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by Gail Marsh
The Harrison County Board of Education recently lost a piece of property it paid $100,000 for when it was put up for sale by the county for delinquent taxes, officials confirmed Thursday.
A landholding company bought the property for $715, the amount of the back taxes.
School board officials said they did not know that taxes were still owed on the land when they bought the property from a local bank in 1993, officials said.
The school board filed a lawsuit in Harrison County Circuit Court to determine ownership of the property, which is used as a parking lot for Adamston Elementary teachers and staff.
The civil suit involves the lot on the south side of Adams Avenue, which the board lease-purchased from Community Bank & Trust Inc., now known as Huntington National Bank West Virginia, in 1993.
The suit contends that the board was not notified the land was going up for sale for delinquent taxes. The property was eventually purchased by a limited liability company from Greenbrier County, and the board is now trying to redeem the land.
Peter J. Conley, a Clarksburg attorney representing the board in the matter and a former school board president, said the board paid Community Bank & Trust $33,333.33 for three years to purchase the land located to the left of Adamston Elementary School. Upon receipt of the last payment, the deed was delivered to counsel for the board in November 1995.
"The board took possession of the lot in October 1993, and put up parking signs so that school employees could park there. It should have been obvious that we were taking possession of the lot," Conley said.
According to the complaint, when the board paid the final payment in November 1995, it was unaware that real estate taxes were still owed by the bank for the last half of calendar year 1995.
The property taxes became delinquent and, because Huntington National Bank neglected to pay the taxes, the lot eventually went up for sale by the sheriff of Harrison County, Conley said.
"Pursuant to West Virginia law, property owned by a school board cannot be subject to liens, including liens for back taxes," Conley said.
The property was later purchased by New River Holdings, LLC, of White Sulphur Springs in November 1996 for $714.98, the amount of the back taxes due with interest.
"This was all done without any notification to the board," Conley said.
On Dec. 30, 1997, New River Holdings (now known as Allegheny Title Services, LLC) applied for a tax deed with the county clerk. Among the documents filed at that time was a list of persons to be notified that New River intended to redeem the property for back taxes.
The complaint states that Huntington National Bank failed to notify the board that someone had sent them a notice to redeem the property for back taxes.
Allegheny Title Services eventually received a property deed on April 29, 1998.
The board filed the lawsuit against Allegheny Title on Aug. 27 to set aside that deed, Conley said. Allegheny Title will now have 30 days to answer the complaint.
Part of the board's problems stems from the fact that the deed the board received in 1995 was not recorded until July 1998. Conley said he did not know why it took so long for the deed to be recorded, but said the filing time of the deed should not be a factor.
"You don't have to record a deed to become owner of real estate, but recording the deed notifies the rest of the world that you own the property," he said.
Basil Legg, the board's current attorney, said he also was not aware why it took such a long time to file the deed.
"That is something we are looking into and should be able to answer within the next couple of weeks," he said.
Robert Rauch, manager of Allegheny Title, said his company has not yet had time to file a response.
He did confirm that his company purchased the property when the bank failed to pay the back taxes.
Because the school board did not file a deed, his company was unaware of the board's claim until about one month ago, he said.
"As far as we can tell, we have fully complied with statutory procedures to redeem the property. It's unfortunate that the board didn't record its interest earlier," he said.
Conley said he believes the school board will win the case and end up owning clear title to the property.
"We believe the deed belonging to Allegheny Title Services will be set aside on the grounds that the county clerk didn't have the authority to execute that deed," he said.