AUGUSTA — A legislative committee Tuesday tabled discussion on a bill designed to protect those over 65 against tax lien foreclosure, saying the governor’s office, Maine Municipal Association officials and others will work together to develop language that is agreeable to all.

Gov. Paul LePage initiated L.D. 1629, An Act to Protect the Elderly from Tax Lien Foreclosures, after an elderly Albion couple was foreclosed on and evicted from their home on Lovejoy Pond before the town sold it for $6,500.

After a 1 1/2-hour work session, the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation tabled further discussion on L.D. 1629, sponsored by State Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, to Tuesday, Feb. 27.

The bill seeks to create a safety net for elderly people facing foreclosure in which the municipality works with the property owner to consider alternatives, such as tax abatement or a payment plan. It also would require a municipality, if it does foreclose and sell the property, to sell it at fair market value and return the proceeds to the former homeowner once the town’s fees and costs are paid.

The property of Richard and Leonette Sukeforth of Albion was worth between $70,000 and $80,000 and represented the couple’s only asset and one they had worked for all their lives, according to LePage, yet they received nothing from it.

On Tuesday, taxation committee member Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn, said maybe the entire bill could be stricken and replaced with more simple language which says a municipality could waive foreclosure in any manner municipal officials deem in the best interest of the municipality. The language is short and simple and requires a municipality to have something in place, according to Bickford.

Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, said that when LePage spoke to the committee earlier this month she did not see the point of engaging in verbal fisticuffs with him, but she was very upset that he called municipal officials who deal with foreclosures “scammers.” She found that objectionable and offensive, she said, and she did not sit there silently because she agreed with him.

“I just didn’t see the point of being discourteous to the chief executive,” she said.

Richard Sukeforth sits for a portrait Friday, Jan. 26, at his daughter’s mobile home in Holden. Sukeforth has been living there since he was evicted from his home in 2015. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Grant asked that Nick Adolphsen, senior policy adviser to LePage, give the committee data about how many foreclosures have taken place in Maine against elderly people and what components are common to all of those foreclosures, as she wanted to understand the scope of the problem. She wanted to work with the governor’s office on the problem and fill any loopholes that may exist.

“I’m frankly not interested in passing a feel-good bill,” she said. “I want to get at what the governor wants to get at, but I don’t want to further burden municipalities.”

Adolphsen said he would seek to get the data for the committee.

At the end of the day, the data will not show that it is a massive problem affecting a lot of people, Adolphsen said.

“But it is a problem that has existed in a few instances, and a problem that we would like not to exist in the future,” he said.

He has talked with people from Pine Tree Legal Assistance Inc., Legal Services for the Elderly, Inc., and Maine Equal Justice Partners, he said, and the language of the bill has been narrowed down to reflect pre-foreclosure and post-foreclosure requirements by municipalities.

“The governor’s concern is, does that property go for market value and, as an elderly (person), can I get some of that equity back so I’m not out my only asset,” Adolphsen said.

The committee talked about having someone from the state available full time to be a resource for elderly people needing help with foreclosure issues.

Bucky Davis, a 20-plus-year selectman in East Machias who has attended sessions on the bill, recommended municipalities have an article on their town meeting warrants saying a town treasurer can waive foreclosure at the discretion of selectmen. Without that article, a municipality would legally have to take a foreclosed property, even if it may be in rough shape and cost more to demolish or fix up than it is worth, according to Davis.

The town also can foreclose on a property and own it, but the former homeowner may live there as long as he wants, but he must pay the home insurance, he said.

Davis said the article also allows selectmen to help seniors who may be in trouble with finances, and they have done so in the past.

“I will tell you right now, there have been some cases where selectmen have taken money out of our own pockets with no names given, to take care of those taxes,” he said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17