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CITY PRESSES STATE TO KEEP EXCESS FORECLOSURE AUCTION FUNDS

Bidders at last week's city foreclosure auction bought 575 properties for a total of $3.9 million, generating the heaviest sales volume in at least four years.

Now the cash-starved city is prodding the state to let Buffalo keep funds that exceed liens on the properties.

State Senate approval of a plan that has cleared the Assembly would mean at least an additional $1 million for Buffalo from this year's auction, said Bruna Michaux, city commissioner of taxation and assessment. Supporters are asking the State Senate to consider the action at a special session later this month.

Currently, the city must turn over all excess funds from property sales to the county comptroller. If not claimed by the property owner or mortgage company, the funds are transferred to the state in five years. Michaux's office released figures Monday indicating that since 2001, the city has turned over more than $1.6 million in such funds.

"It's a lot of money, and we should be allowed to keep it," Michaux said. "Given our current fiscal crisis, we need every penny."

The administration of Mayor Anthony M. Masiello and some Common Council members also are lobbying for state approval of the plan. It would allow tax entities like Buffalo to keep proceeds from the sale of properties obtained through foreclosure without having to hold the title. City officials credited state lawmakers from the area for supporting the effort.

Selling prices averaged $6,782 on the 575 properties at last week's two-day auction. The sales included more than 100 vacant lots that sold for as little as $300. Records indicate that the sale attracted bidders from as far as California, Florida and North Carolina. Michaux said no single out-of-state bidder purchased a large number of properties. Several local bidders, however, made multiple purchases.

All bidders have until Dec. 17 to finalize the sales. The tax office, meanwhile, will check to make sure bidders don't have outstanding debts to the city or violations on city properties they already own.

The city assumed ownership of 298 properties that did not attract minimum opening bids. Many of the structures will be demolished. Some parcels are located in redevelopment areas.

At last year's foreclosure, 495 properties were sold for $2.9 million. The value of the winning bids at last week's auction was up by more than 30 percent from a year ago, while the number of properties sold increased by 16 percent.

be-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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