Owner of Auto Parkit in Warren on deadline to set repayment of back taxes
WARREN — To prevent properties on Dana Street and Griswold Avenue — once the facilities of Delphi and Packard Electric — from going into foreclosure, the man at the helm of two companies that now own them must pay about $39,000 to begin a property tax payment plan, says the Trumbull County treasurer.
Christopher Alan’s companies, Dorian Capital Investments Inc. and Raider Trading Limited LLC, took ownership of 650 Griswold Ave., the former Delphi factory, and 480 Dana St., the former Packard plant, in 2018, along with several other properties, including the former General Electric plant on Dana.
He is CEO of Dasher Lawless, the company manufacturing components of Auto Parkit technology — a California-based company working to make parking garage systems that can automatically store cars and retrieve them for people at shopping and residential complexes.
In 2018, Alan’s companies spent $315,000 to acquire 12 properties on Dana Street, Griswold, North Park Avenue and Forest Street.
Of that, he spent $175,000 to buy eight Dana Street properties from Maximus III Properties when that company’s owner went through federal bankruptcy proceedings. The properties have an assessed collective value of $886,100 from a 2017 assessment, down from a collective value of $992,000 in a 2011 assessment.
His company also agreed to buy 650 Griswold Ave. for $15,000 from Maximus during Sergio DiPaolo’s bankruptcy proceedings. The property had a value of $351,000 in a 2018 assessment, down from $573,900 in 2011.
As part of the deal, Alan agreed in the bankruptcy filings to pay the back taxes owed on the properties, which is why Trumbull County Treasurer Sam Lamancusa said he agreed to the sale without the taxes being paid up front. The price for the properties was kept low because the properties had declined in value and had back taxes. Further, an environmental assessment done before the properties were sold to Alan’s companies showed it could cost up to $2 million to do environmental cleanups, according to the bankruptcy documents.
Instead of paying the back taxes up front, Lamancusa set up a payment plan for Alan, but he violated the terms and last month received a letter informing him that foreclosure proceedings would begin unless he took some action. Alan owes $111,694 on the Griswold property owned by Dorian Capital, according to Lamancusa and property records. He owes $280,187 for the eight Dana Street properties owned by Raider Trading.
THREAT TO LEAVE
But Alan wants reappraisals done on the properties, and threatens to leave town if that can’t happen.
“If ultimately they won’t do an assessment on that property, then we will make a decision on whether or not we want it. I didn’t pay that much, I could walk away. I may be in the position that I change my mind and don’t want it. In 20 years, they haven’t had something successful in there and here I am trying to do something — and where are the positive stories on that?” Alan said.
Alan said he has a $1 million payroll with about 50 employees and is still looking for more — but said it is hard to find employees in Warren that show up to work and don’t steal.
Tom Gaffney, Warren’s tax administrator, said he could not confirm the size of the payroll. Alan declined to offer proof of the size of the payroll.
Alan said he spent $4 million in Warren since he set up shop, on equipment and other work, but that shouldn’t add to the value of the property. He declined to show the newspaper evidence of how much has been invested in the structures he bought.
Alan said the business is looking for engineers and welders to manufacture Auto Parkit’s components. He said the jobs are high paying, white collar positions. Eventually, Alan said the plan is to move employees from other parts of the country into the Warren plant, along with all of the company’s manufacturing work and a 24-hour customer support phone line.
And if he decides not to stay, the building he bought will likely sit vacant or be turned into warehouses that have minimal job creation compared to what he can offer, Alan said.
“I am trying to make a positive impact on the economy of Warren. I am getting a little fatigued with getting beat up,” Alan said.
Alan said he also hopes to get state money to help handle the environmental cleanup and has hopes of bringing the railway that runs near the properties back to life. The first two stages of environmental cleanup have been completed, and there is about $1 million or less of asbestos removal to complete in one of the administrative buildings, said Mike Keys, director of community development for Warren. The state has promised to supply cash for the cleanup, Keys said, but first must see proof in numbers from Alan’s business plans of the economic development the cleanup will generate. Keys said it is taking time to get those documents in line.
Alan also bought three properties from General Electric on North Park Avenue, Dana Street and Forest Street in 2017 in a $125,000 bundle. The properties are current in their property tax payments. Their assessed values totaled $209,100 after a 2018 assessment. The properties were assessed at $1.435 million in 2011, according to county auditor records.
Alan and the treasurer’s office came up with a new payment plan for the Delphi and Packard buildings. To activate the payment plan and ensure foreclosure proceedings do not begin, Alan has to pay $11,169.50 for the Griswold property and $28,018 for the Raider-owned Dana properties, Lamancusa said.
He has until Dec. 1 to get the payment plan kick-started, and then will have to make payments in March and August of 10 percent of the old balances, plus all new taxes, Lamancusa said.
“If he doesn’t act on this before Dec. 1, on Dec. 2, he will be in foreclosure,” Lamancusa said.
Alan did not make the payments as spelled out in the first payment plan in March, and he could have made the payments in August to avoid the letter threatening the possibility of foreclosure, Lamancusa said, but he didn’t.
Now, if the payment plan is activated with the initial payments, Alan cannot default again because once a person is in a second payment plan after defaulting on the first, there are no third chances, Lamancusa said, and foreclosure proceedings begin if the payments are not received by the March deadline.
“We usually don’t release a property until those bills are paid, but we agreed to accept the contract plans for them. Now we will give him one more chance, but if he defaults on these plans, it would be an automatic foreclosure,” Lamancusa said.
The foreclosure process also adds new court costs to the debt, and interest.
Still, Alan said he believes the assessed value of the properties is much too high and that is why he hasn’t paid some new taxes that have accumulated in addition to the back taxes.
“I’ve already agreed to pay someone else’s taxes. Why would I pay the new taxes at a high rate when the properties are clearly not worth what they are saying they are worth?” Alan said, speaking to The Vindicator last week.
As for why Alan didn’t pay down the delinquent taxes or stick to the terms of the payment plan, he said withholding the payments could be used as “leverage” while attempting to negotiate down the value of his properties — so his new property taxes would be lower each year.
“There is a thing called leverage in a business decision. My attorney has been going back and forth with an assessor for a year-and-a-half. There have been multiple discussions. And those discussions will come to a conclusion and at that point we will make a business decision,” Alan said.
Trumbull County Auditor Adrian Biviano said property valuation assessments do not work that way. While an owner can make an argument that the property is labeled too valuable or not valuable enough — at specific times during the year or valuation process — the owner has to show proof, and it is not subject to typical business negotiations.
Alan said he will pay the taxes once the county does a reassessment of the properties. He said the reassessment would be done before Dec. 2 and he was working with the county to have it done.
But, Biviano said the properties were properly assessed when the process was last completed and the county will not change the value of the assessments this year.
The only option Alan has is to present evidence to the Trumbull County Board of Revisions proving the property isn’t worth as much as the last assessment. And the board only accepts those applications from January through March, and the owner must provide proof the property is worth less, not just offer a plea or a “quid pro quo.”
Alan forwarded emails sent last week between himself and Bud McDermott, who oversees appraisals at the auditor’s office. Alan claimed the email would prove the county is in fact working to have the properties reassessed. The email is dated Sept. 26, after the property taxes were already due and does not mention a lawyer or include any other visible recipients, such as a lawyer working on the issue.
“Bud, thanks for the time on the phone today. Below is my contact information. I appreciate your help in getting the properties properly assessed and getting this all resolved. Feel free to email or call me with any questions,” Alan wrote.
McDermott responded, “I forwarded the parcels in question to Doug at Integrity Appraisals. They should get the values rectified if needed.”
Integrity Appraisals handled the county’s foot work during the latest appraisal period.
McDermott followed up with an email Monday, telling Alan the company had visited the properties “a few times” and that Alan’s only option was to go through the board of revision, which would have to wait until January, per Ohio Revised Code.
Later Monday, Alan thanked McDermott and in an email he also sent to another person with a Dasher Lawless email address.
Alan also said he thinks the property values should be closer to what he paid for them, but that is not how property values are calculated — many other factors are considered.
“If I paid $15,000, it is worth $15,000,” Alan said.
Alan said he may get started on the payment plans by Dec. 1, or he might let the property go into foreclosure and see the properties taken into Trumbull County’s Land Bank. Once in the land bank, the taxes would be wiped out and he would buy the properties without having to worry about the back taxes, he said.
But Matt Martin, executive director of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, the nonprofit that manages the county’s land bank, said it would never allow a former owner who lost a property because of a tax foreclosure to buy back the property after the taxes were wiped out.