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County takes ‘proactive’ auction approach

Getz arranges ‘bargain’ sales for vacant, delinquent properties

Allison Nathan Getz said it’s time to take back the neighborhoods.

The Jefferson County tax assessor-collector said she’s taking a “proactive” initiative to get the 34,000 parcels of property with delinquent taxes within county limits back on the tax rolls and into the hands of citizens looking to extend their own property bounds.

“This is no small task — selling all 34,000 parcels is going to take some time. Jefferson County itself owns 250 properties right now, and we don’t want to own anything,” Getz said Friday. “The only way we’re going to get all this land back on the tax rolls is to work a little at a time — slowly making dents in that huge count by putting them on the auction block in small rounds and giving the people in these neighborhoods a solid chance at improving their own areas.”

Getz said the county has two auctions already scheduled for the fall, and room to add another at the end of the year if necessary. A resale auction is scheduled for Sept. 1, followed by a sheriff sale auction Oct. 6.

“Sheriff sales are the first step for a property seized for delinquent taxes,” Getz said. “In a sheriff sale auction, the county is trying to collect the back taxes on these properties, so not all of these lots will go for a huge discount. People can get so upside down on their taxes that they’ll owe $20,000 in taxes on a $2,000 lot.

“After the sheriff sale, we’ll do a resale auction for those properties that didn’t sell the first time around. These are the auctions where you can get properties for very little, because at that point, we’re just trying to move that property and get it back on the tax rolls. That $2,000 lot will just be a $2,000 lot — no $20,000 in delinquent taxes added on top. That’s why resale auctions are the big bargain sales.”

Getz said many of the properties coming up for auction are through the Tax Office’s “interested buyer” program — one specifically designed with a “take back the neighborhoods” mentality.

“We get calls to this office about lots in our neighborhoods all the time. Someone will call in and say, ‘My next door neighbor died five years ago, and no one’s taking care of the property. It’s abandoned, the city is mowing the grass every month and I’d like to buy it and extend my property.’

“Port Arthur is a great example for this, because it’s just full of vacant lots and abandoned properties. Port Arthur is spending thousands and thousands of dollars mowing vacant lots. Our main thing is we don’t want these abandoned buildings and vacant lots to become a center for illegal activity in the neighborhood or to lower the property values for the rest of the neighborhood.”

Getz said the “interested buyer” program allows residents to beautify their own neighborhoods while getting unused properties back onto the county tax rolls.

“I want to be proactive about this. If there’s an opportunity for me to cut these numbers down and get these properties back on the tax rolls, I’m going to take it,” Getz said. “The resale auctions are vital to our interested buyer program. Because some of the minimum bids are set as low as $100. Yeah, it’s probably not worth anything as a piece of property to an investor. But it’s definitely of value to the person living next door who would be willing to spend $100 and extend their own lot.”

Getz said the properties coming up for auction in September will be posted to the Jefferson County Tax Office website for viewing before the sale. Interested buyers cannot owe taxes on anything, she said, and must register at least 24 hours before the auction.

Auction winners must pay for their properties the same day of the auction before 4 p.m.

“The Sept. 1 sale is a good one, even if you just want to come watch and learn what to do for the future,” Getz said. “The sale in October will be a regular sheriff sale — all properties put on the auction block for the first time. But the one in September is the big bargain sale and a great learning experience.”

For more information, call the Jefferson County Tax Office at (409) 835-8714.

Twitter: @crhenderson90