County OKs land bank

LISBON – Columbiana County commissioners decided Wednesday to officially get into the land bank business.

Commissioners adopted a resolution to create the Land Reutilization Corp. and authorize the county treasurer to file the necessary articles of incorporation with the Ohio Secretary of State.

The action comes two weeks after commissioners met with representatives from local communities to discuss creating a land bank, which is a program enabling counties to quickly acquire and demolish dilapidated and abandoned buildings subject to mortgage and delinquent real estate foreclosures.

The Land Reutilization Corp., or LRC, is a quasi-government body that would administer the land bank program through a board that is to consist of five to nine members, with the exact size to be determined by commissioners. There are four permanent board members, consisting of two commissioners, the county treasurer and a representative from the county’s largest city, which is Salem.

County Development Department Director Tad Herold, whose office is to oversee the program, said after the articles of incorporation are filed the board will hold its first meeting to decide how many at-large members to add.

In addition to acquiring and demolishing abandoned buildings, Herold said the LRC can acquire property as part of an economic development project and seek state or federal funds to assist with its redevelopment.

The resolution does not spell out how the land bank program will be funded, although state law allows the LRC to take up to 5 percent of annual delinquent property tax collections for this purpose. Herold does not anticipate that happening, at least initially, with commissioners providing whatever funding is needed for now.

“What we’re hoping to do is get the land bank in place, begin with a couple of properties for demolition” and seek federal fund to cover the costs, he said.

Commissioners are moving quickly on creating a land bank so the county will be eligible to seek federal housing demolition money specifically earmarked for land banks through the Ohio Housing Finance Authority. Approximately $10.5 million is available during the next funding round, and the application deadline is July 31.

“If we are successful that will keep us busy for several months,” Herold said.

Commissioner Mike Halleck believes there is widespread support for the program, saying East Liverpool and Salem officials have expressed an interest in participating. Herold said he has yet to receive a single negative comment about the program from any local officials.

Cities, villages and townships interested in participating will be asked to sign a memorandum of understanding, which is a cooperative agreement establishing a framework for how property is to be acquired for the land bank. The idea behind the demolition program is to make blighted property available for redevelopment.