Woonsocket looks for right to purchase liens on lots headed to tax sale

Woonsocket looks for right to purchase liens on lots headed to tax sale

WOONSOCKET - Saying it will give Woonsocket officials an additional tool to fight blight while bringing in some needed extra cash, City Council members voted 4-3 this week to ask the General Assembly to pass a bill that would allow the city to purchase liens on properties headed to tax sale before they reach the auction.

"I see this as a potentially profitable situation for the city to be more aggressive and make sure these properties get into the hands of the right people," said Councilor Garrett Mancieri, who sponsored the resolution.

The city holds two tax sales annually, giving investors the chance to purchase liens on properties where the owner has fallen behind on their taxes or water and sewer bills. The buyers collect interest on the liens and after one year, have the opportunity to foreclose on the property.

Now, Woonsocket officials are asking state legislators to change the law, so that the city gets the first shot at grabbing those liens.

"If a property is not going to be profitable, or we don't feel the need to take it, then we can simply put it on the list and let it go to tax sale," Mancieri said.

"I feel that it's much more beneficial financially for the city when there are properties on there that are significant."

According to a resolution passed last Monday, "The city is being proactive with restoring quality of life back to our neighborhoods that have many properties poorly maintained or abandoned by out-of-state or neglectful property owners," and is also looking for new revenue to offset high tax rates.

The council is asking Woonsocket's state delegation to the General Assembly to introduce the legislation, which would allow the city to purchase the tax sale liens before an auction is held.

Not all of Mancieri's colleagues were on board with the plan, and some questioned the legality of the idea.

"I don't agree with this concept," said Councilor Daniel Gendron. "I don't think the city is in the position to get into ownership by buying properties at tax sale."

Council President Albert Brien pointed out that the city has taken properties from the tax sale list in the past, under the leadership of former Mayor Susan Menard.

"If we were going to have a tax sale and she saw something that the city might be interested in, she'd remove it," Brien said.

According to Brien, Menard would often nab the liens after the tax sale list had already been advertised. The process was challenged by investor Patrick Conley, and the city was the losing party in a lawsuit over the issue.

City Solicitor Michael Marcello said that Mancieri's plan was different, since he was seeking the legal authority via General Assembly action.

"I think what the former mayor tried to do was not authorized by legislation," the solicitor said.

Still, Marcello said, the idea has little chance of gaining traction this year, with legislative session scheduled to end in June.

"I think that we can pass this because I think it's going to need more work on the legislative side," Moreau said.

Mancieri said he's glad the project will be on the delegates' radar for next year's session.

"At least it will make the General Assembly aware of what we want to do," he said.

Marcello stopped short of saying the idea wouldn't gain ground.

"It would be a very radical piece of legislation, I will say that," Marcello said.

"We need some radical change," Mancieri answered.

Brien, Gendron, and Councilor Roger Jalette voted against the resolution, which passed by a vote of 4-3.

Comments

Yea, we do. Try lowering taxes, it might lead to less tax sales. Politicians always take the easy way out, never address the real problems.

This is a terrible idea and kind of illegal. This is a huge conflict of interest. The city is the one applying the tax lien, therefore should have no advantage or extra power that is not granted to other bidding parties. The city has the advantage of knowing in advance which properties are likely to go up for sale. They also have the advantage to cherry pick and pull from the market those they see fit.

Imagine you are behind on your water bill. You go to City Hall to ask for amnesty and to negotiate a payment plan. However, you have a desirable property that the city could use for a public project. Negotiation denied! Put up for tax sale. City pulls the property and acquires it.