Greenfield City Council resolution urges reforms to tax title taking process

Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2022 7:39:19 PM

GREENFIELD — City Council supported a resolution Wednesday night urging the Legislature to reform the Massachusetts tax title taking process, which critics have dubbed “home equity theft.”

In particular, H 3053 would improve the notice procedures for people undergoing tax foreclosure proceedings and would also guarantee that any excess proceeds generated by tax sales are returned to the original property owner.

The resolution, which passed without comment from councilors, follows Mayor Roxann Wedegartner’s letter to area legislators, urging them to sign on as co-sponsors of the legislation being refiled by Rep. Jeffrey Roy, D-Franklin. The letter was addressed to Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, Rep. Susannah Whipps, I-Athol, and Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Deerfield.

“This legislation provides property taxpayers with an equitable process for resolving tax delinquency, using the same process extended to banks under c. 183, s. 27 regarding disposition of proceeds from a foreclosure sale,” Wedegartner wrote. “Any surplus after the tax debt is paid is due to the property owner/mortgagor.”

Precinct 1 Councilor Katherine Golub was among those who thanked the mayor for her letter to legislators.

“It feels really good to be on the same page of that issue,” Golub said, “and I’m really grateful for that.”

The tax title taking process garnered public attention in April when 41 properties were listed in a legal notice announcing the city’s intention to take those properties “for non-payment after demand, of the taxes due thereon, with interest and all incidental expenses to the date of taking, unless the same shall have been paid before the date.”

Of the properties listed, a handful are identified as parcels of land, while others appear to be private residences, multi-family homes or commercial properties.

Tax Collector Kelly Varner previously explained that when a property owner doesn’t pay taxes for the previous fiscal year, the city sends a demand notice at the end of the current one. Two subsequent letters are sent after that, advising the owner to make the necessary payments to prevent the start of the tax title taking process.

Taxpayers often have up to a year to pay off the taxes owed, Varner noted, and the city works with property owners to set up a payment plan.

Two residents who had previously gone through the process, Joan Marie Jackson and Mitch Speight, spoke to councilors Wednesday night about their experience.

Jackson said with the help of a lawyer, the couple managed to pay all taxes, plus interest, legal fees and collection costs to avoid having their property sold at auction.

“We stood to lose more than $200,000 of our home equity if our real property had been sold,” said Jackson, noting that was more than four times what they owed. “But we made the city whole; we paid off all our taxes.”

She argued the reform being proposed is a “basic fairness issue.”

“If you pay off your debt, it’s not right for the city to keep money beyond what you owe to cover a shortfall for another taxpayer,” Jackson said. “Every taxpayer in the city should pay all their back taxes, but no one in Greenfield should have to pay more than what they owe.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.


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