No more auction block

Going once, going twice . . . not so fast.

Real estate entrepreneurs looking for screaming deals will be out of luck this year. The annual foreclosure auction has been cancelled.

“I think this is the first time ever in Island County we’ve canceled the auction,” said Treasurer Linda Riffe.

For the property owners who were at risk of losing their land, the cancellation means they can breathe a collective sigh of relief. Back taxes were paid and properties were saved.

“This is a big thing,” Riffe said. “I’m very pleased to make this announcement.”

The treasurer attributes the success to the diligent and tireless work of Jill Smith, the tax foreclosure deputy.

“She has worked extremely hard this past year to contact everyone that was going into foreclosure, to encourage them to redeem their property so that we would not have to foreclose,” Riffe said.

Smith even went so far as to track down a property owner overseas.

“She spoke with a person who knew a person who knew the owner,” Riffe said. “She traced it all the way back and got ahold of him. I think he’d forgotten he had the property.”

The county averages about 250 properties at the beginning of the year-long foreclosure process. Midway through the process, the number of delinquent owners generally decreases to around 50 properties.

Eleven properties were foreclosed on last year.

“We do send out certified notifications to people, and we do everything that we possibly can to try to contact folks,” Riffe said. Even with continual attempts at correspondence, many people refuse or can’t pay their taxes and find themselves in dire situations. “The state mandates that we do this.”

Before the foreclosure process can begin, a property must be three years delinquent. Riffe said many people have a misconception that taxes collected by the county stay in the courthouse. The former educator enjoys helping taxpayers learn the process so that they understand the distribution of taxes.

“Ninety-two percent of the taxes go to the various junior taxing districts,” she said. “Only eight percent comes back to the county itself for operations. People think the county keeps all the money, but it’s distributed the second it’s posted.”

Just as a business is forced to react when actual revenues are less than budgeted, the the junior taxing districts, such as schools and the hospital, must contend with shortfalls when taxes are not paid. And the taxing districts provide services voted on by residents, Riffe said.

“There’s a direct correlation between not paying taxes and the level of services people are provided,” she added. “Citizens do not hurt us when they do not pay their taxes, they hurt themselves, because it affects the junior taxing districts that provide services to them.”

Zero foreclosures is unprecedented but may be not an anomaly given Smith’s hard work and persistence. Riffe said they will shoot for this standard every year.

“It might not happen like that again, but we’re going to try,” she said.

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