Hall County is considering ways to get delinquent properties off their hands.
Commissioner Bobby Banks asked the commission at Monday's work session to look at the issue after receiving an e-mail from a constituent.
"Nobody's paying taxes on it, and we at least need to get it off the tax records and onto surplus land. That would alleviate a lot of the problems," Banks said.
Hall County Tax Commissioner Keith Echols estimated there are about 15 pieces of real estate the county has unsuccessfully tried to sell on the courthouse steps.
"If it's property that you can put up time and again for sale on the courthouse steps and still nobody wants it, then we need to get creative on how to get rid of that property because we don't want to hold it indefinitely," Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton said. "These properties are really of no value to us either. It would be of value to get them back on the tax rolls."
Taxes become delinquent immediately after the due date, which is Dec. 1 in Hall County. After 90 days, a state-mandated 10 percent penalty is applied.
At the same time, a tax lien is placed on the property, making it eligible for the county to sell in order to recoup the owed taxes.
A small portion of the unpaid tax bills are real estate that is undesirable because it is land locked or in a flood plain, making it difficult to find a buyer at a tax sale.
Commissioner Steve Gailey said the county should contact adjoining property owners, who would be likely buyers for these hard-to-sell parcels.
Chairman Tom Oliver said back taxes owed on the properties are the common deterrent.
"Somebody who joins that property wouldn't mind having that property, but they'd have to come back and pay $3,000, $4,000, or $5,000 in taxes in order to own it, but the property's not worth that to these people," Oliver said.
Oliver asked County Attorney Bill Blalock if any of the taxes could be waived. But it's a complicated issue, Blalock said.
"It's possible, but you'd have to get it appraised to see its actual worth and to know how much you'd have to waive," Blalock said. "You also have to understand that some of that tax is owed to the state. In order to waive it, you probably need to check with the state and make sure they're comfortable with it."
Sutton said he will work with Blalock on the issue.
He said the county has taken ownership of delinquent properties in the past and worked with adjacent property owners to purchase them.
"Several years ago we made an effort to sell several of these scattered properties," Sutton said. "It's not been done recently and it's been very, very few cases. We had about 30 small parcels that were sort of scattered about the county, and we've disposed of most of those."
The bigger issue is that the majority of the county's unpaid tax bills are for personal property, which is nearly impossible to sell at a tax sale.
"Personal property is the one that's really more troubling," Sutton said. "Businesses can go out of business and move the inventory or machinery, and mobile homes and airplanes and boats can be moved. If you don't get the taxes on a timely basis, often those properties are no longer there. But real estate can't move."