GARDINER —City officials will seek the services of a real estate professional to sell four properties it has acquired for delinquent taxes or sewer fees.

At the same time, the city’s attorney is expected to draw up forcible entry and detainer complaints for three of the four properties that are still occupied, including the property where At-large City Councilor Penny Sergent lives, to start the civil eviction process.

When it met earlier this week, the Gardiner City Council directed city staff to issue a request for proposals from Realtors to sell the properties for as much as they are worth to recoup what the city is owed in back taxes and sewer fees as well as the expenses associated with selling the properties.

On Friday, Sergent said she’s aware that was discussed at the meeting. She did not attend the meeting; she said she has not been able to access Zoom, the online meeting platform Gardiner uses, on her city-issued iPad and it’s a continuing problem.

“I think part of the problem is that the narrative is always on me and how bad I am,” Sergent said. “I’m sick of that narrative. I’m sick of the hypocrisy and the unfairness and it’s not just toward me.”

She said she’s not leaving her house unless she’s forced to.

During a review of 16 tax-acquired properties in February, city elected officials learned that Sergent’s Water Street home was on that list for nonpayment of $12,382.32 in property taxes and sewer fees.

Sergent had been elected to serve on the city council in November 2020. She had made an unsuccessful run for a city council seat in November 2019.

According to city records, Sergent came before the City Council in 2019 to ask to buy back the property, agreeing to make small payments every month. Records show she has not filled out repayment paperwork and has made no payments.

For her part, Sergent said her attempts to make payments have been rebuffed.

At the Feb. 24 meeting, several city councilors called on Sergent, who did not attend that meeting, to resign. The following day, Sergent insisted she would not resign and said she was being poor-shamed.

The action that city councilors took Wednesday was the latest step in a process that they authorized earlier this year.

In many cases, cities and towns sell foreclosed properties to recoup what they are owed in unpaid property taxes or sewer fees and any costs incurred in the sale of the property.

But in 2018, the Maine State Legislature passed a law that requires municipalities that have foreclosed on properties formerly owned by people who meet specific age and income requirements to sell those properties at fair market value. Once the municipality’s costs have been recovered, the remaining funds are turned over to the former property owners.

Tax collector Kathleen Cutler asked city councilors to consider selling all the properties under the provisions of that law, even though the owners don’t all meet the age requirement of being at least 65.

“We don’t want to end up on the 6 o’clock news for treating anybody differently than any other,” she said. “Our goal is to be made whole. We don’t want to be on the news for making money off of evicting and foreclosing on people.”

Cutler said a Realtor could also determine fair prices for the properties.

“I can tell you what they are assessed for,” she said. “It’s not necessarily the market value, and the market is crazy right now.”

On Thursday, Acting City Manager Anne Davis said city officials work with property owners who have fallen behind in property tax and sewer payments in a variety of ways to help them with their obligations, including finding assistance programs or offering monthly payments. But, she said, residents have to seek that help.

As part of the city’s process, the residents of the four properties were served notices to quit — a legal document seeking a resolution of an issue, like overdue taxes, before an eviction can take place — on April 1 and were given 45 days to do so. Cutler said the residents of one property have left, but people continue to live in the other three properties.

Earlier this year, Cutler noted that in the 14 years she has worked for the city, the city has evicted only two families from tax-acquired properties. One left willingly and other required the city to go to court.

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