The Tulsa County Treasurer's real estate auction is underway and people are buying more than usual. The auction started with 570 properties being auctioned for unpaid taxes, though owners can pay even after their property is auctioned. Tulsa County Treasurer John Fothergill spoke to KWGS's Elizabeth Caldwell about the workings of the auction.
JOHN FOTHERGILL: So the taxes can be paid up until we file the deed. We can even sell the piece of property here, collect the money from the buyer, and I end up having to refund that money if the person's over at my other office paying their taxes. It's kind of a crazy situation.
But ultimately we want, you know, the original property owner to have the ability to pay their taxes and to keep their property. Even if we sell the land, but we haven't filed the deed yet, the person could come in and pay their taxes and we end up refunding because no longer is that property delinquent.
ELIZABETH CALDWELL: That's some serious last minute situations there. Has that been happening?
JF: Yeah. So we'll take phone calls up until the last minute. I don't think we've had to refund anybody yet, but it's been pretty close as far as pulling the properties right before they get sold. So far we haven't had to refund but it's very likely that we will at least one or two this week.
EC: So you've had more properties than usual?
JF: Yes. With COVID we didn't have our sale last year. We didn't know if we'd be able to use this space because of the restrictions on the crowd size. So we just went ahead and canceled it. The state legislature allowed us to do that, through a bill that they passed and Governor Stitt signed. It made it available for any county treasurer to pass their sale for a year. And we elected to do so.
A lot of counties went ahead and had their sale, but a lot of counties have a smaller sale. Like for instance, Rogers County only sold I think 30 properties last year. And 250 is a normal year. This year we had 570 in the sale when we started yesterday morning. So our sale's a larger sale than almost any other county, except for Oklahoma County would be the only one that would be comparable.
EC: So if you get 250 a year then 570 isn't huge.
JF: We skipped a year, so that's about right. We still hope that as many people can come in and pay those taxes off, and we don't end up selling 570. But we'll sell every property unless it's paid at my office. We'll get through them all.
In years past the county has ended up owning them. So if they don't meet the minimum bid, which is the taxes and interest owed, or two thirds of the assessed value, whichever is less. If we don't get that minimum bid, then the county ends up owning it. And we do what's called a commissioner sale. So far, we haven't taken one property. Last year we took almost 50 properties. So we can tell the market's really tight and people are snatching up every piece of property.
EC: Right. So stuff that they wouldn't even have dreamt of buying a year ago is...
JF: Oh yeah, we haven't taken one so far and I hope we don't take any. It's a drain on our resources. We end up having to maintain those properties until they sell. And so we don't want to take any properties.
We'd rather have the taxes and interest that are owed to the, basically the property owners of Tulsa County that foot the bill for these delinquent taxpayers. So we want to get that money back in the coffers and distributed. I mean, this money goes back to schools, back to cities, back to the library, the health department, Tulsa Tech, Tulsa Community College. That's where all this money goes that we that we collect here today. And then anything that we collect over and above the taxes and penalties owed, we get back to the original property owner. So if you owe $5,000 in taxes and we sell your property for $20,000, you're going to get a check for $15,000.
EC: Okay. And so going back to the bill that they had to pass, so this is a legal requirement, this auction?
JF: Yes. So state statute requires that every treasurer of every county have a sale on the second Monday of June. And again, the minimum is set in state statute as well, two thirds of the assessed value or the penalties and taxes owed, whichever is less. They require us to auction them in a public venue. And so that's what we do.
EC: How long does it take you to get ready for this?
JF: Oh, we work on it all year long. So I have a department at the treasury office called delinquent tax department and they work on this all year long.
So as soon as we get done with the sale, we'll start working on those refunds to the original property owners. We'll start working on refunds of any properties that were sold but had to refund the money back. And that that's a year long process.
And then we'll start working on next year's tax sale. Probably about a month from now we'll start getting everything in line. We do an extensive background on all the deeds and make sure that that everything is in order. We do title searches. I mean, we were working this sale all year long for these three days.