Clay County is preparing for possibly the biggest tax sale it has ever had.
"As of right now, we have more than 670 properties eligible for a tax sale," Clay County Auditor Mary Jo Alumbaugh said. "In total, there are about $1.5 million in delinquent taxes on those properties."
Alumbaugh added the loss of those tax dollars affects all taxing units, including the county, townships and the schools.
Typically, tax sales are conducted every year, but due to changes in the assessment process and having only one tax collection date in 2007, this will be only the third tax sale since 2002.
"The amount of eligible properties has skyrocketed in the past few years, and there is no clear reason why," Alumbaugh said. "In 2002, the tax sale had 68 properties involved and there were 206 in 2006, but there are so many more this year."
She said one of the reasons there are so many properties eligible this year may be due to the one collection last year, but the amount had even surprised her.
The Auditor's and Treasurer's Offices are currently in the process of mailing out certified letters to the believed owners of record and a list of eligible properties to Synergistic Resource Integration (SRI), Inc., Indianapolis, who will be conducting this year's tax sale, which is scheduled for Dec. 5, at 10 a.m., on the first floor of the Clay County Courthouse.
"This is the first step in the long process of conducting a tax sale," Alumbaugh said. "It is also the toughest step as we are trying to locate the owner of the property to notify them that the property is involved in the tax sale."
If the owner is unable to be contacted based on a common location on record for the property, a letter will be sent by First Class Mail to the actual location of the property as another attempt to give notification of the tax sale.
"We search every possibility to make contact with either the owner, or someone who would benefit from knowing the property is involved," Alumbaugh said. "By sending the letter to the property itself, we may be able to contact a possible renter of the property who can get in contact with the owner or landlord."
Once contacted, property owners can object to the involvement in the tax sale (in writing only) or pay the delinquencies and tax sale fees at any time before the sale to have the property removed from the tax sale auction.
"Owners who submit letters of objection will be included in a public hearing in Clay Circuit Court Nov. 27," Alumbaugh said. "The judge will review each objection individually and make a final judgment as to which properties are to be removed from the tax sale list on Nov. 28."
The properties eligible for the tax sale, by law, will also be advertised in the newspaper three times -- Oct. 27, Nov. 3 and Nov. 10 -- to notify the public which properties may be involved in the auction.
"The advertisements do not necessarily represent the final list of properties involved in the tax sales," Alumbaugh said. "Owners could come in even five minutes prior to the sale, pay the delinquent taxes and fees and have the property taken off the list."
When the sale occurs, the starting bid on each respective property is the total of the delinquent taxes, penalties, other assessments and tax sale costs.
For the first time, if a property is not sold during the sale, it will be turned over to the Clay County Commissioners, who will conduct an accelerated sale.
"The overall goal of a tax sale is to get all the properties back on the tax roll," Alumbaugh said. "Getting properties back on the tax roll benefits all of the tax entities in the county."
Once a property is auctioned off in the tax sale, the winning bidder has a long process and a year-long wait before they have the possibility of actually receiving a tax deed for the property.
"The highest bidder has to pay all of the costs associated with the sale by the end of business that day and will receive a tax sale certificate for the property," Alumbaugh said. "After that, it is solely their responsibility to conduct a title search on the property and send out notices to those with a vested interest in the property."
She added the winning bidder must also petition the court for an order to receive a tax deed within a year from the date of the tax sale, in which the owner has time to pay all the delinquencies and fees to keep the property.
"The tax sale certificate expires a year to the date after the tax sale was conducted," Alumbaugh said. "If the delinquencies are not paid and the highest bidder does not adhere to all of the terms of their purchase, the certificate is gone and they do not receive their money back. They would be refunded if the property owner makes good with their delinquent payments within the year."
Conducting a title search and petitioning the court for a tax deed order may be a complicated process for many, and Alumbaugh encourages those who may not know the full process to seek assistance in doing so.
"Some people may have the knowledge to conduct a title search on their own," she said. "For those who do not, I would recommend that they hire an attorney or a title search professional to help them so they do not lose out on the possibility of receiving a tax deed or lose their money."
For questions or more information about tax sales, contact the Clay County Auditor's Office at 448-9001 or the Clay County Treasurer's Office at 448-9009.