Supervisors refund taxes paid on nonexistent property

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors on Monday evening refunded $964.56 paid in taxes over a 20-year period on a parcel of property that the county deemed did not exist two years after the original purchase date.

Will R. Kitchen Jr.’s father purchased 10 acres of property near Branchville in 1993 and kept the real estate taxes current until his death in 2013 — despite the fact that a 1995 property reassessment deemed the land’s location unknown and not mapped.

“As I began to research this property in January of 2014, it became apparent that there were problems,” Kitchen said. “I consulted the online tax map for the Boykins [Magisterial] District and could not find the property, although it was clearly outlined on the sales literature that was provided at the sale.

“In March of 2014, I visited the commissioner of revenue’s office,” he continued, “and with the assistance of one of the clerks discovered that a deed was on file, but there was no property located on the current tax map. In essence, the property could not be found … I understand that said property was purchased under a special warranty deed and that the county bears no liability at the time of sale. But based on the reassessment documentation, the county knew that the 10 acres in Branchville clearly did not exist and yet it continued to assess taxes on it and my father diligently paid them until his death.”

S.V. Camp III and Associates Inc. assisted Kitchen in his attempts to locate the property, but determined based on the information available that there is a high probability that it was included in and made part of an existing tax parcel and therefore may not be retrievable.

“I was informed by letter that the property cannot be located and had probably been absorbed by other landowners in the neighborhood,” Kitchen said.

County Attorney Richard Railey told the supervisors that they were under no obligation to refund the purchase price and the subsequent taxes — totaling $3,786.56 — that Kitchen was requesting and that it may set an unwanted precedent.

“I understand Mr. Kitchen’s position, but I also understand what the law is. If you, as an act of charity, to do [that’s your decision], but you are under no legal obligation to,” Railey said. “As an act of fairness, the board may go back on the taxes. But to say you’ll go back on every tax sale that people buy may set a horrible precedent.”

Nevertheless, the supervisors unanimously approved the refund of the taxes.

“When I look at what we did, we have an obligation of having something that we’re really selling. What we did, if we were not the government, would be considered fraud,” Franklin-Hunterdale representative Barry T. Porter said. “In my mind, we — by selling property that one year later we acknowledged did not exist — we were complicit on the equivalent of a fraudulent sale. That bothers me.”

Newsoms representative Glenn Updike agreed, saying, “He is right. Use common sense. The county sold property that did not exist. In a regular business, you’d be charged with fraud. We have collected money under false pretenses. This is common sense that he should be reimbursed.”

Porter added in response to Railey’s comment about precedent, “If we have properties that we have sold that didn’t exist and we collected taxes for 20 years, I’d feel the same way about every one of them. My conscience says that even thought we can stand behind the letter of the law, we should not do that when clearly it’s not the right thing to do.”