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The intent is to collect back taxes, but in reality it's more like Utah County's version of the New York Stock Exchange.

For the more than 100 speculators who packed into the County Commission room Thursday for the county's annual tax sale, it's too bad it only happens once a year. For those who are no longer the sole owners of their property, it's too bad it happens at all.Each year the county holds the sale to clear its books of taxes that are more than five years delinquent. The county sells the property only after all other collection efforts have failed.

This year, J. Bruce Peacock, county clerk/auditor, auctioned off 42 pieces of property; two pieces went unsold. The sale brought the county more than $75,000 in back taxes.

Even though the sale is intended to benefit the county, you would never know it. That's because the ones who really hope to benefit from the sale are those who spent the past few weeks doing their homework and spent Thursday lifting their fingers.

Utah County's tax sale is unusual. People do not bid on the price of the property, they bid on how much of the property they will own by paying the back taxes. For lots and other real property, the one who will pay the taxes for the least amount of ownership is awarded the bid.

For example; one man bought 39 feet of a 180-foot deep piece of property by paying the $1,170 in taxes. Another man bought one square foot of a lot for $475. Another now owns four feet of a furniture store's property by paying the $577 in back taxes.

On homes, they bid on percentage of ownership. This year a man bought 28 percent of a house in Santaquin by paying $2,285 in taxes. Another bought 9 percent of a Provo condominium for $2,341.

"When this is over with would someone please tell me what you're going to do with less than 50 percent of a house?" Peacock asked.

According to those at the sale, the speculators use the property they purchase for bartering power, hoping to sell the property for more than they paid for it. Others hope to force a trustee's sale or a foreclosure on the property.

"It's a crap shoot," one man said. "You never know when you're going to roll the right number."

In some rare cases, the buyer wants the property for his own use. Others, like Guy Black of Provo, hope to sell the land to an adjacent landowner.

"To me it's more of a hobby than anything else," Black said.

If you're a gambler, speculator or even a prospector and did not attend this year's tax sale, you missed out. But it's not too early to start sharpening your pencils, picks and shovels for next year. After all, as one man said while leaving Thursday's sale, "Those who do their homework the best are usually the ones who find the diamond in the rough."