AUGUSTA — City councilors approved the sale of a Buckwood Road property acquired by the city for nonpayment of taxes, despite a plea from the previous owner at Thursday night’s council meeting.

Following more than two hours of debate Thursday, and a tie vote that left Mayor Mark O’Brien to cast the deciding vote, councilors voted to sell the property.

Susan Walker, the previous owner, acknowledged property taxes were not paid on the vacant, 6.8-acre site for three years but said she never received notice from the city that it had been foreclosed upon and would be put up for bid. She said she has the money to pay the taxes owed and had been assured by city officials they’d notify her before it was sold.

She said she learned the city had taken possession of the property in April when she came in to see what the assessed value of the property was, and City Clerk Barbara Wardwell told her the city had foreclosed on the property a week earlier.

Walker said the property was the only piece of property she had planned to keep after her divorce, in which, she said, she lost three other properties. She said she wanted her children to be able to have the parcel of land, so it was important to her that she keep it. She said she set aside the approximately $2,000 owed in taxes

She said Wardwell suggested she talk to Dan Nichols, an associate developer in the city’s economic development office, about the property.

Walker said she met with Nichols the next week and he told her she would be first in line to recover the property if a city committee looking into whether the city should keep the property for public use determined the city would not keep the property.

She said she called Nichols, but could not reach him, multiple times over the summer, seeking information on the sale. She said she didn’t hear back from him after a meeting in mid-summer in which he told her she would be the first to know if something was happening with the property.

Nichols, however, told city councilors Thursday that while he did speak once with Walker, he told her while she could call his office every week to inquire about the status of the property, he couldn’t personally call her to keep her updated on the property, because that would be unfair to others who might be interested in it.

He said when people leave him messages, it is his practice to return their calls.

City officials also said they mailed certified letters to Walker informing her taxes were owed on the property and that the city could take the land, but the letters were unclaimed.

Walker said she moved several times over the last few years and the mail from the city apparently was not forwarded to her new addresses.

Walker said last month she learned from her ex-husband that the city was accepting bids on the property. Councilors were set to consider selling the property at their business meeting two weeks ago, but they removed it from the list of properties to be sold to the highest bidders.

On Thursday, they again considered a proposal to sell it, to high bidders Catherine Cobb and Julie Bernier, who also live on the road and who bid $6,750 for the lot.

Walker said she felt misled by city officials.

City Manager William Bridgeo said Walker didn’t pay taxes on the property for at least five years.

Matthew Nazar, development director, said Kennebec Savings Bank paid back taxes on the property in 2009, although Walker insisted the bank did not have a loan or any other stake in the property.

Nazar said the city has the canceled checks from the bank.

Walker acknowledged not paying taxes for the last three years but said the notices sent by the city were sent to her ex-husband, with whom she does not communicate.

Stephen Langsdorf, city attorney, said the city followed proper procedure in foreclosing on the property and putting it up for public bids.

Ward 3 City Councilor Patrick Paradis, noting that in his seven years on the council Bridgeo has told him he would not take someone’s home if they were living in it, said “we’d be having a different conversation if this were your home. But this is real estate. Fact is, a lot of people in the city have hopes and dreams to hand land they have off to their children. But along with that comes an obligation we have as citizens, to pay our (taxes).”

O’Brien, as mayor, voted on the issue only because of councilors’ tie vote.

“To me, it boils down to it’s too late,” O’Brien said. “The process was followed. We’re not taking property; the property was forfeited. There were many opportunities over the years for this problem to be fixed by the former property owner.”

Cobb, the high bidder for the property, urged councilors to go ahead with the sale.

“We played by the book,” she said. “It seems a little ironic to come here tonight to have council members say, ‘We’re not going to take anyone’s land.’ It’s disarming for me as a city taxpayer to think I followed the rules, I put in a good bid, and now you say you’re going to take it back because you don’t want to take her property, when she hasn’t paid her taxes.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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