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Josephine County works to clean up foreclosures

Earlier this month, Josephine County published a list of more than 200 properties it had acquired because the owners had not paid taxes. The listing was so long it took up a half page in the Daily Courier.

The impression was that the county had recently foreclosed on a bunch of properties. Maybe the Great Recession had caused scores of people to lose their property to the tax man?

Not exactly, although the Great Depression did, according to county property manager Chris Watson.

Watson, who is a former assessor and supervisor with Multnomah County, was hired earlier this year and is doing some housekeeping by getting required public hearings completed, in case the county ever wants to sell its tax-foreclosed holdings.

Of the 200-plus properties listed in this month's posting, the vast majority were acquired decades ago, going back to 1930, according to Watson.

The financial hardships of the Depression brought properties into the county's fold when owners didn't pay taxes, while other properties were obtained by the county when cheap timbered land was purchased, clear-cut and then abandoned by cut-and-slash landowners.

"As a result of the Great Depression, a lot of people lost a lot of property across the nation," Watson said.

As for the loggers, "they would make the money on the timber and then walk away and not have to worry about the land," he explained. "They let it foreclose."

The foreclosure process takes about six years, with property owners given that long to pay up on their taxes owed.

Once the county becomes the owner, it may designate the land as forest or park land and eventually sell it, with proceeds benefitting county forests or parks and recreation, according to state law.

A public hearing must be held first, however. The lone public hearing held earlier this month for the 200-plus parcels took care of that requirement for all those properties, in one fell swoop.

"This just removes those steps," Watson said. "It just makes sense to move the ball forward."

Watson doesn't anticipate any foreclosed land in the forest category to sell unless there is a liability. That's a possibility, as some have been problem locations where squatters reside. Forest lands typically are 20 acres or more.

While no large-tract forest sales are planned, Watson wants to auction off about 30 other smaller parcels twice a year. That should benefit county parks, which can use the money for deferred maintenance, as well as land acquisition.

Already one auction was held this year, in June, when 14 tax-foreclosed properties went on the block and three sold. Three more sold later, too.

It was the first time in about five years that the county auctioned off any of its holdings. The next auction might take place in mid-November.

— Reach reporter Shaun Hall at 541-474-3722 or shall@thedailycourier.com