Washington County made a record amount of money at Saturday’s tax auction.
The county was owed $509,840 in back taxes, including interest and penalties. It collected $1.24 million, nearly $733,000 more than the taxes owed.
County officials don’t like to call the figure a “profit” and instead refer to it as a “surplus.” The county keeps all the money it receives in excess of the taxes owed; the former owners get none of it.
It is unusual for the county to end up with so much. Last year, the county collected about $300,000 more than it was owed.
The difference this year was mainly in the auction of one property, the Eastside junkyard on Route 149 in Kingsbury.
It owed $144,378 in taxes. It sold for $536,000.
“Had that not been there, it would have looked like a normal auction,” county Treasurer Al Nolette said.
Interest was high, with some bidders coming to the county in advance to look up county records regarding environmental violations at the site.
Upstate Shredding-Weitsman Recycling offered $1 million for the junkyard in 2016. The name of the winning bidder has not yet been announced, but it is a corporation, Nolette said.
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Winning bids for some properties were also higher than normal because the county had so many registered bidders. There were 252 bidders for 46 properties. Last year there were fewer than 200 bidders for 106 properties.
This year’s auction had the fewest properties since 2013, when 45 properties were auctioned off. The auction was delayed by a month this year because the county went out to bid for a new auctioneer.
“I think that month gave people the time they needed to pay,” Nolette said, adding that he would recommend a late summer auction from now on. The timing in late summer could also be better for his staff, he said.
He sends out his first warning letter about the auction on Oct. 1 and successfully helped several people navigate bankruptcy or probate court to avoid losing their property.
“We do spend time with people,” he said.
But most are too proud to ask for help, he added.
He supports Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner’s proposed bill, which would let owners pay the oldest taxes first. That means some people would be perpetually two years behind — staving off auction every year by paying 3-year-old taxes. But Nolette, who personally finds the auction distasteful, welcomes the idea.
“I don’t want to be in the real estate business,” he said. “If that means I have to wait 48 months to get my money and people get to keep their homes, I’m OK with that.”