Land bank may be too efficient

With lower costs, program having some trouble using up grant funds

LISBON — Columbiana County’s land bank program has been so successful at lowering the cost of demolitions that it could result in less funding to raze more homes.

The land bank received $3.2 million in federal Neighborhood Initiative Program funding over the past several years to demolish homes. Program director Robert Ritchey reported 75 percent — $2.4 million — must be spent or committed by Oct. 31, or the remainder of the NIP funding will be withheld.

“This is a concern all land banks are sharing,” he said.

About $2.2 million has been spent or committed to date, Ritchey said, which means the remaining $1 million in NIPs funding the county is due could be withheld for failing to meet the Oct. 31 deadline.

Ritchey said the good news is all of the NIP funding withheld across the state will go into a pot, and the same land banks can apply for funding from that pot to continue demolishing homes.

“I don’t want it to seem like we’re going to lose all of that money because we can still apply for money out of the new pool,” he said.

There is a chance the county’s reduction would be less because 22 homes in East Liverpool are scheduled to be razed in October.

Ritchey said almost all of the land banks are having difficulty meeting the spending deadlines. One of the reasons is they are spending at a slower pace because as the program progressed more contractors began submitting bids, driving down demolition costs.

All of the grant money has to be spent by Dec. 31, 2019, and the county hopes to demolish 175 to 200 homes with the $3.2 million, which can only be spent in the target area of East Liverpool, Salem and Wellsville. To date, 114 homes have been demolished — 70 in East Liverpool, 33 in Wellsville and 11 in Salem.

Ritchey reported the home demolition program they have expanded to communities outside the NIP target area is proceeding. This program is being funded with a percentage of the proceeds from delinquent property tax foreclosures, which is allowed by law. These funds are being used to demolish one home each in Lisbon, East Palestine and New Waterford.

Other communities have submitted properties for demolition using delinquent property tax foreclosure money: Butler Township, 3; Center Township, 6; East Palestine, 2; Lisbon, 2; and Salineville, 32. Ritchey said these properties will be evaluated before they decide which ones to demolish.

Ritchey also reported 59 people are acquiring land bank properties through the mow-to-own program in which they agree to maintain the property for three years in exchange for a $360 credit towards it purchase. The MTO agreements are in East Liverpool (27), Wellsville (26) and Salem (6).

The board also voted to give East Liverpool, Salem and Wellsville $5,000 each in NIP funding for beautification projects.

The board also agreed to donate back $5,000 given the land bank program by East Liverpool, with the city to use the money in implementing a new program to board up vacant problem homes in town that have not been acquired by the land bank.