The Tennessee legislature passed a bill that could settle an ongoing dispute between Loudon County and the Tellico Village Property Owners Association over hundreds of lots encumbered by delinquent POA assessment fees and property taxes.
House Bill 2343, and its counterpart Senate Bill 1949, gives chancellors the authority to waive a county’s bid on properties that come under local government ownership through a delinquent property tax sale if, as determined by the county mayor, “the value of the property or amount of money the county would receive if the county sold the property exceeds the financial or environmental risks of the property.”
An amendment introduced by state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, would have replaced “or” with “and” in that section of the bill, which concerned county officials because both conditions would have had to be met for the county to acquire the property. The amendment was withdrawn April 20.
“That gives the county some protection and thereby gives the county residents, county taxpayers, some protection,” Loudon County Mayor Rollen “Buddy” Bradshaw said. “I think it’s a great bill. I think it’s going to be advantageous for both sides involved. ... It doesn’t necessarily hurt either side. I think it helps both sides. It gives that tool there where negotiations will be made, and we can get these properties back on the market and get somebody maybe building on them and continue to grow as a county.”
HB2343 gives a county mayor 90-120 days to the determine risks associated with putting a property in the tax sale.
“This is extremely beneficial to the county,” Commissioner Van Shaver said. “This now will allow us when the property sale comes up we can put those — by the time the sale comes up — we can put those 700 or 800 lots on the sale and hopefully sell them, sell some of them and get them back on the tax rolls, and we don’t have to worry anymore that if they don’t sell then the county taxpayers will be stuck with having to pay that POA fees that’s been on them all these years.”
POA public relations manager John Cherry in a previous interview said Tellico Village property owners account for about $7.4 million in annual taxes in the county. Dues would have amounted to $571,536 based on the POA’s current assessment fee of $117.60.
Through a statement issued Monday, Tellico Village POA officials said a written proposal was made to the county last month to accept transfer of all Village lots not sold through a public tax sale.
“The POA’s proposal would relieve the county of all liability for all assessments that accrue during the period that the county holds title to the lots after the tax sale,” the statement said. “The POA’s offer is not contingent on this new legislation and will not be impacted in any manner by the new legislation. The county is currently reviewing the particular language of POA’s proposal with its outside legal counsel, and the POA has been informed by the county that it generally intends to accept the POA’s offer to resolve the matter. ... The POA firmly believes the proposal it recently submitted to the county is the most straightforward and economical means to resolve this issue for the benefit of the county and Tellico Village.”
Hopes are to come to an agreement in the near future, Bradshaw said.
“I think we’re close. I certainly hope we are,” he said.
Shaver said he felt discussions with the POA were “irrelevant” with the passing of HB2343.
“This bill eliminates any need to negotiate with the POA in any shape, form or fashion,” Shaver said. “We can move forward, put the lots up. Again, there’s — by the time the next sale comes, which now has been moved to 2017 — October of 2017 — there will probably be an excess of 800 of those lots setting there delinquent, and we can slap them right up there for sale and hopefully some would sell. We would hope that some would sell and get them back on the tax rolls.”
While the law “gives a certain level of protection,” Bradshaw said the county does not wish to be in the “real estate business.”
“(Realtors) have far better resources to be able to sell that property than the county would,” Bradshaw said. “So, getting it out of the county’s hands and into theirs would be an ideal situation.”
State Rep. Kent Calfee, R-Kingston, sponsored the bill initially because of a incident in Roane County in which a burned building valued at $15,000 cost the county $600,000 to demolish.
“Hopefully, we’ve got this taken care of, and we won’t have to look at this again,” Calfee said. “Of course, hopefully the economy will improve and a lot of these lots will start selling.”
State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, said state representatives will continue working to ensure both parties are “100 percent happy.”
“When you fix one side of it, five other people pop their head up,” Matlock said. “It’s one of those difficult things I’ve tried to work on, and Rep. Calfee put a lot of time into it this year. Again, we tried three years ago, (Sen. Randy) McNally and I, to work on it, and we spent two years on it, didn’t get it exact. Calfee worked on it almost all this year and didn’t get it exact. I’m just not sure that we’re going to get (it perfect), but we are trying our best.”
In addition to speaking with Tellico Village POA officials, Bradshaw said he has had similar conversations with Rarity Bay representatives on delinquent properties.
“We’re going to reach out to them, and that’s not as many properties,” he said. “So we’re going to encourage a way for the developer to take them back. There’s a few in Tennessee National. I think there’s a few in Avalon, so these are scattered throughout the county, some of these properties are.”