For the bankers wearing pressed suits and willing to bid six figures at Beaufort County’s annual delinquent-tax sale, the primary goal was earning interest at rates available in few other places in today’s economy. For Mamdouh Sabry, who wore a red and brown plaid shirt to Monday’s sale, the goal was finding a place to build his future retirement home.
Sabry learned about the sale last week and drove from his home near Columbus, Ohio, to find a lot he could afford. He knows odds are good that the property he bought Monday will be reclaimed by its owner before it can become his next year, but he won’t be satisfied with a reimbursement plus as much as 12 percent interest on the money he put down.
He wants to keep the 1.37 acres off Janette Drive on St. Helena Island with an uncontested bid of $1,500.
“They say it’s a win-win,” Sabry said. “But I’m not interested in the other win.”
County officials said 218 bidders signed up for the sale of properties for which taxes have not been paid for 2009. Only about half of the nearly 1,600 properties available could be auctioned off in 6 1/2 hours Monday, according to county Treasurer Joy Logan. So the event resumes at 9 a.m. today at the Charles Lind Brown Activity Center in Beaufort.
Last year’s sale set in motion a tumultuous year for Logan and her office. Thousands of dollars in proceeds went missing. An external audit uncovered inconsistent accounting and helped lead to embezzlement charges unrelated to the tax sale against a Treasurer’s Office employee. County Council and other elected officials have called on Logan to resign, but the Republican presses on toward the Nov. 2 general election, in which she will face her first challenger — petition candidate Doug Henderson — since she first won the office in 1991.
Logan said the procedure at this year’s auction remains the same.
However, her office’s handling of its proceeds — a process criticized by auditors for hand-kept records and lax oversight of employees — has been improved, she said. For instance, checks will be taken immediately to the bank, and the office will use its own sequentially numbered receipts, rather than a county receipt book that is not in numerical order.
Nonetheless, Logan said, the new system won’t necessarily prevent another Casaundra White, who allegedly sent 11 checks totaling $210,012 from the Treasurer’s Office to dummy companies she set up with her ex-boyfriend, Adrian Coore, prosecutors say.
“If somebody wants to steal money and they know what they’re doing like she did, they’re going to get it,” Logan said.
The audit’s findings concerned some of Monday’s bidders, such as Bryan Hughes of Hilton Head Island, who said he called a friend at the county to make sure the checks he paid at last year’s tax sale were safe.
But others, like Holbrook Sanders of Seabrook and Tom Mlodzinski of Hilton Head, weren’t worried about the county losing their money.
“To me, this is one of the safest investments you can make,” said Mlodzinski, who brought his computer and looked at pictures of his children to pass the time between bids. “You’re investing in your own county.”