Casco unloads tax-acquired lots

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Many times over the years, Casco’s elected officials have commented that the town shouldn’t be in the real estate business.

However, one conundrum is that when a foreclosure occurs because of a back tax debt, the property falls into the hands of the town.

In some cases, the structures and/or debris on the foreclosed properties pose a safety issue that must be dealt with by the town or a future owner.

In other cases, the foreclosure is reversed after the former owner pays a lump sum tax bill.

The currently seated Casco Board of Selectmen has dedicated time, energy, mathematical skills, and even some gasoline in the tank toward determining the status of tax-acquired lots.

As a matter of a fact, some board members who attempted to size up the land in the latter half of the winter were limited to a drive-by — thanks to an abundance of snow.

“The board probably had five hours of meeting time involved. [I am] unsure of how much time was involved with board members travelling around and looking at the properties involved. Several of the Board members did visit each property being sold at auction,” Casco Town Manager Dave Morton said.

Most recently, five of those tax-acquired lots were sold. That happened this spring at an April meeting.

In 2016, the town sold 12 tax-acquired properties using both the silent bid and the auction methods. That includes lots sold back to original owners.

Typically, as a part of the land sale, the new owner shoulders the responsibility of cleaning up the property. Often, the board sets a time limit, ranging from 30 to 60 days for the cleanup to take place.

According to Morton, the town has razed the structures on four properties. On several other parcels, “the town has brought enforcement action for cleanup,” he said.

Casco Code Enforcement Officer (CEO) Alex Sirois “does the follow-up on enforcement actions which can take upwards of a year to bring to fruition,” he said.

“All the demolitions by the town were completed prior to Alex working for Casco,” Morton said.

In addition to a long and arduous process of going through each property and assigning a price well below market value, the selectmen also asked the Casco Open Space Committee to tour the long list of tax-acquired lots to decide which ones might be valuable as greenspace or easements.

The selling of tax-acquired land “is a difficult process and one that may change over time,” Morton said.

The bottom line is: Every piece of property that is bought brings in property taxes rather than sitting idle.

In related business, the town is selling the Casco Grange Hall, which is located in the Village.

The sale of that historic building will happen via the bid proposal process. Bid offers are due Aug. 15, at 3 p.m. For more information on that sale, visit the town’s website https://cascomaine.org

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