Tax sale planned for March 27 has already brought in $600,000

A tax sale — the public auction of properties that have owed the town too much, for too long — has a way of getting folks to pay up.
A tax sale scheduled for next week has brought in more than $600,000 in payments since Tax Collector Jane Berendsen-Hill began planning it last fall.
“I’ve collected most of what I was going to collect,” she said. 
“Maybe we won’t have a tax sale. Maybe they’ll all get paid off, which would be nice.”
The tax sale is scheduled for Wednesday, March 27, at 10 a.m. in town hall’s lower level conference room.
When she started planning last fall, the sale was going to include 13 properties that owed a total of about $700,000 in back taxes. Early this week the list was down to three properties owing a total of about $65,000, she said.
“There are two office condos and one house,” Berendsen-Hill said. 
Paying off
She was hopeful owners of the three remaining properties would pay their back taxes, in which case she could cancel the sale.
“All asked for pay-off figures,” she said.
“They can pay off five minutes before it begins — no big deal. If they pay off, it’s off the list...
“The first time I did it, somebody paid off 20 minutes before it began.”
The status of the planned tax sale — the properties still headed to auction — is displayed in town hall on an easel in the hallway opposite the town clerk’s office.
This is the third tax sale Berendsen-Hill has planned. The first was in 2012, and there was another in the fall of 2016.
“The last one was big, that was almost $2 million. But it was a lot more properties,” Berendsen-Hill said. “We didn’t sell much because it was almost all paid off ahead of time.”
Redemption period
Delinquent taxpayers can even pay off and keep their properties up after the tax sale has been conducted.
“They have six months from the date of tax sale to pay off the amount — and they don’t pay it to me, they pay it to the attorney,” Berendsen-Hill said. “I get paid the day of the tax sale.”
Transactions after sale day involve the purchaser of the property, the delinquent taxpayer, and the attorney representing the town.
The purchasers have to wait to take ownership.
“They basically bought the property, but that’s contingent upon a six-month redemption period,” Berendsen-Hill said.
The attorney handling the sale for the town is Adam Cohen of the lawfirm Pullman and Comley’s Bridgebport office. He handles tax sales for many Connecticut towns.
When planning a tax sale, Berendsen-Hill sets up guidelines for herself.
“I make sure it’s a complete objective criteria, so that nobody is singled out, ever,” she said.
Her guidelines for putting properties in a tax sale involves both how much is owed, and how long. “Two years delinquent and a significant amount of money,” she said. This time the cut-off on the amount owed was $15,000.
“I also have another rule, which is if you were ever on my tax sale list before, it doesn’t matter how much you owe, you’re back on my tax sale list,” she added.
Berendsen-Hill said she’s never eager to run tax sales, but she does periodically because they work.
“It’s the tax collector’s best collection tool, because they have to pay up,” she said. “And fortunately, to date, no one has lost their home in a tax sale, because any house that was sold was redeemed.”