Dorchester County tax sale properties down to zero

Council recognizes National Outdoor Show Foundation

CAMBRIDGE — Roughly two years ago, when the new Dorchester County Council got to work after the election, the councilmen prioritized turning a financial loss on the books into a gain.

At Tuesday’s county council meeting, councilmen unanimously approved the transfer of a county tax-sale property to a private owner. After approving the vote, Council President Ricky Travers asked Cindy Smith, county grant administrator, how many tax sale properties remained on the books.

Ms. Smith answered, “zero.” She said at one point in the past two years, the number of tax sale properties controlled and maintained by the county was more than 110.

According to Mr. Travers, if landowners don’t pay county property taxes for two years, the properties go up for auction on the county courthouse steps. If those properties don’t receive a valid bid, they become county tax-sale properties. The county maintains property tax collection and issues involved with delinquency for its municipalities as well. In most cases, the properties are vacant or abandoned.

In a Wednesday interview, Mr. Travers said the properties represented a financial burden since the county was responsible for their upkeep. A number of the properties were in the City of Cambridge. About two years ago, the councilmen prioritized selling these properties after they had to create a line item in the budget for upkeep. The maintenance went to bid, and a local contractor was paid to maintain them.

“It’s going to relieve us from that expense, and also put them back on the tax rolls where they belong,” Mr. Travers said Wednesday. “Some of the prices that we sold them for were not huge prices.”

Now, instead of paying for maintenance on these properties, the county is collecting taxes.

At the meeting, Mr. Travers looked at Ms. Smith and said, “I have to acknowledge staff for sitting down and coming up with some out-of-the-box ideas and making it happen. Thank you.”

Speaking Wednesday, Mr. Travers said the council set up a committee to address the issue about two years ago. After roughly a year, the committee established a plan to sell the properties and began to take action.

According to Mr. Travers, the committee vetted each property. Could the properties be transferred to municipalities and used as parks? What other parties might be interested in acquiring these properties? In one case, a tax-sale property was transferred to the Cambridge Cemetery on Academy Street. After going through the vetting process, if a proper suitor couldn’t be found, the properties were advertised, sometimes with for-sale signs.

“We’ve created a procedure that we go through with each piece of property, and it’s working,” Mr. Travers said Wednesday. “Going from in excess of 100-plus properties down to zero is phenomenal.”

But the process will continue. Ms. Smith announced at the Tuesday council meeting that the county will soon become responsible for 10 more tax-sale properties.

Also at the Tuesday meeting, the council proclaimed February as National Outdoor Show Month with the coming of the show Feb. 24 and 25 in Golden Hill. The council recognized the National Outdoor Show Foundation for working to get ready for the 72nd annual show.

Through the show, the committee has gained local, state and national recognition through hard work and involvement in community services.

The National Outdoor Show Foundation has continually promoted Dorchester County, its natural resources, heritage and it’s people. Through sponsorship of the show, it has brought business leaders and private citizens to the county from throughout the U.S. who have gained appreciation of the county’s vast acreage, protected marsh lands, beautiful bodies of water and large concentration of waterfowl in the southern part of the county. The show has gained interest from sportsman and conservationists.

By proclaiming February as National Outdoor Show Month, “we are hopeful that in doing so, the people of Dorchester County will see the beauty of our wildlife, and gain a new appreciation of our natural resources,” Councilman Don Satterfield said.

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