ELKTON — The Cecil County Finance Department collected more than $944,000 in delinquent property taxes last week during the annual tax sale.
The tax sale, held at the County Administration Building, attracted about 37 bidders this year who competed to buy 472 properties that remained delinquent on property taxes as of June 3.
The original list of delinquent taxpayers, which was published six weeks ago in the Cecil Whig, showed roughly 1,300 unpaid liens. Hundreds of property owners reportedly paid off their taxes in the last day or two prior to the tax sale.
County Finance Director Lisa Saxton noted that the annual tax sale is an important enforcement tool for the county.
“This is really our only recourse when it comes to collecting the assessed property taxes,” she said, noting it also allows the county to save on workforce costs by outsourcing the liens to third parties who can pursue foreclosure if necessary. “With the sale, the county wouldn’t have nearly $1 million that it was due.”
In order to redeem their properties sold at the sale, owners must pay 1% interest per month on their lien following the tax sale, typically much higher than the yield on a traditional savings account. Bid purchasers must pay taxes owed, in addition to penalties, fees and a 20% premium on bids that go over 40% of the assessed valuation of the property the day of the sale.
Bid premiums, which serve as proof that a tax certificate buyer can support the bid price, totaled nearly $1.9 million this year, Saxton said.
Tax sales typically attract professional bidders armed with hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars to invest. They purchase the majority of the tax liens, and this year was no different.
Topping the list of bidders this year was Chicago-based Thornton Mellon LLC, which purchased a total of 213 properties for nearly $1.2 million in bid premium.
Coming in second in terms of total properties purchased with 74 was FIG MD 18 LLC, the local arm of FIG (Finch Investment Group) Capital Investments LLC based in Jacksonville, Fla., according to state records. Its bid premium totaled $326,000.
Notably, Western Asset Management Company, or WAMCo., the longtime leading bidder in the county’s tax sale, was not present this year.
The highest bid of the day was from FIG MD 18 at $850,000 for the 48-acre parcel that is home to the private Claremont Airport in Elk Neck. The property, which has often been put up at tax sale through the years under different owners, is assessed in value at more than $2 million and had a tax lien of about $9,700.
The second highest bid of the day was $825,000, also from FIG MD 18, for a 15-acre parcel at 1248 Cherry Grove Road in Earleville. The waterfront property along the Elk River, owned by Samuel and Rosann Ferraro, is assessed in value at nearly $1.69 million and had a tax lien of nearly $22,000.
Among other interesting properties sold at the tax sale was 103 acres of the former Chesapeake Bay Golf Club North East, located at 1500 Chesapeake Club Drive. The property, currently at the center of a legal case over development opportunities, sold for $135,000 to Equity Trust Company. It is assessed at about $1.27 million and had a tax lien of roughly $16,000.
This year, 40 properties totaling a tax liability of $306,000 did not sell in the auction conducted by auctioneer R.C. “Bob” Burkheimer. By law, the county has to purchase any property not sold at the annual tax sale, but these properties can still be purchased by the public through the finance department.
The property with the largest tax lien heading into the sale at roughly $408,000 — more than 10 times the lien of any other property — was among those not sold. The storefront at 16 E. Main St. in Rising Sun is owned by C&K Properties Inc., a defunct LLC founded by Elkton attorney Karl Fockler.
The 0.11-acre property is assessed at $334,000 but racked up the large lien via taxes and mostly unpaid sewer charges, Saxton explained.
Those whose property was sold at tax auction earlier can still redeem their property by contacting the county finance department and paying back taxes, fees and penalties within six months. If they don’t redeem by Dec. 4, the bid purchaser can start foreclosure proceedings on the property.
Saxton reminded affected property owners that the two most important dates moving forward are July 1, when owners will also have to pay their 2019 property tax bill in addition to the 2018 sum, and Oct. 4, when a tax certificate holder can begin charging legal fees on the account, typically $750, which is the maximum allowed.
For more information on how to redeem or buy a property, visit ccgov.org/government/finance or call 410-996-5385.