Owners of a Wilkes-Barre commercial property owe $172,291 in delinquent real estate taxes dating back to 2005, but Luzerne County’s tax claim operator can’t sell the place due to a pending bankruptcy.
The property has come up at county council meetings, and a series of anonymous letters complaining about the lack of an auction have been sent to the media and some council members.
The 56,600-square-foot former manufacturing building at 12 Oregon St. is owned by several members of the Rockman family and houses offices and bakery equipment supplies for their business, Beroc, Inc.
The county can list properties for auction if taxes are two years past due unless the owners are complying with repayment plans, a judge grants more time or the property is involved in an active bankruptcy case.
The property already was eligible for sale when Northeast Revenue Service LLC took over the county tax claim office in April 2010.
According to Northeast Revenue, records show:
• The Rockmans were on a repayment plan that was cancelled for nonpayment in 2008.
• Plans to proceed with an auction at that time were halted because a bankruptcy was filed locally in December 2008.
• The bankruptcy was closed in April 2010.
• A court action attempting to stop a sale was filed in October 2010 and dismissed in November 2011.
• Northeast Revenue tried to list the property in an April 2012 tax sale, but a county judge agreed to allow the Rockmans to enter into another repayment plan requiring $25,000 down and $14,000 in quarterly installments.
• Around the same time a second bankruptcy was filed in New York, where one of the property owners, Howard Rockman, resides. That bankruptcy is still active, preventing a sale.
Northeast Revenue representative John Rodgers, an attorney, said his company filed a claim in the current bankruptcy case and will retain a New York attorney to try to convince the bankruptcy judge to grant the county permission to sell the property.
Howard Rockman’s brother, local attorney Jeffrey Rockman, who also owns the property along with their father, Bernard, said the family has struggled because the taxes are “so high.”
He considered filing an assessment appeal but never got around to it.
“It’s hard to keep afloat. Like so many other business owners in this day and age, we are fighting to stay alive,” Jeffrey Rockman said.
The Rockmans purchased the 2.4-acre property for $300,000 in 1995, and the county assessment is $507,900. A separate appeal with the city would be necessary because the city opted against using the county’s values for city taxes after the countywide reassessment in 2009.
The 2013 tax bill for the property, before penalties and interest, was $14,600 — $2,702 for the county, $4,014 city and $7,884 school.
Jeffrey Rockman said his father started the business buying and selling bakery equipment in 1964 in Luzerne, later relocating to Nanticoke and then Wilkes-Barre in 1995.
The Oregon Street property previously housed Nicholson Steam Trap Inc., a manufacturing firm that moved operations to another state in 1994. Nicholson Steam was founded here in 1883, producing devices that hold back steam and discharge condensed water.
Maintaining the cavernous, brick industrial structure built in 1890 has been a challenge, in part due to regular break-ins, Jeffrey Rockman said.
He estimates trespassers have entered the property six times in the last two months and said the business had to close for two weeks due to a power outage caused by the theft of 700 feet of copper wire.
The family paid around $7,000 to get power restored after the copper theft, Howard Rockman said.
Jeffrey Rockman said his family will obtain another warehouse to store bakery equipment if a viable tax repayment option isn’t reached. He predicts the property would become a vacant nuisance if someone without financial means buys the place cheap at a tax auction.
“We’re trying to keep the building in productive use,” he said.
Another property in Newport Township owned by Bernard Rockman and his late wife, Harriet, is scheduled for an August free-and-clear tax sale because $19,998 in taxes are owed dating back to 2007. That property also was tied up in two bankruptcies, but the second one was closed out in January 2013, according to Northeast Revenue.
The vacant brick warehouse on West Enterprise Street did not sell in a first-stage auction last September. Taxes and other liens are forgiven at second-stage free-and-clear auctions.