AUGUSTA — A legislative committee Tuesday tabled discussion on a bill designed to protect homeowners over age 65 against tax lien foreclosure, saying the governor’s office, Maine Municipal Association and others will develop language they all can agree on.

Gov. Paul LePage initiated L.D. 1629, An Act to Protect the Elderly from Tax Lien Foreclosures, after an elderly Albion couple was foreclosed on and evicted from their home on Lovejoy Pond before the town sold it for $6,500.

After a 1 1/2-hour work session, the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation tabled further discussion on L.D. 1629, sponsored by State Rep. Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, until Feb. 27.

The bill seeks to have municipalities work with the property owner on alternatives to foreclosure, such as a tax abatement or payment plan. It also would require a municipality that does foreclose sell the property at fair market value and return the proceeds to the former homeowner once the town’s fees and costs are paid.

The property of Richard and Leonette Sukeforth of Albion was worth between $70,000 and $80,000 and represented the couple’s only asset, according to LePage, yet they received nothing from the sale.

On Tuesday, taxation committee member Bruce Bickford, R-Auburn, said maybe the entire bill could be stricken and replaced with more simple language which says a municipality could waive foreclosure in any manner municipal officials deem in the best interest of the municipality. The language is short and simple and requires a municipality to have something in place, according to Bickford.

Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, asked that Nick Adolphsen, senior policy adviser to LePage, give the committee data about how many foreclosures have taken place in Maine against elderly people and what components are common to those foreclosures so committee members would understand the scope of the problem.

“I’m frankly not interested in passing a feel-good bill,” she said. “I want to get at what the governor wants to get at, but I don’t want to further burden municipalities.”

East Machias Selectman Bucky Davis spoke out against L.D. 1629 on Tuesday. Staff photo by David Leaming

Adolphsen said he would try to get that data but predicted it would not reveal a massive problem affecting a lot of people.

“But it is a problem that has existed in a few instances, and a problem that we would like not to exist in the future,” he said.

He has talked with people from Pine Tree Legal Assistance Inc., Legal Services for the Elderly, Inc., and Maine Equal Justice Partners, he said, and the language of the bill has been narrowed to reflect pre-foreclosure and post-foreclosure requirements by municipalities.

“The governor’s concern is, does that property go for market value and, as an elderly (person), can I get some of that equity back so I’m not out my only asset,” Adolphsen said.

The committee talked about having someone from the state available to be a resource for elderly people needing help with foreclosure issues.

Bucky Davis, a 20-plus-year selectman in East Machias who has attended sessions on the bill, recommended municipalities have an article on their town meeting warrants saying a town treasurer can waive foreclosure at the discretion of selectmen. Without that article, a municipality would legally have to take a foreclosed property, even if it may be in rough shape and cost more to demolish or fix than it is worth, according to Davis.

The town also could foreclose on a property and own it, but allow the former homeowner to continue living there, as long as he or she paid home insurance, Davis said.

Amy Calder can be contact0d at 861-9247 or at:

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