That's nowhere near the value of the back-taxes owed, but Assistant County Manager Noah Simon said recouping the money wasn’t the main objective of the sale handled through a contract with Dempsey Auction Company.
The tracts had already been offered up for sale by Tax Commissioner Kevin Payne and found no buyers. At that point they became the responsibility of all county taxpayers, by default.
“Some of these properties the county has had for four or five years, or longer,” Simon
said. “My purpose with the auction was to return them to the tax rolls. Yes, we sold a piece of property for $25, but last year the property was worth $0 to us. This year it will be generating income.”
In fact, two properties sold for $25 each. The vacant lots on Chambers and Shibley streets were valued at $4,540 and $4,390 respectively, which means they’ll produce a combined $106 in new taxes this year for county government and school operations. And they’ll continue generating that revenue in future years.
“Our goal in government is not to increase your tax, but to increase our tax base,” Simon said.
A handful of properties sold for $50 each, but most of them brought in a few hundred dollars. Four sales topped $2,600.
The highest price paid by an investor from Cartersville was $5,000, for a house at 75 Davis Ave. valued at $38,010. Buyers paid $4,250 each for houses at 17 Center St., valued at $70,750; at 1106 DeSoto Ave., valued at $59,880; and at 123 Nanellen Road, valued at $53,010.
Dec. 31 was the deadline for auction winners to close on their purchases. Simon said the transactions were completed by all but one buyer, who owed a total of $550 for three pieces on Ross and Perkins streets.
Who were the buyers?
Lou Dempsey, with Dempsey Auction Company, said a lot of the buyers were adjacent property owners.
“We notified every adjacent property owner to every tract,” Dempsey said. “Also, just a lot of investors. We had one guy that bought ten properties from Atlanta, then we had some folks that live in those areas or own some property in those areas were folks buying in.”
Dempsey said there were an awful lot of people he had never seen at a local auction, many of them simply investors looking to acquire property for virtually nothing.
Then there were some familiar faces.
“The Welborns bought a tract that joins them out there next to the Hampton Inn. The Ledbetters bought some tracts over there close to their house. Donald Evans bought a tract which joins him, and Ed Watters bought a tract that joined him out on Black’s Bluff Road,” Dempsey said.
Nearly half of the parcels did have structures on them, many of them previously condemned and under order to demolish. Dempsey said he did not really believe that many of the buyers were so-called “flippers,” investors who buy properties, fix them up and the put them on the market again.
Dempsey said one of the keys to the sale was the fact that the auction was conducted as an absolute auction. That meant that whatever the highest bid was, the property was going to be sold for that bid.
“In today’s environment if you don’t have that absolute auction you’re not going to get a turnout,” Dempsey said.
Taxes just part of equation
Payne hinted that the sale is not likely to bring in a whole lot of money for the county, at least in the first year following the sale.
“My thought is that it would get locked in, based on a new law, for one year, which would be this year because they were all closed before the end of the year, for whatever they paid,” Payne said. “It’s just a one-year moratorium so they can go back up to whatever the true value is on the market. I think it’ll be lock in for one year, which is better than nothing because we weren’t getting anything on them.”
The auction, however, was just one part of a months-long initiative that has, so far, cleared the county books of 121 parcels the county never wanted in the first place.
Knowing the properties already had been rejected by both the owners and buyers at a tax sale, Simon checked with local agencies and nonprofits before the auction to see if they could find a use for any of the tracts.
That idea ended up taking 29 properties off the list before it went to Dempsey.
Nonprofits had first pick
The Northwest Georgia Housing Authority took three of the lots. NWGHA Executive Director Sandra Hudson said the housing authority took the parcels because they were adjacent to public housing communities.
“This was kind of last minute, because they were close we said we would go ahead and take them,” Hudson said. “We’re trying to get the Overlook at Fairground done first, so we’re not going to look at those properties anytime soon.”
The South Rome Redevelopment Corp. took eight lots. South Rome Redevelopment Executive Director Melissa Jones has made it clear that her organization was interested in vacant properties that could be developed for enhanced housing options in South Rome. The organization was not interested in any properties with existing structures because they did not want to go through an expensive demolition process.
The city of Rome accepted 17 parcels. Rome City Manager John Bennett said most of the properties the city took were done with an eye on redevelopment.
“We’ll probably work with Habitat for Humanity or private developers on some of those parcels,” Bennett said.
Community Development Specialist Bekki Fox said some of them were properties adjacent to city controlled green space.
“I don’t really think there are any grand plans. I think it was property that was adjacent to already city-owned properties and the city decided that it might be needed at some point in the future,” Fox said.
The Rome-Floyd County Development Authority took one that happened to be on the edge of its North Floyd Industrial Park.
“When they’re in the county’s possession, not only aren’t they generating property tax, they become a maintenance issue,” Simon said. “I used to have 155 properties I had to mow the grass on and maintain. Now I only have 30.”
That makes getting just $1 per tract for the legal transfer not such a bad deal, he said.
Simon still isn’t done looking for ways to dispose of the leftover properties. He said at least one local agency was late in submitting its want-list and may take several of the tracts that didn’t sell at auction.
Also, he’s directly contacting people whose property abuts some small slivers to see if they have an interest.
He and Rome Assistant City Manager Sammy Rich also are planning to meet next week to discuss reactivating the dormant Land Bank Authority. The nonprofit agency has the power to accept abandoned, non-tax generating properties and award them to projects aimed at returning them to productive use.
“We’ll know more about that after we put our heads together,” he told County Commissioners at an agenda-setting session Thursday.
The rest, he said, will remain in the county’s inventory until another auction is scheduled.