County treasurer sees five-fold increase in foreclosures in ’09

RBC I At the current rate, Rio Blanco County could end up with at least four or five times as many foreclosures as last year.
“At this pace, I’m thinking maybe 50 or 60,” said county treasurer Karen Arnold, whose office handles foreclosures. “But I honestly don’t know.”
So far this year, there are 28 foreclosures in the county, with another one on the way, Arnold reported last week during her quarterly (April-June) update to the board of county commissioners.
“We’ve had a lot of foreclosure activity,” Arnold said. “We haven’t seen this in the last 10 years.”
Last year, there were 12 foreclosures in the county. The high for the county is 75 foreclosures in 1987, during the oil shale bust.
Of the county’s 29 foreclosures so far this year, 15 have been in Rangely and 14 in Meeker.
“We had a developer in Rangely who had seven foreclosures, and they were all separate. Each lot had its own foreclosure case opened on it,” Arnold said. “We have a developer here in Meeker, he was really close. We were hoping they (the properties) wouldn’t go to a tax sale.”
The amounts of the foreclosure cases in the county range from a little under $100,000 to nearly $420,000.
“We do have one for $96,000 in Rangely. That’s the lowest we’ve got,” Arnold said. “It looks like $417,000 is the highest in Meeker. The bigger (foreclosures) are the Sage Hills ones (a development in Meeker). We do have a few out in the country. Most of the places we’re seeing are in the $300,000 range. So they are the newer, bigger homes.”
“It sounds like people got a little overextended,” said County Commissioner Ken Parsons of Rangely.
With changes in the state’s foreclosure statutes, Arnold expected the new laws would slow the pace of foreclosures.
“I was predicting by the time the new laws took effect, we would see a drop,” Arnold said. “The new foreclosure laws gave the homeowner and the lender more time to come to some kind of settlement other than foreclosure. The timeline was rearranged, so the sale was closer to the end of the process rather than in the middle. So you’re seeing more people getting refinancing, maybe getting caught up on their payments, but they are getting a good resolution before it goes to sale.”
Arnold said two of the 12 foreclosures last year went to sale.
“We’ve had one withdraw in ‘09,” Arnold said. “That means it was settled and the foreclosing attorney withdrew it.”
Keeping up with foreclosures has kept Arnold’s office busy as has keeping up with fluctuating interest rates on the county’s investment accounts.
“I’ve never seen it change so much,” Arnold said. “I was on the phone recently with a broker for five minutes and (the interest rate) changed four times. That was on a treasury note, and they (the rates) haven’t been all that great, either, but it’s making over 1 percent. Checking accounts are under 1 percent. It isn’t pretty, because I was used to 4 percent, maybe 4.5 or 5 (for the money markets) a few years ago. I don’t want to keep a lot in checking, so I keep more in the CDs. I keep one month’s worth of expenditures in checking, and the money market is probably three or four months’ worth of operating expenses, because they are the most liquid.”
The lower interest rates will reduce the amount of grant money available for the count to award through its County Capital Investment Trust Fund.
“The allocations come from the interest income,” Arnold said. “With the interest rate down, (the commissioners) don’t get as much money to allocate.”
Originally, Arnold had projected the county would have $500,000 to award in CCITF grants. Now, that figure is $400,000.
“And that could change by the time we allocate,” Arnold said.
On the $2 million Arnold maintains in the county’s CCITF checking account, it has been generating only about $50 per month in interest.
“And we’re lucky to be getting $50,” Arnold said.
“CCITF is not going to be what we thought it would be,” said Joe Collins, chairman of the board of the commissioners. “I thought interest rates went up, Karen?”
“They did, and then they went down,” Arnold said. “They’re fluctuating so much.”
She added, “I did have the auditors say we did get a good rate of return this last audit. We’re doing the best we can. All I can do is shop around for the best (interest rate), which is what I’ve been trying to do.”
Of the amount of CCITF money commissioners will have to work with, $150,000 has previously been stipulated for construction of a road leading to the site of the new elementary school, which will also provide access to the county fairgrounds and Meeker Recreation Center. The CCITF money is contingent on other funding, such as an energy impact grant request from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
On a brighter note for the county, Arnold reported NC Telecom, which went through bankruptcy auction last year — UBET Wireless was the highest bidder at $4.15 million — paid back taxes from 2005 and 2006 with interest, totaling almost $115,000.
“They had paid 2007 and 2008 timely, but those were still out there,” Arnold said. “Kent Borchard (county attorney) worked really hard to get all of the taxes due.”
Commissioner Parsons said, “That was something I never expected to see from them — money.”
“That was a nice surprise,” Arnold said. “So they are back in good standing now.”
In 1999, Rio Blanco County gave more than $1 million in start-up money to NC Telecom, in return for services.