PROVO — The Utah County auditor's office held its May tax sale Thursday, selling off properties that were five years delinquent in property taxes.

It happens every year on the third Thursday in May, but county officials try hard to ensure no family loses their home.

Utah County is unique in the way it sells off property. The county doesn't sell 100 percent of real property with homes that a family lives in to bidders. Instead, a small percentage of the property, usually about 1 percent, is sold during the tax sale and the family can remain in the home, said Bryan Thompson, Utah County clerk/auditor. The bidder then pays the back taxes and the owner has to get consent from the bidder who bought the percentage of the property before the owner can sell.

"We make an effort to not sell someone's home," he said. "We make out payment arrangements if someone's destitute."

Utah County Commissioner Gary Anderson said the county will do everything in its power to make sure that homes aren't sold out from under people.

"Government's tough enough on people," he said. "We're not going to throw them out of their homes."

Thompson said that come March of the fifth year the property is delinquent the county has about 200 or 300 properties that would be up for sale. The auditor's office sends out letters four weeks before the sale and most settle their accounts.

Owners who have delinquent properties have until the time their property is auctioned off to redeem their property and pay the back taxes, said Robert Kirk, Utah County treasurer.

"That's why I sit in that meeting," he said. "Our people here are taking payments until the moment of sale. We give them right up to the last second until the gavel falls."

Any resident can attend and bid on the property, but they should make sure they know what they're bidding on, Thompson said.

"There's a lot of people who want to pick up a building lot," he said. "They also need to do their due diligence."

Thompson said last year a man bought a property for several thousand dollars, but found out the property was a retention basin where he couldn't build and wanted to give it back to the county. However, the county legally can't rescind a sale so he was stuck with property he couldn't use.

Most first-time bidders enter the sale with huge expectations but go away disappointed, Kirk said.

"People really need to be cautious when they come to these and do their homework," he said.

Many of the pieces up for sale Thursday were small, random pieces of land that can't be used for building.

"They weren't choice properties," Kirk said. "They were just little corner pieces, somehow in the mapping they didn't (get taken) into consideration."

Georgetown Development had several pieces up for auction Thursday, all of which were small pieces that can't be used.

"They're sometimes called nuisance strips," said John Dester, owner of Georgetown Development.

Sometimes these pieces are leftovers after property has been divided or because of surveying strips or sections of land are left over that are only a few feet wide.

"We talked to the county, we don't want them (the pieces), we've been long done with the projects," he said.

He added: "We were concerned about it. We don't want it to sully our name, but they're ridiculous pieces of land."

One of the development's parcels, five-hundredths of an acre, started bidding at $432.41 and was finally sold at $1,500.

Bidding starts at the amount of taxes owed the county. The county only receives the amount of the taxes owed, the rest goes to the previous owner, Thompson said.

"The county does not make a windfall," he said.

Thompson said that some people use the five-year period to resist paying their taxes and once they receive a notice they pay up their back taxes.

"From the county's perspective it's frustrating," he said. "It shorts all the entities who are entitled to the taxes they pay. Fifty percent of taxes go to the school district, counties' portion is really small."

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