AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday implored lawmakers to work on a bill designed to protect the elderly from tax lien foreclosures, saying that in the last year alone, 12 elderly Mainers have lost their homes to foreclosure.

LePage spoke to members of the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation at the State House during a work session on L.D. 1629, An Act to Protect the Elderly from Tax Lien Foreclosures, which he initiated and which is sponsored by Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester.

The governor cited a case involving Richard and Leonette Sukeforth, now both 81, who were foreclosed on in 2015 by the town of Albion, which took their house and land for nonpayment of taxes. On the day the foreclosure was completed, the town refused to accept a friend’s offer to pay the taxes. Instead, the town sold the property for $6,500 to the grandson of a next-door neighbor.

LePage tried to help the Sukeforths when he learned of the foreclosure, but wasn’t able to.

The governor said the market value of the Sukeforth’s property was $70,000 to $80,000 and Richard Sukeforth, a military veteran, lost everything in the foreclosure.

Calling the case “egregious,” Page urged legislators to ensure that, during the 18 months it takes for a foreclosure to be completed, a town official or another person sits down with the homeowner to discuss alternatives, which could include a tax abatement, a small mortgage or a reverse mortgage.

“The only intention here is for communities to have compassion for the elderly in their communities,” he said.

He also asked the committee to ensure the bill mandate that if a municipality does foreclose and sell a property, the homeowner receives the balance of its market value once taxes, interest and fees are paid.

LePage said he plans to bring Sukeforth to the State House Feb. 13 for his State of the State address.

After the discussion, the committee voted to table the matter to allow more time to work on the bill. The committee could have voted ought to pass or ought not to pass.

Committee members and municipal officials at a public hearing on the bill Jan. 25 questioned whether the requirements of the bill would cost money and place a burden on town officials who are not trained to serve as mediators. Committee member Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, raised that issue Tuesday with LePage, saying he is concerned the bill would force a tax assessor, for instance, to give financial advice.

LePage said what he proposes would not cost any money and that he does not think the person who would help the homeowner should be a tax assessor. It could be a town or state official or someone knowledgeable about housing, he said, adding that he has enlisted help from Pine Tree Legal Assistance Inc. in the past.

Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, asked LePage how many people have been affected, because they got “two sets of data” at the Jan. 25 hearing.

Rep. Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn, asked whether property owners could receive “means testing” to ensure they were unable to pay their tax bill. LePage said he did not object.

Albion officials have said the town had paid the Sukeforths’ taxes in past years. When they told Richard Sukeforth in 2015 that his property would be taken, he still did not pay his taxes. But family members said he may have suffered from dementia and not realized what might happen.

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

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