More than $4.4 million in real estate taxes were sold in Madison County on Wednesday to a record number of buyers, according to Treasurer Kurt Prenzler.

Prenzler said that 49 tax buyers participated in the sale of 2,512 parcels.

He also said that the weighted average penalty rate was 2.65 percent, down from 3.9 percent in 2011 when he conducted the first sale of his administration.

At tax sales, buyers compete with one another to pay other peoples' delinquent taxes. Buyers are compensated by receiving a penalty rate. Bidding begins at 18 percent, the highest penalty rate allowed by Illinois law.

Prenzler said his office mailed out about 130,000 tax bills last May, of which 2,512 were delinquent as of yesterday's sale.

"The school districts and other taxing entities have budgeted for this money, and at some point, these bills must be paid," he said in a statement.

Prenzler was elected in November 2010. In his campaign, he attacked previous administrations over high penalty rates late tax payers had to pay.

In a press release, Prenzler said that in November 2007 and November 2008 - under the administration of former Treasurer Fred Bathon - tax sales generated average penalty rates of 18 percent.

He claimed political contributions from tax buyers influenced the tax buying process.

In last year's tax sale, Prenzler said 37 tax buyers purchased 2,710 parcels for $4.5 million with a weighted average of 3.91 percent.

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