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Property tax auctions spike
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Rockdale is facing a record number of tax sales from delinquent property owners at its upcoming tax sale on April 6.

Normally, the county sees about 50 to 80 properties with unpaid taxes eligible for auction at a time. This time, the county had about 300 properties to process, according to Tax Commissioner Dan Ray.

Ray’s office even had to hire an outside company, which tacks its charges onto the tax bill, to help with the deluge of properties. "With that many tax bills outstanding, at that rate we’d never get caught up," said Ray. He pointed out that the dollar amount of delinquent property taxes ($3.7 million or 4.6 percent uncollected) is comparable to last year, but there are simply more bills.

Many of those seem to be from vacant lots that developers were unable to finish and are holding onto said Ray.

However, many of those delinquent tax bills are paid by the owner or mortgage holder before the auction day, once they receive a notice, and usually only a fifth or so go up for auction on the courthouse steps.

"All I want is to have the taxes paid," said Ray. "The county has no benefit or interest in selling the property."

Bids start out at the amount of taxes and fees owed and go from there. If a property’s tax bills are sold, a superior lien is issued to the winning bidder. The property owner then has a year to redeem the property from the bidder by paying the bid price plus a 20 percent fee.

Out of the people that bid, usually there are those actually seeking to own the property and there are investors who bid in hopes of receiving the 20 percent fee if an owner redeems the property. In the last four or five years, there seem to be more of the latter, said Ray.

"I believe we’re going to see a high rate of foreclosures throughout 2010," said Ray, as the 3-5 year adjustable rate mortgages work themselves out. "The second part we’re starting to see is the true victims of the recession. These are the people who have been making their payments," and weren’t caught up in subprime loans he said. These homeowners nonetheless have been affected by the economic fallout and have often lost their jobs.

Rockdale’s unemployment rate at the end of the 2009 was 11.9 percent, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

There were 3,116 foreclosure advertisements in 2009 in Rockdale County, compared to 1997 in 2008, 1377 in 2007, and 528 ads in 2002.