MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

April 21, 2013

City may retool property program

It deals with transfers of tax-delinquent land donated by county

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— City councilors tentatively authorized a pilot program that would provide additional notice to certain residents about the availability of tax-delinquent property donated by the county.

It also could increase the costs of conveying those parcels.

An ordinance that authorizes city councilors to convey tax-delinquent properties to qualified residents at a cost of $163 for each parcel came under scrutiny April 2. The discussion arose during a Public Works Committee meeting as councilors reviewed the city’s demolition program and the backlog of condemned structures that need to be demolished.

Ward II Councilor Dan Hall, who expressed concerns about the costs associated with the demolition program, questioned the wisdom of conveying the donated property at such a low price. He requested a review to see whether some of the demolition costs could be recouped through these transactions.

The low-cost conveyance of the tax-delinquent properties promote several public policy goals. The one cited by both city and county officials involves returning the property to the ad valorem tax rolls. The transactions also lift from local governments the burden of maintenance.

County Treasurer Kelly Garrett said getting those properties back on the ad valorem tax rolls “is a big advantage for Muskogee County.” Garrett, who instructs those who maintain the tax-delinquent property to advise neighboring property owners about the availability through the low-cost program, said he has no problem with the prospect of the city making “a little more money.”

City Attorney Roy Tucker said before Tuesday’s meeting that the donated property program is “totally different from what we do with property the city already owns.” City-owned property typically is sold through competitive bidding.

“The point of this program is to get that property back on the tax rolls and convey title to somebody who is willing to take care of it,” Tucker said, citing a requirement that the city can revoke the conveyance if the qualified buyer fails to maintain the property during the first three years. “Most of these properties are in economically depressed areas — I don’t know if they would be right for a developer.”

Under the proposed pilot program, which will be considered at the councilors’ next Public Works Committee meeting, all adjacent owners of lots too small to build upon would be notified of the availability of a parcel to be donated by the county. For lots large enough to build new structures, the city would post a sign at the location, providing notice of a potential sale.

Ward IV Councilor Kenny Payne said increased awareness could bolster interest and, perhaps, spur bidding. That could result in increased revenue for the city.

Ward II Councilor James Gulley expressed reluctance about too much change, saying the donated land already had been passed up at auctions. He said turning the program into a profit-making venture “seems like we are getting into the county’s business.”

Mayor Bob Coburn concurred, saying councilors may not “want to create a business we don’t want to be in.”

Tucker, too, expressed doubts about any prospects that the program ever could prove profitable.

Councilors, however, instructed Tucker to review program costs — the current administrative costs are $150 plus a filing fee of $13 — and possible increases to include the proposed notice requirements and any other expenses.

Councilors will consider a proposed resolution authorizing the pilot program May 7, the next meeting of the Public Works Committee.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.