NORTH ATTLEBORO — Abandoned factory sites. Swampland. A strip of land between two houses.
Languishing real estate is not uncommon in town. Dozens of landowners have not paid property taxes for years, even decades. As of this month, the amount due in late real estate taxes was just over $2 million.
According to Tax Collector/Treasurer Christopher Sweet, if individuals or businesses fail to pay their property taxes for a year, they are moved to the “penalty box” of tax title status, essentially a lien by the town on the property.
Foreclosing on such properties is not always an option, unless the town can actually use the land. Abandoned sites often need a lot of upkeep and selling them means the new owners are responsible for large amounts of back taxes.
“It’s not my job as a collector to take properties,” Sweet said.
The Treasurer/Tax Collector webpage on the town website, www.nattleboro.com/town-treasurer-tax-collector, includes a spreadsheet of all the individuals and businesses that owe the town taxes. Sweet said he publishes the list to prompt payments, and it works.
According to the spreadsheet, the highest property tax owed is over $80,000 by J & C Ferrara Co., a factory at 104 Richards Ave. that is permanently closed. Sweet said getting the property to the point where the town could sell or use it would likely be too costly.
“We’re not going to foreclose on them because it doesn’t make sense for the town to own property that has issues,” he explained.
Some properties don’t have a clear transfer history, such as the land at 79 Bernice St. originally owned by Alfred Choiniere. It hasn’t seen taxes paid since 1973, but Sweet said that a lot of money would have to be spent to find out who the current heirs are, and it may result in nothing. He called it a lose-lose situation.
Some of the highest delinquent property tax bills on the spreadsheet are for stray pieces of land between or around two houses that can’t be built on and have been left unattended for many years.
“They developed these pieces of land ... and they left little slivers and chunks lying around and didn’t tidy it up,” Sweet said. “I’m staying on top of it, as best I can.”
However, not everyone who is on the public list of delinquents deserves to be. Sometimes, the property is bought by a new owner who stops paying taxes, but the old owner’s name is still associated with it.
This happens, Sweet said, because the fiscal year and the calendar year are different, so the name on the property as of Jan. 1 of any year is associated with it for the entire year. If the new owners neglect to pay taxes, the old as well as new owners get put into tax title status. To get the old owners out of such status, the new owners have to pay their share.
Sweet says the list and his efforts are not directed towards earning more money, but prompting people to be responsible taxpayers.
“We’re just here to make sure everybody pays their fair share,” Sweet explained.