Forfeited land auction nets $400K+

WINNSBORO – A forfeited land commission recently appointed by Fairfield County Council to bring the county’s forfeited properties back on to the county’s tax rolls, has done just that. Of 68 forfeited properties sent to auction in September, 61 were sold, bringing more than $400,000 to the county’s coffers.

When Jason Taylor was hired as the county’s administrator four years ago, the county did not have a plan for disposal of properties that were not bid on in tax sales or that had been forfeited for other reasons. The county had apparently not complied with the state law in dealing with these properties for more than 30 years. Last year, Taylor discovered a backlog of about 120 undisposed properties dating back to 2008.

“They go back a long, long time. Before that, I do think if somebody researched and decided they wanted a piece of property, they’d inquire about it and possibly purchase it,” Taylor said.

Taylor noted that the county uncovered forfeited lands in droves while working on the Zion Hill renovation project. He couldn’t say why the issue hasn’t arisen sooner, but surmised Fairfield County’s comparatively low property values may be one reason.

County attorney Tommy Morgan said in many cases, the parcels are small and virtually unnoticeable, but remain in the county’s possession, nonetheless.

“Some properties that are in the commission’s name already, for example, are nothing more than a driveway,” Morgan said. Others, however, were lake front properties.

“The goal is to get these properties out of unproductive status and into a productive status,” Taylor said.

The Commission held its inaugural meeting on Nov. 11, where it appointed officers and adopted policies and procedures. “Its primary function is to effect the sale of lands forfeited in pursuance of the South Carolina Code of Laws,” according to the Fairfield County website.

“The Delinquent Tax Collector at the tax sale submits the bid on behalf of the Forfeited Land Commission equal to the amount of all unpaid taxes, assessments, penalties and cost,” the site states.

Miriam Woodward, the county’s tax collector, said there’s never been any direction from past county administrators to address forfeited lands. She said it wasn’t until recently that the forfeited lands were deeded.

“Now we’re just playing catch-up in getting the properties out there and available to the public,” Woodard said. “I just never, ever had the time to get all the information together and all the deeds drawn up.”

The commission must ensure that bids at delinquent tax sales satisfy the delinquent and current tax amounts.

“The commission may sell any property in its portfolio in any way possible, as long as the sale is determined to be in the best interest of the county,” Taylor said. “The point is to get the property back on the tax rolls and contributing to the tax base of the county.”

Fairfield’s forfeited land commission consists of three members: Peggy Hensley, county auditor; Judy Bonds, register of deeds; and Norma Branham, county treasurer. Branham was appointed commission chair. John Thompson with the assessor’s office was designated the agent for the commission.

Thompson chose to sell the forfeited properties through auction, a process he said other counties had found successful.

“The results exceeded our greatest expectations,” Taylor said Monday prior to Thompson presenting the auction results to council. 

“Auction was a way to get the properties out quickly and make the most money for the county,” Thompson said. He used an auction house out of Greenville, S.C. that was already conducting forfeited land auctions for other counties.

“They already understood the needs of county government and just offered a very smooth process,” he said. “We sold 80 percent of our properties, which was extraordinary. The ones that did not sell will simply go into the next auction and keep the cycle going. The properties that move to the forfeited land commission from the past tax sale will come to us and we will be doing the same thing with them. If there are properties that don’t sell for whatever reason, we may lump them in with other nicer properties for a single bid on both.” he said.

“Selling them at auction not only makes the properties available on the world stage, but it removes any bias in the sale, and I think that’s important,” Thompson said.