Buyer beware in auditor’s real estate auction

ODNR Report: Woodside Lake Dam

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Dam Safety Inspection Report on the Woodside Lake Dam from August 4, 2016, conducted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

By Peter H. Milliken


The Mahoning County auditor isn’t trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge.

But he is trying to sell a deficient dam and part of the lake it impounds, along with 20 other tax-delinquent properties in a Nov. 30 auction.

The lake is Woodside Lake in Austintown and its dam, which needs repairs soon; but there are no houses on that property, Mahoning County Auditor Ralph Meacham said.

If there is no buyer, the lake likely will be drained and the dam breached, he added.

“Collapse of the left spillway sidewall and significant seepage through the right sidewall and embankment were noted” in an April 19 inspection, Andrew D. Ware, acting water resources chief at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, wrote in a letter to Cheri Donofrio, director of taxation in Meacham’s office.

Ware urged the county to consider lowering the lake level by at least 2 feet until the dam is property repaired or breached.

However, Meacham said the county hasn’t lowered the lake, but the state, as the property owner, would be responsible for doing that.

The Woodside Lake property, just west of Meridian Road, is among 21 parcels of forfeited land the auditor will auction to the highest bidder at 11 a.m. Nov. 30 in the county commissioners’ hearing room in the county courthouse basement, 120 Market St.

The parcels being offered have failed to sell in two sheriff’s sales and were forfeited to the state for the auditor to sell as an agent of the state.

The parcels, some with buildings and some without, are being offered in as-is condition. Some are rental properties, and some are commercial properties.

Information on the properties can be found on the auditor’s home page on the county’s website,

As with a sheriff’s sale, the bidding will start at two-thirds of the property’s appraised value, and proceeds will be applied to the delinquent real-estate taxes.

If there’s no bidder at that level, however, Meacham said he will start the bidding at $50 and proceed in $50 increments.

In a sheriff’s sale, the minimum bid is two-thirds of the property’s appraised value; or taxes due plus foreclosure and sale costs, said Tom Michaels, an assistant county prosecutor.

Michaels said the auditor’s sale has the advantage of being more flexible.

“The auditor at an auditor’s sale could start it at $10,000 and go to $4,000. Four thousand dollars is better than nothing. You’re collecting some tax dollars for the schools and the community,” Michaels said of a hypothetical property value scenario at an auditor’s sale.

It’s the first auditor’s sale of his administration, said Meacham, who took office in March 2015.

Meacham said he did not know how long it has been since the last auditor’s sale was conducted in Mahoning County.

“I want to get it done because we had 20 some parcels that are eligible, and I wanted to move the process along,” Meacham said.

“It clears out the inventory of unwanted properties. It gives the public a chance to bid openly on these properties,” he said of the advantage of having an auditor’s sale.

“It’s a chance really for the public to pick up a piece of property very inexpensively, but it is ‘buyer beware.’ We make no representations about the conditions inside the house [if any], if there are any public health issues, or if there are any structural issues,” he added.

In the absence of an auditor’s sale, the properties that are unsold after two sheriff’s sales simply would remain in state ownership, with the county being the state’s agent, he said.

Properties that don’t sell Nov. 30 will revert to state ownership, with the county as the state’s agent, he added.

“Well put them back to another sale later, or we’ll see if the land bank has interest,” he said.

The Mahoning County Land Bank, which returns vacant, tax-delinquent properties to productive use, acquired several of the properties that would have been auctioned Nov. 30, Meacham said.

Potential buyers will have an opportunity to view the properties only from the street before the auction, Meacham said. “We don’t get in them, and they don’t get in them,” he said.

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