MANSFIELD – Richland County hosted an auditor’s sale of forfeited property in fall 2008 in the hope that erasing tax delinquency on parcels that repeatedly had gone unsold at sheriff’s sales would make those properties more enticing to buyers.
God’s First Real Estate Limited was among the purchasers, snapping up at least 30 parcels for $7,825.
Now, 25 of the parcels God’s First purchased with the delinquent taxes forgiven will go back to sheriff’s sale May 29 with $65,199 owed in new back taxes and penalties.
Richland County Deputy Treasurer Matt Finfgeld believes someone bought vacant properties with the intention of trying to turn a profit by reselling vacant lots, possibly to neighboring property owners.
“It’s a speculative thing – he, she, whoever, bought them. The ones that didn’t sell, they let sit,” accumulating tax debt, Finfgeld said.
Exactly who made decisions to buy the properties, then let back taxes accumulate on some parcels, is unclear.
The deed filed with the county after the September 2008 auditor’s sale listed the new owner as God’s First Real Estate Ltd., with a tax mailing address of 4205 Snodgrass Road.
County auditor’s records retained from the 2008 sale show “Thomas Price” as remitter on the $7,825 check made out to “Richland County Treasurer.”
A list of prospective property purchases the auditor’s office shelved after the sale, included “Thomas S. Price, 79 Woodbine Drive, Mansfield,” and “Dan Price, 4205 Snodgrass Road, Mansfield.”
The county used 4205 Snodgrass Road as the address for tax mailings.
When some parcels purchased at the 2008 auditor’s sale were sold over the next few years, Daniel Price, an attorney, was listed on some mortgages or other documents as agent for God’s First and notary. The name Thomas S. Price, along with other apparent present and former members of the Price family, also appear on some of those mortgages.
Daniel Price’s father, Thomas S. Price, died in March 2011, according to probate court records.
On Nov. 6, 2014, the Richland County prosecutor’s office filed for foreclosure on the county treasurer’s behalf, seeking to recover tens of thousands of dollars of delinquent property taxes owed through tax year 2013 on 25 parcels still owned by God’s First Real Estate.
The civil action named both God’s First Real Estate Limited and Daniel Price. But Price, reached by phone, said he should not have been named.
“I’m not involved in it. They’ve got me down (listed as a defendant on the civil complaint), but I’m not,” he said, declining further comment.
In early February, prosecutors asked Richland Common Pleas Judge James DeWeese to schedule a sheriff’s auction to recoup back taxes. DeWeese granted the motion several days later.
Richland County Deputy Treasurer Matt Finfgeld had said in a court affidavit filed in December that efforts were made to serve papers in the foreclosure case at 4205 Snodgrass Road but had failed.
Richland County Assistant Prosecutor Michael C. Bear said the county’s goal in foreclosures is to have land sold to recoup what the treasurer’s office is owed.
“I’m only going after the taxes on the property,” not after other assets owned by a business entity or individual, he said.
Bear said Price was named because his name appeared as agent for God’s First Real Estate and because the county wants to make sure anyone with a potential interest in it is notified the county is filing to foreclose.
“I’m not seeking personal judgment from anybody,” Bear said. “I just want the taxes on the property. My goal is to clean up property taxes.”
The parcels going up for sale are grouped in 14 to 15 separate locations, scattered throughout Mansfield and Madison Township.
“Everything is at least two years delinquent,” Bear said.
But prospects for reselling parcels (or groupings of them) at sheriff’s sale are uncertain,given that they carry amounts ranging from$132 to $10,444 in back taxes still due.
Until 2014, Richland County typically scheduled an auditor’s sales once a year to deal with properties that were seized for back taxes, but it failed to attract buyers at sheriff’s sales because of a large delinquent-tax burden.
Assistant County Auditor Robin Golden said properties considered for the auditor’s sale were those that seemed to have little prospect for being sold because of substantial delinquency.
Local officials said the auditor’s sale was a means for bringing properties back onto the tax rolls, to begin generating funding once again for schools and other local agencies.
Last year, no auditor’s sale was scheduled after the Richland County Land Reutilization Corp., a land bank, went into operation. The land bank’s role has been to link problem properties to new owners who will put the land to use, then pay taxes on it.
Finfgeld said Richland County has had recurring issues with speculation by people buying unattractive properties at bargain-basement prices in hopes of reselling vacant properties or renting out dilapidated homes. Some of those investments have remained perpetually tax-delinquent, he said.
The county land bank might help bring some of those properties back into productive use, the deputy treasurer said.
The land bank can take temporary control when a purchaser has been found who will actually put the land to viable use, he said.
In December, the Richland County Land Reutilization Corp. was asked to consider accepting the parcels in lieu of foreclosure, land bank manager Amy Hamrick said.
Price had approached the county prosecutor’s office a few days before a land bank board meeting to ask whether the land bank would accept ownership, officials said.
County officials said the request ultimately was rejected because there were no immediate prospects for buying the properties.
Although the land bank only got going in 2014, by early December, it had taken possession of 73 parcels, with a total of $612,300 in tax delinquency, that will be placed back into the county’s tax-producing properties.
“It’s very encouraging to hear that $600,000 has already been taken off (the tax-delinquent list) in half a year,” Finfgeld said.
Hamrick said she researched the parcels owned by God’s First Real Estate.
“The land bank doesn’t want to take properties until we have an end user,” she said.
One parcel being resold as part of the foreclosure case is at 533 Bowman St., near Chester Avenue.
Fourth Ward Mansfield City Councilman Butch Jefferson said that’s the former site of Maxwell’s bar.
After Maxwell’s was torn down in 1996, “nobody has ever taken care of this property. The city has always mowed it,” he said. “The grass gets a lot higher than this. They usually cut it once, in August, sometimes twice.”
Although the lot tends to be unsightly, local residents are used to it, he said.
“It’s like a spot on the wall. After a while, you get used to seeing it,” Jefferson said.
The city issued notices in 2009, 2011 and 2013 notifying God’s First Real Estate to keep grass and weeds cut, twice sending invoices for $100 each after city workers cut weeds, according to building and codes records. A building and codes clerk said it appeared that no full payment was made, based on lack of receipts in the file kept to track that property.
Jefferson said the 4th Ward has had a recurring problem with purchases by speculators who sometimes later stop caring for those properties. Most of that has involved not vacant parcels but rather badly deteriorated houses purchased for less than $10,000 apiece by buyers hoping they can invest a minimum into improvements then rent them out, he said.
The problem is that, typically, renters willing to move into a home with little insulation and furnaces that don’t work well are people “who live there for two months, stop paying rent, and then move out in the middle of the night,” sometimes trashing the place before they leave, the councilman said.
Jefferson said he wasn’t familiar with God’s First Real Estate. But he ticked off names of three individuals he said have been active buying deteriorating homes on the north side as possible rentals.
“I still see in the newspaper, one person or an LLC purchasing four, five, six, seven properties,” the councilman said.
“They speculate, hoping to make some money, and it doesn’t pan out,” Jefferson said. “They realize that if they don’t pay the taxes, they know it will be foreclosed on at some point, and they don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
tax-delinquent properties owned by God’s First Real Estate
Richland County filed for foreclosure on 25 parcels in the Mansfield area to collect $65,200 in tax delinquency from an entity called God’s First Real Estate Limited.
Several of those parcels are in the vicinity of Pennsylvania Avenue, City View Drive and Parry Avenue. Together, $42,345 is owed to Richland County on them.
Two more are located on Kentucky Avenue (with another $6,121 in delinquency).
Delinquent single parcels named in the foreclosure filed and scattered around the area include lots on Newman Street ($10,444 owed), Vale Avenue ($1,496); 533 Bowman St., Mansfield ($1,114); Franklin Avenue, Mansfield ($1,113); West Fifth Street, Mansfield ($469); Fairfax Avenue in Madison Township ($466); 62 Bentley St., Mansfield ($431); Burger Avenue ($454); Crystal Springs Street, Mansfield ($238); Spring Street, Mansfield ($147); and Ida Street, Mansfield ($132).