Last updated: February 16. 2013 6:02PM - 807 Views

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Luzerne County's tax claim operator has been going in circles trying to get two commercial properties owned by Airport Office Complex Inc. into back-tax auctions.

The company owes $298,500 in property taxes dating back to 2003 on the neighboring office buildings, which are located on John Street – one in Pittston Township and the other in Avoca.

Properties are supposed to be listed for auction after two years of nonpayment. In order to get out of a sale, property owners who don't pay up must file for bankruptcy or convince a county judge they need more time.

Airport Office has successfully obtained removal from sales in county court since 2007.

Northeast Revenue Service LLC, the county's tax claim operator since May 2010, convinced a county judge to allow the listing in an auction last August, said Northeast owner John Rodgers.

The properties were pulled when Airport Office President Steven Yankowski filed for bankruptcy a day before the sale.

Rodgers said his company has since convinced a bankruptcy judge to authorize the properties' listing in the back-tax auction this Thursday.

However, Airport Office recently filed court paperwork asking the judge to hold off again.

After a hearing last week, a bankruptcy judge ruled the properties could be removed from Thursday's sale if Airport Office pays $50,000 toward the debt by 4 p.m. today, Rodgers said.

The company had not paid as of 4:30 p.m. Monday, Northeast Revenue said.

"We're willing to fight to the max to get these properties listed. We'll fight at every stop," Rodgers said.

Airport Office bought the two properties for a combined $215,000 in December 2001.

The company owes $176,170 on the Pittston Township building, which previously housed WARM radio, and $122,324 on the Avoca property once used for an animal emergency clinic.

Airport Office had paid a portion of the taxes on the Pittston Township building but has paid nothing on the Avoca building from 2003 forward.

The bankruptcy filing says the properties are near the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport and Interstate 81, but tax assessments precluded the owner from offering "competitive lease rates."

The assessed values are $246,100 on the Avoca property and $600,000 on the Pittston Township one.

The owner has secured $250,000 in financing, with plans to convert one of the buildings to a "business incubator" for smaller businesses or short-term office space, the bankruptcy filing says.

Bids on the properties are set to start at $657.25 each if they are listed Thursday. Mortgages and other liens are forgiven in this type of final-stage auction, known as free-and-clear sale.

Rodgers, an attorney, said his company actively monitors court cases to ensure stale or unnecessarily drawn-out proceedings aren't keeping properties out of sales.

The company also retains a bankruptcy lawyer at no additional charge. Northeast Revenue is paid through a 5 percent penalty already added to overdue taxes.

Rodgers said the county didn't have the resources to aggressively push for sales when it handled tax claim in-house.

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