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Tax auction nets Jefferson County $500,000; money eyed to help cushion revenue shortfalls

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WATERTOWN — The Jefferson County tax auction, held Saturday at the Dulles State Office Building, netted the county about $500,000, money that may help cushion the blow of a continued downward trend in sales tax revenue.

The county managed to unload 49 of 50 residential, commercial and land parcels, accumulating $774,750 in sales. The county was holding $257,868 in back taxes on the parcels, leaving it with a gain of $516,882.

That number will have to be “netted down” a little bit more to account for the auctioneer’s fees and other expenses, according to Jefferson County Board of Legislators Finance and Rules Committee Chairman Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown.

A $100,000 reduction in the tax levy, or amount to be raised by taxes, translates into a 1.31-cent reduction in the tax rate, according to county budget analyst Gregory C. Hudson.

The auction was a success, Mr. Gray said.

“We exceeded what we had in back taxes and we got rid of the parcels,” he said.

The auction drew 209 registered bidders. The highest sale was on a former strip mall in the town of LeRay, according to Jefferson County Attorney David J. Paulsen. The property, which was assessed at $183,500, sold for $175,000.

Two other notable properties were a 196-acre parcel of agricultural land in the town of Champion that was assessed at $132,600 and sold for $128,000 and a 64-acre quarry in the town of Clayton that was assessed at $205,300 and sold for $56,000.

There were several sales for $25, the lowest bid.

Money from the county’s tax auction typically goes into the county’s general fund, according to Deputy County Administrator Michael E. Kaskan.

In 2012, the county actually lost $220,000 in the event, as the proceeds from the tax auction did not cover the amount the county lost in uncollected back taxes.

“There’s no way to know what the revenue is going to be,” Mr. Kaskan said.

The county has been spending money from the general fund balance in recent years in order to prevent a spike in the county’s tax rate. The trend may continue this year as revenues collected by the county, including sales tax and projected interest, may not meet the expenses in the budget, according to Mr. Gray and Mr. Kaskan.

But while the money from the tax auction pales in comparison to the $242 million budget approved by county legislators in November, every little bit helps, according to Mr. Gray.

“Given everything considered, it’s probably not going to make a huge difference, but it doesn’t hurt. It always helps to have a positive,” Mr. Gray said.

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