St. Louis County will auction 90 tax-forfeited properties on Thursday in Hermantown — the first of three live auctions the county holds annually.

The auction begins at 10 a.m. at the AAD Shriners Center, 5152 Miller Trunk Highway.

But it’s not the only way to get a first look at real estate available through the county.

The county’s first online auction wrapped up Monday, with four of 18 properties being sold in an online marketplace.

“We were hoping it would open up to new bidders, and the online auction reflected that,” Julie Marinucci said. “We had bidders from all over the country.”

Based in Virginia, Marinucci is deputy director for land asset management in the county’s Land and Minerals Department. She said that of the four properties sold in the pilot online auction, three were purchased by buyers outside of Minnesota.

“It’s exactly what we were hoping — to see external interest in property here in our county,” Marinucci said.

The county’s live auctions, while popular, can be difficult for many people to attend given that the auctions occur in the middle of a workday, Marinucci said.

A recent change in state statute provides greater flexibility and efficiency in public land sale procedures, a county news release said in December, when the online auction was announced.

The online platform gives the county a broader audience and runs continuously. Properties that didn’t sell in the original online auction have been relisted for an additional 35 days, and include residential, multi-use and light industrial properties.

None of the properties in Thursday’s live auction are listed in the online auction.

The properties available online ranged from starting bids of $2,850 to $259,000.

“Since it was our first time doing it we wanted to give a cross-section of the properties that have come available,” Marinucci said. “We had commercial structures, cabin structures, bare lands and small plots within municipalities.”

Tax-forfeited properties are inherited by the county from owners who were tax-delinquent.

Marinucci explained that it’s the county’s goal to keep owners together with their property, but that there are a number of reasons why that doesn’t always happen.

If the forfeited properties aren’t suited for mineral or forest management, the county prepares the properties for auction.

It benefits the county, Marinucci said, to have the properties put back into productive status with new owners paying property taxes.

“The goal of these sales is to return these properties to private ownership, encourage economic development and expand the property tax base,” the December county news release said.

Any properties not purchased in either the live or online auctions remain available for purchase over the counter on a first-come, first-served basis through the Land and Minerals Department.

The county has approximately 900,000 acres of tax-forfeited property. The titles to the land are held by the state in a tax-forfeited land trust.

St. Louis County manages its land for the benefit of the trust, and apportions all revenue.

The county's Land and Minerals Department does not receive General Fund money from the county to manage its lands.

"Instead, the department operates on revenue generated by sales of land, timber stumpage, gravel, peat and lease fees from recreational cabin sites and encumbrances," the St. Louis County website explained.

Any revenue over and above expenses is distributed by the County Board to various funds and local jurisdictions, according to state statute. The payout in 2019 to cities, towns and schools was $191,688.