The Portage County Land Reutilization Corp., just a few months old, is growing up quickly. It now has a funding source and a list of properties that could be eligible for demolition this summer.
The land bank was born out of an Ohio Attorney General grant program to help communities demolish abandoned and blighted buildings. Portage is eligible for $500,000 in a no-strings grant and another $312,000 that needs a dollar-for-dollar local match.
Portage County commissioners gave the land bank a financial boost by agreeing to allocate 5 percent of funds in the county treasurer's delinquent tax and assessment collection fund (DTAC) to the new group. The first payment totaled $264,538.45.
Portage County Treasurer Vicki Kline said at a recent board meeting the funding gives the land bank a source for the local match money needed for the grant and a continuing source of funds once the state grant is used up. DTAC funds are shared with local governments, with school districts the primary recipients. Kline said she met with school superintendents to let them know what the land bank's intentions are.
"It was so important for me to get them on board," Kline said. She said she asked them to look at giving up part of the DTAC money as an investment. "The idea is to get the property back on the tax rolls," she said. Getting that agreement was made easy because Kline's office is aggressively collecting delinquent taxes that are owed, and working with property owners who are having a hard time, she said.
The DTAC funds mean the land bank will have money for the local match necessary under the attorney general's program and for future demolition work.
Kline, who chairs the land bank board, said the group is progressing nicely toward its goals.
The land bank is still very young as organizations go. It is working on its policies and procedures to acquire and dispose of properties while it tries to make the most of the state grant program.
Bridget Susel, director of Community Development for Kent, said the board still has to adopt its policies on what properties the land bank will acquire. The land bank can acquire properties by donation, foreclosure and forfeiture, Kline said.
The aim is to use up the state grant for residential demolition to eliminate as much blight in the community as possible and then get the property back on the tax rolls.
"I can't stress enough, I don't want us to become a landlord," and be responsible for continuing, expensive maintenance of properties, Kline said.
The land bank has more than 20 properties listed for demolition, mostly from townships. Windham Mayor Rob Donham said his village has 17 properties it would like to see demolished. Now that the land bank has an earmarked source of funds, it can handle more. But some townships have not submitted any properties for potential demolition.
"Townships that haven't submitted properties need to get on the ball," Kline said. "All of them are fully aware of the program and what needs to be done. It's up to them to take advantage or not."
When the state grant program was announced, townships were interested but didn't have the money for the required local match.
"They'll be comfortable knowing we've got money to work with" and knowing they won't be stuck with the costs, said Dan Derreberry, an Atwater trustee, and land bank director. As word of the land bank grows, trustees are getting calls about potential properties "and they are going out and looking. We encourage that. Who knows the township better than (trustees)?" Kline said.
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