters.
The tax sale is only a first step toward the transfer of a property.
Anyone who purchases a property has to wait at least six months before starting the process of acquiring it. During that time, the current owner can redeem, or reclaim, the property by paying the tax debt, plus a fee to the purchaser.
The buyer can start charging legal fees after four months, Hershey said.
Washington County charges a 6 percent fee for owners who redeem their properties. Last year, the Washington County Board of Commissioners rejected Hershey’s proposal to increase the redemption rate from 6 percent to 12 percent, a rate more in line with what other counties charge.
Hershey said that about 95 percent of properties are redeemed, meaning about 5 percent of properties change hands through the tax sale.
This year’s auction will be Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the parking lot behind 35 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown.
Prospective bidders must register with the treasurer’s office by Monday afternoon.
As of Friday afternoon, 42 people had registered to bid, Hershey said.
If you go ...
What: Washington County auction of tax-debt properties (register by Monday afternoon to bid)
When: Tuesday at 9 a.m.
Where: Parking lot behind 35 W. Washington St. in Hagerstown