More bidders spent more money than ever at this year's Beaufort County delinquent-tax sale.
More than 850 properties with unpaid taxes were auctioned Oct. 7, raising almost $40 million, Treasurer Doug Henderson said.
That's by far the most the county has raised at a tax sale, beating 2011's $26 million, Henderson said.
The record take is due in part to the competition created by another record -- more than 280 bidders registered for the auction, up from about 160 last year.
"They were competitive, and the more competition you have, the higher the bids go," Henderson said.
The money from the sale settles $2.44 million in owed property taxes, fees and penalties, Henderson said. The rest of the money will either be returned to bidders or given to owners for their property's sale at the auction, as mandated by state law.
Owners of property auctioned Monday in Beaufort have until Oct. 8, 2014, to pay the county any owed taxes, penalties and fees to reclaim the property. If reclaimed, winning bidders get their money back, plus 3 percent quarterly interest, Henderson said.
If the property is not reclaimed, it is deeded to the highest bidder, Henderson said. Then the county collects any owed taxes, fees and penalties, and the remaining money from the bid is given back to the owner of the property.
About 40 properties received no bids and will go to the Forfeited Land Commission, which also tries to sell them. Any money raised in those sales will be used to pay off the uncollected debts on those properties.
About 890 properties were listed at this year's sale, down from 1,043 last year; 1,103 in 2011; and 1,572 in 2010.
Having fewer properties in the tax sale indicates programs to recoup uncollected taxes are working, Henderson said.
This year, the Treasurer's Office alerted owners whose property taxes were past due about a new policy that will begin in November -- garnisheeing state income-tax refunds to pay delinquent property taxes.
"That generated a good bit of activity right there," Henderson said.
Last year, the office hired LexisNexis to track down more than 2,000 property owners with incorrect addresses on file to make sure they were notified that they owed taxes. Two years ago, more than 2,500 taxpayers took advantage of a one-time amnesty program to waive Treasurer's Office fees on overdue taxes.
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.