Some people may think they can get rich by buying property auctioned at Salt Lake County's yearly tax sale.

But Mike Reed, the county's tax division director, said it seldom works that way."People think they'll get rich because of a late-night seminar or a book they've read," he said. "People who buy tax-sale property tend to get hurt more than helped."

The county has certified 771 properties for sale at the May 23 auction. Each of the properties is owned by someone who either owes property taxes from five years ago or who failed to pay a sewer bill.

The get-rich idea goes something like this:

The would-be entrepreneur bids on a property. Because the price is fixed at the cost of the back-taxes plus penalties, interest and administrative fees, the bidding is on the size of the property rather than price.

For instance, a bidder will offer to take four-fifths of the property at the going price, a rival bidder will offer to buy it for three-fifth, etc. The successful bidder then offers to sell his portion of the land back to the original owner.

"The problem is, you may end up with an irrigation ditch on the side of the property that no one cares about, and the property owner not only won't buy it back, he'll tell you to clean up the weeds in your ditch," Reed said.

Reed and other county officials have one main concern - making sure no one loses their home at the annual auction. In coming weeks, county officials will try to contact the owners of homes on the list - as they have been for the past five years. They normally are able to settle all but about 100 of the cases annually.

Some may be in danger of losing their property because they didn't pay taxes in 1986, despite having paid it in each subsequent year. Often, this happens when a house is sold and the new mortgage company neglects to pay taxes for the current year.

County Treasurer Art Monson said some people apparently ignore the notices the county sends from the beginning.

"The law is very unforgiving," Monson said. "It will only cost people more to ignore it."

Others appear to be trying to "beat the system," or may refuse to pay out of principle.

"I don't have sympathy for people like that when some people out there make all kinds of sacrifices to be able to pay their taxes," Monson said.

Monson said his staff will work with people who want to pay their debts. Also, people who earn less than $16,450 per year are eligible for tax relief, he said.