Portage earmarks $300,000 for housing rehab program

By Mike sever | staff writer Published:

A board targeting blighted property in Portage County will be getting a little more funding to stay in business after a state grant runs out and to rehabilitate, rather than just demolish, blighted homes.

"The problem right now is we have absolutely no money," said Portage County Treasurer Vicki Kline, who chairs the Portage County Land Reutilization Corporation.

To raise money, Kline requested commissioners approve using 5 percent of the funds in the treasurer's delinquent tax and assessment collection fund for land bank operations including rehabilitation of properties, as allowed by state law.

Commissioners approved the change last week. That will provide an estimated $300,000 per year to the land bank, Kline said.

The change will mean slightly lower amounts to school districts and local governments. The dollar amount will vary depending on how much is collected on delinquent taxes. Kline said she talked with local officials -- school superintendents and treasurers in particular -- to get their approval before requesting the additional funding.

The Portage County Land Reutilization Corporation was formed just six months ago to take advantage of up to $812,000 in state funds for the demolition of blighted and abandoned residential properties.

That's split between $500,000 in a straight grant with no local match required and another $312,000 that would need a dollar-for-dollar local match. The money came from Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, part of $75 million Ohio got from a national mortgage settlement.

It came with the caveat that the money could only be used for demolition, and had to be used by the end of this year.

The grant reimburses for demolition money spent by the land bank, but does not cover rehabilitation of properties or for any administrative costs. That's a problem for a program that didn't exist before the state grant came about.

The impact of the funding change on local governments and schools will be lessened as delinquent taxes are paid and abandoned properties are put back on the tax rolls, Kline said. Last year, her office collected $3.5 million on delinquent taxes.

"We have been very aggressive on these tax lien sales," Kline said. In fact, she said, her office collected $45,000 in two days after a letter went out notifying delinquent property owners their property could go to tax lien sale.

The land bank is hearing from people who live out of state and may have inherited property here in which they have no interest. They are also taking suggestions for potential demolition from local governments.

"We have four properties in the headlights right now we are ready to move on, and probably about two pages of potentials," Kline said.

She said she expects to begin demolition this spring. The land bank does not need to take legal title to properties to be demolished.

"If it's a health hazard we can have it condemned. We don't have to take ownership to demolish it. I don't want to take ownership because then you have problems with keeping it up. I don't want to become a landlord on this," Kline said.

Kline said she hopes the program can become self-funding and won't need the five percent from the local governments and schools.

"In the long run, I'm hoping that these places where we demolish will go back on the tax rolls. And we can rehab some of them and get them back on the tax rolls," Kline said.

Some townships were leery of getting involved in Kline said they can use in-kind labor to qualify for the local match

By law, the land bank board must have at least five members consisting of two county commissioners (Maureen T. Frederick and Tommie Jo Marsilio), the county treasurer (Kline) and representatives from the most populous city (Bridget Susel of Kent) and township (Dick Messner of Brimfield). The board expanded beyond that to include representation from villages (Rob Donham of Windham), the township association (Dan Derreberry), a nonprofit dealing with blight elimination (Brian Reitz of Habitat for Humanity) and a development group (Bradford Ehrhart of the Portage Development Board).

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