BOWLING GREEN - With a delinquent tax bill hounding them for more than 30 years, the Wood County commissioners have decided to come clean.
Their $85,000 bill for back taxes has been mounting since 1974 when a previous board of commissioners decided to stop paying taxes on land once used for the Interurban electric railroad line.
The county inherited the property when the owner of the rail line abandoned it.
Nearly two years ago, County Treasurer Jill Engle brought the matter to the commissioners' attention, saying she wanted to clear up the overdue taxes and get the property back on the tax rolls. Commissioners balked at paying the bill and decided to offer the land to townships, villages, and other public agencies that might be able to use it.
The remaining parcels were to be sold to the highest bidder - with the minimum bid starting at the amount of back taxes. But with only a couple takers, commissioners have decided to pay the bill and get rid of the land once and for all.
"We decided it was our responsibility to clean up the tax portion so they could be turned over to other local governments that wanted them or to citizens who wanted to purchase them," Commissioner Tim Brown said. "It really wouldn't be fair for citizens to pay the back taxes. It just made sense for us to clean it up and wash our hands of it."
Yesterday, commissioners transferred two parcels totaling 3 acres to the village of Milton Center and two parcels in Weston Township totaling 0.76 acres to the Wood County Park District. Park officials had expressed interest in the land, which contained native plant species that they could collect seed from.
County Administrator Andrew Kalmar said two residents have purchased parcels along the railroad line by paying the back taxes, but there are still about 30 assorted parcels remaining.
The railroad line ran through the western half of the county from Haskins to Custar, but few of the remaining parcels are contiguous because adjacent landowners had acquired parcels over the years.
Mr. Kalmar said commissioners plan to sell the remaining parcels to the highest bidder through a sealed-bid auction that has not yet been scheduled. There will be no minimum bid, he said.
"We simply don't want them," Mr. Kalmar said. "It makes no sense for us to own them because we have no interest in them. Many of them are landlocked, so it's far more beneficial to everyone to clean up the deeds and the parcels and have them be attached to a productive parcel." He said commissioners are "willing to part with them as cheaply as they have to."
Officials know they won't recoup the cost of the back taxes and the survey work that was done, but their main concern is getting them out of the county's ownership.
"At this point we just want to part with the properties and have it no longer be a liability to the county," Mr. Kalmar said.