Board establishing framework for land bank program

LISBON – The board overseeing Columbiana County’s new land bank program met Friday to continue establishing a framework for how it will operate.

The board of directors for the Land Re-Utilization Corp., as the program is officially known, adopted an ethics/conflict of interest policy, as well as policies for acquiring, demolishing, maintaining and rehabilitating properties they acquire.

County Development Director Tad Herold, whose office will administer the program, said the board held off approving the policy that would govern the disposal of acquired properties pending some suggested minor wording changes.

The land bank was created six weeks ago by county commissioners to address the problem of foreclosed and abandoned homes and properties that have deteriorated to the point where they need razed. The land bank can acquire abandoned properties that are subject to delinquent property tax foreclosures without having to pay the back taxes and related fees.

Although eliminating public eyesores through demolishing dilapidated structures and then reselling these properties is the stated goal, the land bank can also purchase other properties if it so desires to assist with an economic development project or to donate for use by a non-profit organization.

“We could go out and purchase property, but foreclosed properties are our priority … Our thrust is to look for properties to demolish,” Herold said.

The land bank will be required to have a plan for maintaining and disposing of any property it acquires, so Herold said it is unlikely they will make any purchase just for the sake of acquiring the property.

“We do not want to acquire a property and become the new bad landlord,” he said.

The land bank has no money, and Herold agreed his office and staff will assume the additional duties for free, at least for now. The board voted Friday to officially contract with the development department to administer the program.

Herold expects to work eight hours per week on land bank business, and he said while they could begin acquiring property now for free, demolishing the home and mowing the grass afterward take money, which is why nothing will be done until the county learns the fate of a grant application. He is in the process of applying for some of the $10.5 million in federal housing demolition money available specifically for land banks through the Ohio Housing Financing Authority.

State law also allows land banks to be funded with up to 5 percent of delinquent property taxes collected annually through the county treasurer’s delinquent tax assessment and collection (DTAC) program.

“If we don’t get any grant money, we don’t have any money to do anything … Then (commissioners) have to think about passing the DTAC” measure, Herold said.

Attending the meeting, besides Herold, were the following board members: Commissioner Jim Hoppel, Treasurer Linda Bolon, Salem Mayor John Berlin and East Liverpool City Councilwoman Sherrie Curtis. Absent were Commissioner Mike Halleck, who was on vacation; St. Clair Township Trustee Jim Hall, due to have surgery; and East Palestine Village Manager Pete Monteleone, who said he was unable to attend.