BAXTER - After hearing the plight of a Baxter homeowner who said she and her husband have been taken by a man who reneged on a contract for deed purchase and left them in debt, a Baxter City Council member said he'd consider taking the man to court himself to collect the city's delinquent utility bills.
Constance Ritter told the council she was notified two weeks ago that she owed about $180 in delinquent utility bills on her Excelsior Road home she sold on a contract for deed four years ago. She attended the Baxter City Council meeting Monday and spoke up during the public hearing to certify delinquent utility, abatement and other bills. If the bills aren't paid for 10 days following Monday's certification, then the bills are put on the property's taxes.
Ritter told council members of her struggle to get the home back, of how she'd taken the man to court and hasn't collected anything. She said the property value has gone down considerably since the man gained ownership of the house.
"I don't want to pay this," Ritter said. "I'm tired of paying his bills."
Finance Director Jeremy Vacinek said several of the delinquent utility bills owed the city are on bank foreclosures, a similar situation in which the banks are responsible for bills accrued and unpaid by previous owners.
Mayor Darrel Olson said he understood how Ritter feels but said this was not an unusual situation and that the city needed to be consistent and fair to all property owners.
Council member Jim Klein discussed the possibility of the city taking the delinquent owner to court but agreed that it could open a "can of worms" if other property owners, including banks, wanted the city to take previous homeowners or renters to court as well to collect debt.
Klein made a motion to certify the list of delinquent bills and added that city staff be directed to dig up the Ritter property's utility bills and provide that information to Klein so he could see "if it was worth his time" to take the situation further. The motion died for a lack of a second.
Instead, the council, with council member Todd Holman absent and Klein opposed, passed a motion to certify the list of delinquent bills.
The council voted to table a motion until the Nov. 17 board meeting to transfer its local board and equalization duties to Crow Wing Council.
The council adjourned to a 6 p.m. Thursday project work session.
JODIE TWEED may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5858.
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