Residents pay to reverse foreclosures

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

CASCO — Imagine having to pay a $20,680 debt in two weeks? Imagine having to do that to keep a home that has been in the family for years?

Two sisters stepped up to save their family home and the property on Lakewood Road that is now owned by the Town of Casco. The town foreclosed on it after the owners did not pay property taxes for three years.

“My sister and I have been estranged. It took this tragedy of losing our family home to bring us together,” one woman said, adding lack of communication led to the debt going unpaid.

Once a piece of property has been foreclosed on, the only avenue for the former landowner is to go before the Casco Board of Selectmen and arrange to pay the back taxes in full in 14 days.

On Tuesday, July 29, three different parties approached the board seeking to once again own their property in Casco. Each person was given the chance to pay the back taxes to the town office within two weeks. The payment of this overdue debt would reverse the foreclosure.

The people whose property had been foreclosed on faced this embarrassment because, in order to remedy the situation, they had to go on public record and plead for a second chance.

Those property owners were three years behind on their taxes, according to Casco Town Manager Dave Morton.

“There is a provision that allows them to redeem it — if the (board of selectmen) is willing to do it,” he said.

Maine State law allows the town to place a foreclosure lien on the property of people who have ignored their tax bill. By the same token, Maine law gives residents that right to resume ownership — by bringing the property tax balance to zero.

Also, for those people who are having financial hardships or health issues that prevent them from being employed, there is another option. Before the foreclosure process starts, they can apply for an abatement — or forgiveness of taxes. The abatement hearing takes place in executive session, behind closed doors.

Additionally, residents can make payment arrangements with the town to chip away at the property taxes owed. But, this must be done before the foreclosure process begins, before the bill has been outstanding for three years.

One of the people involved in a foreclosure by the town said that the two adjacent parcels he owns in Casco are considered his second piece of property. He lives in Raymond. He said the tax bill was something he had overlooked and put on the backburner.

“I am humbled and embarrassed, and can pay by the end of August,” he said.

Chairman Grant Plummer responded to the request.

“The town has foreclosed on it. Redemption is the last chance for you, as the previous owner, to buy it back,” Plummer said.

The board gave him two weeks to pay.

One Casco resident said, “I am here to buy my home back.”

He, too, was given a two-week time frame to bring the bill current.

The resident said the town has been charging him double because his property valuation has been inflated for the past several years.

Plummer explained that it is the property owner’s responsibility to go to the town assessor with any property valuation issues.

“Anyone who has a concern about the assessed value should go to the assessor. Everyone is pointing the fingers back to the owner — to talk to neighbors and see what their property is worth,” Plummer said.

The majority of Casco residents pay their property taxes without question. For others, property taxes have become a hard bill to budget — given daily living expenses and stagnant wage increases.

“Most people understand they have to pay their taxes, and they do,” Morton said.

“For others not paying the taxes for one year is easy. That time passes without any (consequences) and so does the second year. The third year, you are in trouble,” he said.

“Some people simply cannot afford to keep property, particularly if it is a second property,” he said.

“If a person cannot afford to pay their property taxes, they need to be looking at something different, whether it is leasing it out, getting a second job, or selling the property. People are hard-pressed to come to those decisions,” Morton said.

 

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