May 8, 2013 in City

County foreclosing on 66 properties due to sewer debts

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Spokane County will foreclose on 66 properties whose owners have not paid their sewer bills, allowing the debts to reach thousands of dollars.

The foreclosure action, approved unanimously by commissioners Tuesday, comes against owners who have the largest unpaid bills, dating back years. A handful of them amount to more than $10,000 each.

The county sent notices in February to owners of 1,850 delinquent accounts, totaling $3.2 million, warning of the foreclosures. The average value of the unpaid bills is $1,795. Liens had already been placed on the mainly residential properties and mortgage companies were notified.

County Utilities Director Bruce Rawls said the liens and notices are intended to get people to pay their bills. Payment plans are available, he said.

“Our strong preference is we want them to pay their sewer bills,” Rawls said.

Bills may include initial hookup fees and an accumulation of monthly service fees, late penalties and interest. Some property owners who received the notices had several houses with sewer liens.

The notices in February resulted in a flurry of payments. The total amount owed was whittled down to $2 million after owners of more than 1,000 properties subject to foreclosure had their bills paid or placed under payment plans.

“We got a really good response,” Rawls said.

Some homeowners, he said, told county staff that they didn’t pay because they thought the county would never come after them.

Other counties in Washington move more quickly against delinquent accounts, he noted in a briefing to commissioners last week.

Owners subject to foreclosure can pay off what they owe until the day before the foreclosure sale. However, fees for foreclosure proceedings are added to the past-due amount.

County officials said the sewer foreclosures would probably be scheduled to coincide with the county treasurer’s annual tax foreclosure sale in January.

A list of addresses provided by the county shows that most of the foreclosures involve properties in Spokane Valley. Sewers have been installed there during a 30-year program to get homes and businesses off septic tanks to protect the underground drinking water supply for the Spokane region.

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