The Ellsworth City Council decided Monday to auction off a house on Fifth Street that the city seized because of unpaid taxes. The decision comes a month after the city rejected all bids for the property.

The city took ownership of the property in December 2020 and later sought bids for its purchase. However, the fate of the house was delayed when the council debated it in January. Kerry Karst, inherited the property after his father passed away in 2014 but failed to pay $7,000 in back taxes on the house, located at 16 Fifth St.

The council voted 4-2 last month to reject all bids, the highest of which was $111,114, after some councilors said they thought the Karst family should have the chance to get the house back. Karst, who lives in Brewer, had submitted the lowest bid for $19,024, which is the current amount of back taxes owed on the property.

Karst helped councilors make up their minds Monday when he said that he was fine with the city auctioning off the house. All he wanted was the chance to retrieve his parents’ possessions from the house before it is sold, which councilors said he could do by making arrangements through the city manager’s office.

“This whole thing is due to me. I’m the one that did not pay the taxes,” Karst told the council. “I appreciate it, Steve, what you’re doing. I just want to get my stuff and let the house go.”

Before Karst spoke, Councilor Steve O’Halloran, who missed the January council meeting, said he would like the property to go back to the Karst family or at least for the family to recoup the value of the property if it is sold off by the city.

“I voted against putting it out to sealed bid,” O’Halloran said, noting that the city had problems contacting the family during the height of the COVID pandemic. “I’m not sure we did the right thing with the family.”

He also said he thought the city “wasted” the bidders’ time by rejecting all the bids.

Councilor Michelle Beal, who served as Ellsworth’s city manager from 2007 to 2015, said that the city needs to follow its ordinances, which specify that the city solicit bids for tax-seized properties — though it also says the city can reject those bids.

State law spells out the process the city must go through when property owners fail to pay their tax bill, and the city ordinance that governs how the city disposes of those properties is designed to prevent the city from making arbitrary decisions and to protect it from being sued, she said.

“It prevents councils from having too much power and to be making decisions on a whim,” Beal said. “It’s to protect everybody. What about the next person that you don’t want to give a property back to?”

Beal said that by releasing information about the bids last month and then rejecting them, the city likely has scared away others who might consider bidding on the property. Putting the house out for a public sale through an auction is probably the best option at this point, she said.

The person who had submitted the high bid, Trenton resident Stuart Siddons, emailed councilors after their vote last month to voice his displeasure at their decision to reject his bid. He and his wife wanted to live within walking distance of downtown and had hoped to renovate the property this spring and summer.

“The council wanted the home to be for a single family,” Siddons wrote. “For the council, myself, and my wife that opportunity has been missed. Sealed bids have been opened and now everyone knows where the real starting bid is, likely higher than $111,114.68. Unfortunately we sunk every penny we could into that bid and will not be able to place a higher bid in the future.”

At the end of Monday’s discussion, councilors voted 6-1, with O’Halloran opposed, to arrange to have the house sold through a public auction.

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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....