SEBRING — Yet another sign that the Great Recession is losing its grip on Highlands County? Tax Collector Eric Zwayer offered fewer tax certificates for sale this year.
“More people are paying their taxes on time,” Zwayer explained. Why?
“I assume that economy is improving,” said the tax collector, who was elected in 2010 at the beginning of the economic downturn.
If property owners can’t pay their taxes, Florida tax collectors issue a certificate. In effect, the certificate holder pays the tax.
In return, the investor is repaid the amount of tax, plus interest. If the property owner doesn’t repay within two years, the certificate holder can apply for a tax sale.
“If it’s a homestead, we do everything thing we can to notify and protect the property owner,” Zwayer said. “I will go out and personally visit, if I have to. The owner may be handicapped and may not understand the notification that is being sent to them.”
In 2012, Zwayer’s office offered 14,609 certificates for $5.6 million, 4,118 were sold for $4.5 million.
In 2013, 14,901 certificates were offered for $5.1 million; 4,607 were sold for $4.2 million.
In 2014, 14,056 certificates were offered for $3.6 million; 4,066 were sold for $2.8 million.
If a certificate is not sold at auction, the certificate is struck to the county.
In 2012, Highlands County received 10,491 certificates; in 2013, 10,294 certificates; in 2014, 9,990 certificates.
This year, the county is also selling 50 properties it acquired — mostly vacant lots through deeds struck to the county.
One, at 816 S. Delaney Ave. in Avon Park, is the vacant Women, Infants and Children’s building, which has been vacant for five years. The just value of that property, according to the property appraiser’s office, is $22,104.
Another, the marl pit at 1729 County Road 29, Lake Placid, is listed at a just value of $70,410. Marl is sedimentary rock and dirt consisting of clay and lime that is used by the road and bridge department.
One of the 50 is a single-family home at 1511 Roseland Ave. with a just value of $14,876. Ironically, the land it sits under, which is near Kenilworth Avenue and Orange Blossom Boulevard, is valued at $17,216.
The county has owned the WIC building since 1958 and the marl pit since 1987. With the exception of a lot at 1041 Iris Ave. in Sebring, the rest have been acquired since 2000.
The list of 50 was assembled after commissioners asked administrators if it is known exactly what Highlands County owns. A master list of 575 pieces of real property was assembled, and on June 17, commissioners went along with Purchasing Manager Danielle Gilbert’s recommendation that the 50 vacant lots be sold.
The other 525 were categorized as “keep,” meaning a current or future need was identified, or “land bank,” meaning the property could be used for affordable housing or designated for a future use.
“We haven’t decided on how to sell them,” Gilbert said. Options include live auction and sealed bids.