Upshur County sheriff's office chief tax deputy Heather Sparks

Upshur County Sheriff’s Tax Office sells 142 properties at annual land sale

BUCKHANNON – In 2018, the Upshur County Sheriff’s Tax Office auctioned off a total of 213 properties – about 100 more than usual – at its annual land sale in November.

Land sales are held for the purpose of selling real and personal properties on which delinquent county taxes are owed.

Chief tax deputy Heather Sparks on Thursday told the Upshur County Commission that the tax office had taken a total of 213 properties to its Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, land sale – about 100 more than sheriff David Coffman prefers – but said that’s because a large number of the properties were classified as coal/mineral rights properties.

Sparks explained the process to commission president Sam Nolte and commissioner Kristie Tenney at its regular meeting Thursday, where Sparks presented the final disposition list for tax year 2017.

“This an enormous task, which starts in May with the first delinquent real and personal property list being generated,” she explained. “In May 2018, there were approximately 1,711 delinquent properties totaling a little over $400,000.”

Sparks said the sheriff’s tax office followed standard protocol outlined in state code by advertising the list of delinquent properties in The Record Delta newspaper.

The next delinquent list was generated in September 2018 and subsequently advertised as a Class III legal notice in the newspapers, which means the ad was printed once a week for three consecutive weeks.

“At that time, we started researching each property,” Sparks explained. “My deputies pulled map cards from the assessor’s office in order to verify any splits in the properties. We check addresses to make sure that we’re sending them (tax bills and notices) to the correct addresses. We really do try to research every aspect of the property to make sure that the correct taxpayers are being notified.

“Once we’re confident that we have the best information available, we prepare certified letters that go out to the taxpayers and the lien holders,” she continued. “We sent approximately 900 certified letters in October of 2018.”

The Upshur County Sheriff’s land sale took place on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, Sparks said.

“Before the sale, there were 1,416 properties that were redeemed, worth about $379,000, so those were people that were delinquent as of September, but they paid before the sale,” she said.

Sparks explained she suspended 81 properties the night before the sale, which totaled $1,538.

“Those are properties – mainly it’s a lot of gas royalties that we cannot sell mainly because there’s not an actual physical property that goes along with it … so we suspend those from the sale, and most of them were gas royalties,” she said. “We did have one property in bankruptcy so that property could not be sold either.”

The sheriff’s tax office ultimately took 213 properties to the sale, 142 of which were sold to individuals for $21,696. In addition, 71 properties were not bid on, so the county sold them to the state for $832.
Sparks explained taxpayers have 18 months to redeem those properties from the Land Division of the state auditor’s office.

“The bulk of those were coal,” Sparks told the commission. “We had a lot of coal this year that went to the state. Since these properties went to the state, the state will hold them until March 31 of 2020, and they can be redeemed by the taxpayer until that date.

“I do want to stress to the citizens of Upshur County that has had a tax lien sold – whether it was to the state or an individual – they can redeem their properties and get it back,” she added.

Anyone wishing to redeem their property should contact the Land Division of the West Virginia State Auditor’s Tax Office by calling 1-888-509-6568, Sparks said.

“The state auditor’s office will let them know exactly what they have to do, and what they have to pay to get that property back,” she explained. “If they call us, we’re going to tell them, ‘I’m sorry, you have to call the state auditor’s office’ because once the land sale is over, that is kind of out of our hands.”

Sparks credited her tax deputies for putting in the extra hours necessary to complete the rigorous task.

“These ladies really go above and beyond to make our delinquent tax sale run as smoothly as possible,” she said. “They really are a pleasure to work with, and I definitely could not do my job without them.”

The commission approved and signed the Affidavit of Acceptance relative to the final disposition list.

Tenney asked if 213 was an average number of properties involved in the land sale.

“No,” Sparks answered. “It was more. The sheriff hopes we have as few as possible, but we usually hope it’s around 100, but right there we had 71 that were coal, and pretty much at this point, we don’t get bids on the coal, and the companies aren’t paying for their coal, so I told him (the sheriff), I said, ‘we’ve got a lot of coal so expect a bigger sale because of the coal that we have.’

“Next year, we’re hoping it’ll be a little less,” she added, “but last year, we had a lot of coal, too, so we’re hopefully getting weaned out of the coal. Hopefully, it will be closer to 100 next year, but you never know.”

Prior to adjourning, the commission also:

-Approved and signed the fiscal year 2018 Stop Violence Against Women Act grant application in the amount of $30,000.

-Approved Lewis-Upshur Control Facility volunteer Sara McIe.

-Approved a request from Upshur County Firefighters Association president Rick Harlow to serve on the Upshur County Fire Board when Joe Malcolm’s term expire on June 30, 2019. Harlow’s term will begin July 1, 2019 and expire June 30, 2022.

-Certified the Jan. 19, 2019 special excess levy election results.

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