Real estate taxpayers in Alexandria have fallen $1.2 million in arrears over the last 20 years, but the city, unlike other Washington-area jurisdictions, has taken no legal action to collect the unpaid taxes, finance director Howard Holton said yesterday.

Among those in arrears in their real estate taxes are Mayor Frank E. Mann, businessman John C. Richards, and a former Republican candidate for sheriff Robert J. Sweeney, whose partnership owes $17,800 in taxes on their Potomac River shoreline property.

Mann said that it was Richards, who by agreement of the partnership, had responsiblity over "taking care of the property" including the payment of taxes.

Mann said "for some mysterious reason we ceased getting tax bills." Mann and Richards contended that the land was valued by city assessors at too high a price for undeveloped land and that they believed they had ceased getting billed because the city was considering the partnership's complaint of over-evaluation.

According to Burton B. Hanbury Jr., assistant city attorney, collecting the back taxes in court is more trouble than it's worth and is low on the city's priorities for increasing revenue.

"Delinquent real estate taxes tend to collect themselves," he said, noting that while personal property such as cars may be removed from the city, real estate is always within reach of the courts, and is subject to a tax lien.

But most Washington-area governments avail themselves of state laws providing for a sale of the property on which taxes are more than three years in arrears to generate revenue from the unpaid taxes.

Fairfax County notifies those delinquent in their real estate taxes that they have 15 days in which to pay up or face a court proceeding and eventual sale of thei property, according to the private law firm tht handles the county's tax problems.

Arlington County Treasurer Bennie Fletcher, said Arlington garnishes delinquent taxpayers paychecks, attaches their bank accounts and brings suit against them.

Prince George's County holds regulars sales of property on which taxes are more than three years in arrears, according to finance director William R. Brown, Jr.

Hanbury said that in the next 12 months he will program a computer with the delinquent taxpayers' names, and institue legal proceedings against them in lots of 25. A similar process was recently begun in dealing with delinquent taxes on personal property, he said.

Holton said he has sent letters to each delinquent taxpaper, although he said he does not know the exact number.

But Richards, a partner with Mann and Sweeney, said he never received a letter or bill for overdue taxes and that he "had never been pestered" by the city for the back taxes.

The property, owned in the name of the Port of Alexandria Co., was assessed by the city at a fair market value of $296,400, with annual taxes due of $5,038, according to the city's records. Taxes have not been paid on the property in three years, except for a payment of $500 last Decemeber, which Richards said he paid "out of the goodness of my heart, and because I did not get a bill. They said "thank you very much,'" he said.

In addition to the $5,038 in yearly taxes an 8 per cent penalty is levied and another 8 per cent in annual interest is assessed.

The property, located on the cast side of South Strand Street, is currently used as a parking lot and leased to the Chesapeake Bay-Potomac River Steamship Co., Inc., according to the firm's president, Donal Davie.

Davis and Richards refused to disclose the amount of rent they collect for the parking facility.