Meigs Commissioners talk ‘Land Bank’ option

By Lorna Hart - Special to OVP

POMEROY — After the approval of last week’s minutes and payment of county bills, the Meigs County Commissioners quickly moved through Thursday’s agenda.

Appropriation adjustments for the Meigs County Veteran Service Office were made in the amount of $251. The commissioners certified an unappropriated $15,000 for Common Pleas assigned counsel; they will later receive, an 80 percent reimbursement from the state. In 2020 the reimbursement amount for similar expenditures will be 100 percent.

Funds totaling $55644.61 were moved from the county’s certified unappropriated category to pay for housing, uniform allocation, salaries and repairs for the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office.

Resident Tom Ganoway was present at the meeting to voice concerns regarding County Land Banks, an option the commissioners are exploring to address the issue of vacant, rundown properties with unpaid taxes.

Earlier this year the commissioners passed a resolution to move the idea forward after council representatives from Middleport and Pomeroy argued for the establishment of a Land Bank in the county.

Commissioner President Tim Ihle assured Ganoway that no decisions had been made, that the commissioners were looking into the pros and cons and would need to verify whether it would be appropriate for Meigs.

Village inspectors Alan Miles, Pomeroy and Mike Hendricks, Middleport brought the idea to the attention of their respective councils as a way of addressing the growing problem of abandoned properties.

Miles said, “We didn’t want to present a problem without a solution, so we began our research.”

Miles said he and Hendricks made contact with other Land Banks in Ohio and presented their information to their respective councils, who then took the idea before the commissioners.

After several meetings a resolution in support of the idea was issued and sent to County Treasurer Peggy Yost who will determine the next steps regarding the proposal.

The idea of Land Banks is not new, the original legislation was passed in Ohio in 2008 for Cuyahoga County only. The Law was amended in 2010 for counties with populations of at least 60,000. In 2015 the population requirement was removed, and now all counties are eligible to form county Land Banks. There are currently 42 in Ohio.

Proponents see them as “playing a vital role promoting urban revitalization, renewal, and community pride.”

Many other states have successfully used Land Banks to revitalize areas, and Miles said as a former resident of California he saw many advantages to the program, adding, “We have so many abandoned properties in the villages we stopped writing citations. There is no need to spend time identifying these properties if nothing can be done about them. We need a permanent solution so our communities can move forward.“

The County Land Bank would not be exclusive to villages, townships would also be included. Their functions can be tailored to the needs of individual counties, and their municipalities and townships.

An important component of the guidelines for acquisition of vacant property are that the Bank can only acquire it if a municipality or township does not want the property.

Opponents also see opportunity for abuse if the Land Banks are not managed properly.

A frequent misconception is that a Land Bank is a government office when in fact it is not. Created by government but operated by a private, non-profit corporation, rules and oversight for its operation have been outlined in state legislation.

According to information gathered from the state auditor and the County Commissioners Association, Land Banks are private, non-profit corporations, not a county agency. The primary function of a land bank is as a facilitator for “the return of vacant, abandoned, and tax foreclosed property to productive tax paying economic uses or to beneficial public uses.”

Another question is who would pay start up costs. According to Commissioner Randy Smith, the state has several grants that would fund the initial investment, and moving forward the Bank would be self funding, collecting money from the sale of acquired properties.

“We have property tied up in back taxes, we need to make better use of land in the county, and we are looking for a vessel to channel money for demolition and property improvement. This is just one option we are exploring.”

The commissioners then called a short recess, after which they were to reconvene to discuss next year’s budget with county officials that included Steve Jenkins, Soil and Water District program administrator, Auditor Mary Byer-Hill, Treasurer Peggy Yost, Recorder Kay Hill, Clerk of Courts Sammi Mugrage, Prosecutor James Stanley, and Sheriff Keith Wood.

Earlier that morning the Meigs County Sub-Committee meeting round 34 for the State Capital Improvement Program (SCIP) and the Local Transportation Improvement Program (LTIP) was held at the court house.

SCIP is a grant/loan program for roads, bridges, water supply, wastewater treatment, storm water collection, and solid waste disposal. LTIP is a grant program for roads and bridges only.

The programs run concurrently, and assist local communities in financing public infrastructure improvements; the Ohio Public Works Commission administers them.

Projects are selected for funding using a merit-based process, with higher point values having a higher chance of being funded by the state.

Commissioners are optimistic that improvement requests for the villages of Pomeroy, Middleport, and Syracuse, and cooperative paving projects for the county will be approved by the state.

By Lorna Hart

Special to OVP

Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.

Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.