Casco tax-acquired lots hit the market

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — If someone buys the lot, they must clean the yard and demolish the unsafe structures.

Perhaps, the property would be more appealing to buyers if it included a modest turnkey home, one selectman said.

Local elected officials covered the spectrum during a discussion about the future sale of dozens of tax-acquired lots.

The goal was to make the parcels appealing to potential buyers. After all, it is better to have taxpayers owning the properties than have the land sit idle.

During the months of March and April, land owned by the Town of Casco will be up for sale to the public.

The town plans to advertise the sale of 16 pieces of property that it owns through the tax lien process.

Bid will be accepted at the Casco Town Hall through Tuesday May 9. Many of these properties have conditions such as the removal of garbage or unsafe structures.

For more than a year, the Casco Board of Selectmen has been going through a somewhat lengthy and aggressive process of trying to sell the town’s tax-acquired lots.

First, the long list was handed off to the Casco Open Space Commission to ferret out the lots that might be valuable if kept as public land.

Also, the code enforcement officer inspected the property and made a quick summation of the condition of any structures.

Then, the selectmen decided on a formula: 40 percent of the assessed value plus the back taxes. Several lots were listed for sale. Residents could pick up packets from Town Hall and make a written offer, also known as a silent bid.

Last summer, four pieces of property were sold via live auction at selectmen meetings.

Since then, another tax year has passed and several more foreclosed lots were added to the list that now totals 16 lots.

The board spent quite a bit of time talking about the parcels — on a case-by-case basis. This happened during a meeting on Feb. 8, which was a Wednesday since a snowstorm postposed the regularly-scheduled meeting on Feb. 7.

Right off the bat, it was brought up that the previous formula might need to be more flexible.

Selectman Mary-Vienessa Fernandes and Chairman Holly Hancock had viewed many of the sites

“Possibly just recouping back taxes and cleaning it up as the cost,” Fernandes proposed. The idea was to encourage the sale of the lots, and some of the lots were priced too high at 40 percent of the value — given the cleanup required or the lack of buildable space, she said.

In addition to talking about changing the minimum bid, the board learned that if the town removes structures in the Shoreland Zone the new owner doesn’t get the same footprint of buildable land.

During the Feb. 8 discussion, Hancock referred to one of the lots on the board’s list for the evening. “There is mold on the property. There are mobiles home. There are sheds,” she said.

She began to list off the characteristics of several more properties on the list, before Selectman Grant Plummer questioned the approach.

“I am going back on how we are doing the math. We had a basic formula. Now, we are back to micromanaging, deciding on every single one. Why,” Plummer said, answering his own question “Because we have no bids.”

“There is a company in this area that is picking up mobile homes. They did one on Webbs Mills. They are refurbishing them,” he said.

“How do we go about putting out a proper proposal? Due to age and deterioration, the building has to be torn down,” Plummer said.

Selectman Thomas Peaslee responded to the minimum bid question, saying “whatever we get for it.”

Hancock said the board should be open to the offers from potential buyers.

“We should be able to ‘wheel and deal,’ and get these in the hands of folks who can fix them up,” Hancock said.

Plummer said, “So, no minimum bid.”

Hancock agreed with that vein of thinking.

“If we can collect back taxes and they clean it up,” she said.

Peaslee brought another concept to the table.

Previously, most board members favored incurring the least cost to the town, which means passing the price of demolition onto the new property owner.

“After looking at these properties, there is one thing that came to mind: That is a buildable lot. It could be cleaned up and put a starter home on it,” Peaslee said. “For people to buy and move in and not have a rundown piece of property — that would be good for this town.”

Resident Jim Willey asked if the property had more value without the structure. He asked if the demolition fund could be used to pay for that.

“I like Jim’s idea of using the fund for the demolition. Maybe, we spend money to clean that up, remove the trailers. Do that work to recoup more value,” he said.

This week, Chairman Hancock said the town is highly unlikely to spend money on the for sale land or to build a starter home on any of the lots.

“The town would not do that,” she said. “We are hoping to unload these properties.”

This go-around, the town is selling the lots as is, along with the responsibility of cleaning up the property. Starting in March, the land will be advertised for sale with a deadline of May 9 to make an offer.

“People who are interested in tax-acquired property sales are checking our websites and calling the office,” Casco Town Manager Dave Morton said.

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