- Associated Press - Monday, November 7, 2016

NORTON, Mass. (AP) - Many properties in Norton have been lingering on town books for decades, yielding no property taxes.

In some cases, the properties stretch back to the 1930s, and the path of ownership and other historical information have been lost or are fuzzy at best.

Many have been taken by the town for back taxes.

Selectman Robert Kimball was astonished to learn of the situation, and has been pushing for the town to cull a lengthy list of a few hundred such properties to get as many as possible back on the tax rolls and bring in much-needed revenue.

“It’s mind-boggling how many,” Kimball said. “There could be more we are unaware of.”

Several the town didn’t even know it had the properties or when it acquired them, and in some cases the owner died and left no family, the selectman added.

Following up on his research, Kimball pushed for a recent land auction - the first since 2008.

The auction of 15 parcels attracted about 20 bidders and brought in about $300,000, local officials say. Bids were accepted on nine properties.

“It was great. I was hoping for a little more, but I was happy there was that much interest,” Treasurer/Tax Collector Catherine VanDyne said.

Town Manager Michael Yunits called the auction a success.

The properties that were up for auction ranged from 25.6 acres on Dean Street and almost 10 acres on Maple Street to smaller parcels such as a 4,800-square-foot one on Samoset Street.

“We haven’t closed on all, and I think one defaulted,” VanDyne said.

The auction results were surprising in some respects.

“The ones we thought we would get little for we got a lot,” Kimball said.

The biggest price tag was for nearly six acres of vacant land on Oak Street that sold for $185,000, VanDyne said.

The property was one of two parcels drawing the most interest.

The other property that attracted the most interest, at 19 King Philip Road overlooking Lake Winnecunnet, sold for about $80,000. The lot is about 6,400 square feet.

Kimball described the older, boarded-up house as a “wreck.”

But, he added, “It’s a beautiful spot,” noting it has access to town water and sewer.

“It’s really a good buy,” Kimball said.

The property was acquired by the town a few years back.

“We just foreclosed on it in 2014,” VanDyne said. “We’re able to do a pretty quick turnaround. We have to wait a year when we foreclosure before we auction.”

Smaller parcels are often sought by abutters to increase the size of their property, town officials say.

“Some are pretty decent,” Yunits said of the land that was up for auction. “Others are buyer beware.”

Many of the properties were taken by the town for unpaid taxes, which buyers have to pay.

“It goes back on the tax rolls,” Yunits said of property sold.

So-called tax title land usually has to go through a lengthy process for the town to acquire and sell them. The treasurer/collector says she tries to work with taxpayers and noted foreclosure costs over $1,000.

“It’s quite substantial,” VanDyne said of the backlog of properties. “We’re going to be working through that list.”

“I don’t know where some of these properties are or who the owner is,” VanDyne said, adding GPS and tax title searches need to be conducted. “Some of these are really old.”

Town departments are being asked whether they are interested in property, with some likely desired for conservation, recreation or affordable housing.

VanDyne says she intends to make the land auctions a common event.

“My goal is to have one every one to two years,” she said.


Online: https://bit.ly/2dW1jzH


Information from: The (Attleboro, Mass.) Sun Chronicle, https://www.thesunchronicle.com

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