Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Promise to pay back taxes kept

Businessman presents $289,427 check to keep 5 properties from auction.

April 01. 2013 11:33PM

By - - (570) 991-6388

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A Hazle Township businessman who repeatedly fought to keep his commercial properties out of back-tax auctions due to a pending refinancing has kept his promise to pay the real estate taxes in full.

Luzerne County’s tax claim office on Monday received a $289,427 check for taxes dating back to 2009 on James Lagana’s five properties, with the money to be divvied up among the school district, municipality and county.

Properties are supposed to be auctioned if taxes have gone unpaid for two years. To get out of a sale, property owners must pay taxes owed, file for bankruptcy or convince a judge to grant more time.

Lagana and his company, Lagana Enterprises, successfully urged a judge to postpone several sales scheduled solely for the five properties, including an auction slated for Monday.

He said the refinancing would allow him to satisfy other liens in addition to the back taxes, including debts to the Internal Revenue Service, Fidelity and Deposit Insurance Co., the Greater Hazleton Joint Sewer Authority and the Hazleton Municipal Authority. Repayment of these debts would be unlikely if the property went to the highest bidder in a final-stage free-and-clear auction, where liens and back taxes are forgiven, he argued.

If the judge ignored the request, Lagana said he would be forced to file for bankruptcy because the five properties produced almost all his income.

The commercial and retail buildings on the Airport Beltway in Hazle Township have a combined assessed value of $4.3 million and include the Beltway Commons and Laurel Professional Center.

Lagana also paid $51,347 in back taxes Monday on two other properties that were planned for listing in an August back-tax auction, according to Northeast Revenue Service LLC, which operates the county tax claim office.

He still owes $36,057 in taxes from 2010 through 2012 on his mansion in Butler Township, records show.

The county’s next back-tax auction is scheduled for April 25.

Northeast Revenue is holding this special first-stage upset sale for properties with defaulted payment plans and dismissed bankruptcies.

Most of the property owners entered into payment plans to keep their properties out of a sale last September but then failed to make subsequent payments after the sale, according to Northeast Revenue representatives. The tax claim operator chose to hold a special sale now instead of waiting until the next regular upset sale in the fall.

Roughly 250 properties are scheduled for the April 25 sale, though properties must be removed if the owners pay all taxes owed for 2010 before the sale.

Bids at upset sales are set high enough to cover all back taxes and municipal utility liens, which makes it less popular than a free-and-clear auction.

A list of the properties scheduled for the April 25 sale may be viewed at under the upset sale link.

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