Ellsworth City Hall on Aug. 17, 2021. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Ellsworth will retain ownership of a two-bedroom house for a little longer after the city council deadlocked Monday on whether to sell the home back to the owner who’d failed to pay property taxes, or to the highest bidder.

With Councilor Steve O’Halloran not at the meeting, the council couldn’t reach a consensus on who to sell to. Instead, the board ultimately rejected all bids for 16 Fifth Street, instead opting to look further into the issue before putting it out to bid again.

Two years after Kerry Karst failed to pay more than $7,000 in back taxes, the city took possession of the house, located in a residential neighborhood off State Street near the city’s elementary and middle schools, in December 2020, said city tax collector Sue McLean. Karst, who grew up in the house and now lives in Brewer, inherited it from his father, who passed away in 2014.

The city’s ordinances require it to put any properties it wishes to sell out to bid, but the city is not required to accept any bid it receives. Bids on this house opened on Dec. 30, McLean said.

The city received 11 sealed bids, McLean said. Karst submitted the lowest bid for $19,024. The highest bid was $111,114. The assessed value of the property, which consists of a 630-square-foot house and a 0.4-acre lot, is $107,775.

More than half the bidders are investors looking to make a profit off of the property, according to Dale Hamilton, chairman of the council.

“Personally, I’d like to see it go back to the family member,” Hamilton said. “It speaks better of the city to do something like that than to take the highest bidder.”

However, if Karst buys the house back for $19,000, he could turn around and sell the house for a sizable profit, city manager Glenn Moshier said. Karst was not at the meeting.

Council member Gene Lyons was concerned that Karst did not get all of the notifications the city sent out when the taxes were delinquent. Some of the notices were signed by the postmaster and returned to the city, he said.

“I’d like to see it go back to the family, too,” Lyons said.

But others felt selling it to the highest bidder was the right thing to do.

“I think we have a responsibility to the citizens of the city, to do the best with what we have as far as helping with financing of the city,” Councilor Michelle Beal said.

Beal and councilors Jon Stein and Casey Hanson voted in favor of selling the house to the highest bidder, while Hamilton, Lyons and Councilor Tammy Mote voted against doing that.

After the split vote of 3-3, the council voted 4-2 to reject all the bids, with Stein and Hanson opposed. City officials will now look further into the issue and another discussion is planned for the council’s February meeting about what the city can and cannot do in re-selling the property. The city will have to solicit new bids, possibly with a higher specified minimum bid, before it chooses a buyer.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....