Fifteen years ago, when the real estate market in Carrabelle was taking off, two limited liability corporations, SGI Land Company and Forgotten Coast Land Company drew investors to buy lots in a Carrabelle subdivision known as Keough’s Second Addition, on the east side of County Road 67, near Avenue F.
The investment companies, engineered by real estate speculator Judy Miller out of northern California, bought up the lots in the couple years leading up to the real estate market collapse of 2007 and 2008. Among those who bought into the subdivision’s possibilities was Pinki Jackel, who in July 2007 became a managing member of Forgotten Coast, and then stepped down in Nov. 2008 when she was elected to the county commission.
When the real estate market fell apart, so did the value of the properties, and for the next decade they languished as vacant lands, each year accumulating great and greater property tax liabilities.
Neither of the LLCs, both with a San Rafael, California business address, paid the taxes on the lots, SGI Land owning 124 of them and Forgotten Coast 121. Each went belly up, and became officialy inactive in the state of Florida in 2017.
At the annual tax certificate sales, over the last seven years, private investors bought 48 tax certificates, with another 103 of them being struck to the county, on these lots.
In years past, after seven years, if neither the private buyers or the county applied for a tax deed in a bid to gain ownership of the land, then the tax liens would dissolve. The tax liability for those seven recent years would still remain the responsibility of any future buyer, but with few if any interested parties in the wings, repaying that liability when the property changed hands was not in the foreseeable future.
Tax Collector Rick Watson wants to change that, and got the unanimous go-ahead from the county commission last week to move forward on seeking title to the properties.
“I think the goal is for the county to get their tax paid,” said Watson. “If they can’t get paid they should get title to the property and they can sell it and get it back on the tax rolls.”
Watson estimated that taxes due on the 26 county-owned certificates is about $223,000, and that the costs of applying for the tax deeds is about $675 per certificate, for a title search and other miscellaneous costs, for a total of about $17,500.
Two of the certificates each have a tax liability of $16,617, while 11 of them each have a liability of $14,398. On one of them the taxes owed is $11,450, another has a tax lien of $9464, and two others $1,792 and $1,509. On five of them, the liability on each is $1,129, and the two others have a lien of $771 each.
As a government entity, the county won’t have to make good on the privately-owned tax certificates, although those would have to be satisfied if an individual or business entity were applying for a tax deed.
The properties now go on to an excess lands list offered by the county, and over the next three years, private buyers will continue to have a chance to pick up the properties, although they would have to satisfy the county tax obligation, as well as that of the individual certificate holders, most of which would see an 18 percent annual return on their investment.
“Anytime somebody can come and pay the costs and they have to pay the private investors,” said Watson. “It hasn’t been done before. We haven’t had an excess lands list.”
If by 2022, the lands remain on the list, “at that point the property vests to the county,” Watson said. “The county can sell it, or hold it for workforce housing or enter into a private partnership to develop it.”
Watson said that of the 245 lots in question, 103 are high and dry. “The remaining lots are wet, although some are possibly buildable with retention ponds,” he told commissioners.
Carrabelle Mayor Brenda La Paz said city water and sewer is not yet connected to the lots but is available to be hooked up.