The county has decided not to hand over a Carter Street property to the city in order to satisfy a maintenance bill, in favor of attempting to sell the lot so that it might pay the bill and gain a little revenue in the process.
Sampson County is faced with a nearly $1,500 bill for maintenance on a lot it did not know it owned until recently.
While preparing to bill an absentee landlord for the costs of maintaining what was believed to be an abandoned lot, city of Clinton staff discovered that the lot actually belongs to the county, which likely acquired it through tax foreclosure. The city has maintained the lot under their nuisance lot procedures for a considerable amount of time, incurring a cost of $1,468.44 in the process.
The Sampson County Board of Commissioners considered conveyance of the small lot on East Carter Street in Clinton to the city as a way of payment last month. It was tabled and the issue again brought to the commissioners earlier this week. Revisiting the matter, county attorney Annette Chancy Starling again noted the board’s options: pay the bill, try to sell the property to pay the bill or convey the lot to the city as payment.
Tax administrator Jim Johnson said the size of the lot was a main reason he was leery of the county trying to sell it. Starling has echoed that in previous discussions, saying while the ideal situation would be for the county to sell the lot, that could be met with obstacles and extra costs.
“The best thing would be if we could sell it, but the concern would be it would cost us more than we would get,” she said. “That is the risk we would run if we try to sell it and nobody buys it.”
Should the county decide to sell the lot, Starling said the land sale would have to be advertised and competitively bid, which would bring additional costs over the city’s maintenance fee. Break-even could be the best scenario, Johnson has noted, as the entire ordeal could be for naught should the lot go unsold.
Johnson, who visited the property before this week’s meeting, again noted his concerns with trying to sell the lot.
“There is a dwelling on both sides of the property,” Johnson said. He also pointed to the size of the lot, at 0.26 acres, which could prove a difficult sell. The lot is valued at $4,200, he noted.
“My only concern is if the county attempts to sell the property on its own, with more legal costs and advertisement, we’re not going to get anything out of it to cover what we have in it at that point,” he said. “There’s also the chance we could invest more funds into the property and it would not sell at all. Then we would be even deeper in the hole.”
Assistant county manager Susan Holder said advertising could mean $175 to $200. Starling said an in-depth title search would be a couple hundred extra dollars, but no additional legal costs foreseen past that.
Starling said the lot was foreclosed on by the county several years ago and was sold, but conveyed back to the county, indicating a possible problem with the foreclosure — that was done in 1989. The county attorney said she was unsure if the records simply did not reflect that, but the lot was essentially lost in the mix.
Commissioner Jefferson Strickland said now that the lot was accounted for, he felt the county should take advantage of an opportunity for additional revenue.
“I’ve been out there to look at the lot … I’m not going to disagree, but I feel like we have to try (to sell it),” said Strickland. “It’s a comfortable lot, fairly easy to get to. It’s just simply got to be worth more than $1,400-some. I just would not feel right if I didn’t try. If we’ve got to spend $200, or whatever it is … I think we’ve got to try.”
Finance officer David Clack asked Starling whether the county had to sell the lot if they received an offer. Starling said no, but it would have to be a competitive bid process and a minimum price could be established as part of an upset bid process.
Through the upset bid procedure, public notice of each new bid is published and a period of 10 days to raise the bid given. If the bid is raised within the 10 days, the procedure begins again with another notice published. N.C. law states the new bid must be no less than 10 percent of the first $1,000 of the old bid and 5 percent of the remainder.
The county engaged in such an upset bid process for the old Halls School property on U.S. 701 in 2010, and the county fielded more than a dozen offers from seven different bidders over the course of several months. An initial $8,000 bid in April 2010 was raised, and subsequently advertised, through a period of five months up to a winning bid of $36,750 by Roseboro resident J.L. (Jimmy) Marshburn in September 2010.
“Keep in mind, if it’s the upset bid procedure, we’re not just advertising it once, potentially,” Holder said. “We’re advertising it until (it is not upset).”
“But if it’s upset,” Strickland said, “we’re also going to get more money. I say let’s try. Let’s not give up on this. Let’s try and sell the lot.”
The board authorized the county to declare the lot surplus and move forward with the process of selling the lot, setting a minimum of $2,000. The vote was unanimous.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.