Cambria forgives property taxes

County hopes wiping slate clean will spur sales on 30 parcels

PATTON — Taxes owed on 30 Cambria County properties will be forgiven with hopes that they will be sold and re-enter the tax base.

The elimination of owed taxes on those properties was approved unanimously by Cambria County commissioners at a Thursday meeting in Patton.

They then authorized the county Tax Claim Bureau to dismiss owed taxes, as well as penalties, interest and fees, from the office’s records.

That decision came after those properties failed to sell at a recent judicial sale, solicitor Bill Barbin said.

“Nobody bid on them,” he said.

Tax Claim Bureau Executive Director JoAnne Ranck elaborated later, explaining the 30 properties were among 70 that were offered for purchase at a recent judicial sale.

That is an unusually high number of homes left after a sale, she said.

When taxes are not paid on a property for two years, it can be put up for upset sale, said Ranck, who shared documents to better explain the process.

In an upset sale, interested buyers must pay a minimum of all the taxes owed on a property, as well as associated liens, mortgages and judgments, to take ownership.

If a property that appears for upset does not sell, it can then be offered at a private tax sale or judicial sale, Ranck said.

Private tax sales are held four times yearly, and minimum bids for a property must begin at $200, with the understanding that the purchaser also will pay for associated liens, mortgages and judgments.

Judicial sales are held once per year, and properties are offered with liens, mortgages and judgments forgiven. Those properties are then sold with minimum bids set at the cost of labor spent to prepare them for sale — typically $500 to $1,500.

All three of those sales are held at public auction.

For a property to enter a judicial sale, it first has to be requested by a prospective buyer, Ranck said.

“From the time they request it to the time the sale comes around, it’s almost a whole year,” she said, trying to explain why some properties were not purchased.

With the commissioners’ Thursday vote, those 30 properties can now be put up for a repository sale, Barbin said.

Like with a judicial sale, properties sold at repository sales are offered for the minimum cost of labor spent to prepare them for sale.

The difference is that re­pository sale properties come with an often lower realty transfer tax — a tax paid when a deed is transferred from one owner to another.

At a judicial sale, the purchaser pays a realty transfer tax based on a property’s as­ses­sed market value, Ranck said.

At a repository sale, cost of the realty transfer tax is based on what the new owner pays for the property, which is often much lower than the assessed value, Ranck said.

Those interested in purcha­s­ing properties at repository sale can do so by visiting the Tax Claim Bureau and offering a bid, Ranck said, calling the bidding process an “over-the-counter” exchange.

That bid is also shown to other taxing entities, such as local municipalities and school boards, that have 45 days to object to a sale, she said.

Ranck said objections are rare. She also said there is seldom more than one bid for a single property.

“We are just interested in getting the property back into taxation,” she said.

In Cambria County, 600 properties failed to sell at upset sale this year, Ranck said.

Those 600, combined with others left over from sales of years past, make up a total of about 2,000 county properties that haven’t had taxes paid for at least two years, she said.

Of those properties, about 1,300 are located in Johns­town, Ranck said.

Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.