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07/02/97 JANICE GETSON v. SOMERSET COUNTY TAX CLAIM

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


July 2, 1997

JANICE GETSON, APPELLANT
v.
SOMERSET COUNTY TAX CLAIM BUREAU, AND TINA BRANT

Appealed From No. 49 Miscellaneous 1996. Common Pleas Court of the County of Somerset. Judge FIKE, President Judge.

Before: Honorable Dan Pellegrini, Judge, Honorable Jim Flaherty, Judge, Honorable Silvestri Silvestri, Senior Judge. Opinion BY Judge Pellegrini.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pellegrini

OPINION BY JUDGE PELLEGRINI

FILED: July 2, 1997

Janice Getson appeals from the October 23, 1996 order of the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County (trial court) denying her request to amend her petition for redemption of tax sale and granting the sale of property at private tax sale to Tina Brant.

Getson owned two parcels of real estate (collectively, property) which were listed for public tax sale in September of 1992 and again in September of 1995. Because neither sale resulted in sufficient bids, the property has been held by the Somerset County Tax Claim Bureau (Bureau). The amount of delinquent taxes, interest and penalties owed on the property as of March of 1996 was approximately $3,654.60. In March of 1996, Tina Brant submitted an offer to purchase the property at private sale for $2,400.99 - an amount constituting approximately 61 percent of the total amount of taxes owed. All taxing bodies approved the sale.

Getson filed a timely petition "for redemption of tax sale" *fn1 challenging the sale. She contended that several members of her family have agreed to advance her sufficient funds to pay the Bureau all of the unpaid real estate taxes with penalties and interest. She also contended that the lower, private offer submitted by Brant would result in a substantial loss of revenue to the taxing body and should be rejected. After a hearing, the trial court dismissed the petition and affirmed the sale to Brant. *fn2 This appeal followed. *fn3

Getson contends that the trial court abused its discretion by rejecting her offer to pay the tax delinquency and all penalties and interest in full. She contends that she was attempting to pay her delinquent taxes so as to remove her property from sale. She argues that Section 603 of the Law, 72 P.S. § 5860.603, gives her that right. Section 603 provides in relevant part:

Any owner ... may, at the option of the bureau, prior to the actual sale, (1) cause the property to be removed from the sale by payment in full of taxes which have become absolute and of all charges and interest due on these taxes to the time of payment, or (2) enter into an agreement, in writing, with the bureau to stay the sale of the property upon the payment of twenty-five per centum (25%) of the amount due on all tax claims and tax judgments filed or entered against such property and the interest and costs on the taxes returned to date, as provided by this act ... So long as said agreement is being fully complied with by the taxpayer, the sale of the property covered by the agreement shall be stayed. (emphasis added).

Getson argues that since Brant's bid was only a "proposed" bid, it did not constitute an "actual sale" under the Law, so that she is still the "owner" of the property, and, as such, is entitled to pay the Bureau all delinquent taxes, penalties and costs so that she can retain her property.

What Getson is confusing is that the actual sale addressed in Section 603 goes to the public upset sale, *fn4 not private or judicial sales. An upset sale is distinct from a private sale, and each is controlled by separate sections of the Law. "Actual sale", as defined by the Law, refers to the "full amount of money agreed to be paid as the sale price by the successful bidder or purchaser at upset sale under sections 605 through 609." (emphasis added). Those provisions apply only to "upset sales" where the property is offered to the general public for sale.

Section 613 *fn5 applies to private sales. It provides that after property has been exposed to public sale under Section 603 but was not sold because no bid equal to or greater than the upset price had been made, the Bureau may agree to sell the property at private sale, "at any price approved by the bureau". 72 P.S. § 5860.613(a). After proper notice of the private sale has been given, the owner or other interested party or potential purchaser then has 45 days in which to petition the trial court to contest the sufficiency of the sale price only.

Even if, as Getson contends, she offered to pay all delinquent taxes, penalties and interest in full after Brant had offered to purchase the property at private sale, that action is still prohibited. Under Section 613, once the property had been offered at private sale and a proposed purchaser had made an offer, the original property owner cannot thwart that sale by offering all back taxes and penalties. Because that right was certainly extinguished by the time Brant had made her offer for the property, if not before, all that Section 613 gives the property owner is the right to challenge the sufficiency of the sales price. Just because Getson was willing to pay back the taxes did not require that the proposed private tax sale be disapproved. Mehalic v. County Tax Claim Bureau, 111 Pa. Commw. 398, 534 A.2d 157 (Pa. Commw. 1987). Rather, the decision to accept or reject any proposed compromise of delinquent taxes is wholly within the discretion of the taxing authorities. Id.

Accordingly, the decision of the trial court is affirmed.

DAN PELLEGRINI, JUDGE

ORDER

AND NOW, this 2nd day of July, 1997, the October 23, 1996 decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County is affirmed.

DAN PELLEGRINI, JUDGE


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