Inside county property auctions
by Joe Shreve
Mar 13, 2014 | 1882 views | 1 1 comments | 68 68 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The office of the Santa Cruz County Treasurer and Tax Collector recently announced that, in an effort to collect $3.2 million owed in unpaid property taxes, penalties, and fees, as many as 186 parcels of land within the county could be headed to the auction block.

The auction, which will be done online via the website, is scheduled to run from Saturday, March 29 through Tuesday, April 1.

According to Treasurer and Tax Collector Fred Keeley, in order for a parcel to appear in the auction, it must default on its taxes — meaning that the owner has not paid property taxes in at least 5 years.

Once the owner defaults, he said, the county then will auction off the property for a starting bid of whatever the unpaid tax amount was.

“We do this every other year,” he said, adding that the only money that the county makes off property sales go to covering the taxes owed on the parcel — anything more the sales makes is returned to the now-former property owner.

“We can’t sell it for less than the taxes,” Keeley said. “But the government isn’t making money off selling tax-defaulted properties.”

He said that, with the advent of the Internet, property auctions could be accessed by bidders from far-ranging places, using a system to place bids on properties that works in much the same manner as an eBay auction.

“The advantage to the county is that you have a much bigger bidding pool,” Keeley said. “It used to literally be an old-school auction — you used to have to show up to the courthouse.”

Although Keeley's office announced on Monday, March 3, that 186 parcels of land were headed for auction, he anticipated that fewer than a dozen of those properties would ever actually go up for bidding.

“Almost everybody comes in and redeems the property and we don’t sell it,” Keeley said.

To “redeem” the property, he said, the owner must either pay the owed taxes, or arrange a payment plan with the county.

Keeley said that the county is pretty flexible about working out an arrangement that allows people to keep their homes and “almost everyone figures out a way to do that.”

“There's lots of stuff that happens in people's lives,” he said. “While I can’t waive taxes, let's try and tailor something to your circumstance — the last thing I want to do is sell people's properties for taxes.”

By the time the auction actually arrives, Keeley said, the only properties left to bid are typically abandoned properties that either hold very little value or are undevelopable.

“When we get right down to it,” he said. “Only one or two (parcels) will have a structure on it — it's almost never the case that a widow and orphans are thrown out into the snow.”

Keeley also said that none of the properties up for auction have bank liens or mortgages against them, and noted that when the county sends out tax default notices, the owner and any banks holding mortgages are notified.

In every instance, Keeley said, the bank holding the mortgage will pay the tax bill itself and immediately foreclose on the property.

He urged property owners in danger of default to come to his office and work out a plan.

“I think this is one case where you'd rather deal with the tax collector than with a bank,” he said.

For more information on the auction, visit

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Vice Mayor Bustichi
July 15, 2014
According to the County Tax Collection website , Dene Bustichi the Vice Mayor of Scotts Valley has defaulted on his 2013 and 2014 property taxes for parcel# 022-491-15. The Vice Mayor currently owes $24,557.10 to the County and City of Scotts Valley. We have a right to demand fiscal responsibility from our elected officials. If Vice Mayor Dene Bustichi can’t manage his own financial affairs is he qualified to manage those of the City?

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