Town hall meeting held on land bank

By Lorna Hart - Special to OVP

POMEROY — County Treasurer Peggy Yost did not make a determination on moving forward with a county land bank during Thurday evenings town hall meeting.

The courtroom of the Meigs County Courthouse was filled with residents and village officials who came to express their views on the establishment of a land bank in Meigs County.

As reported in September, village inspectors from Pomeroy and Middleport previously brought the idea of county land bank to the attention of their respective councils as a way of addressing the growing problem of abandoned properties.

After making contact with other Land Banks in Ohio, the inspectors presented their information to their respective councils, who then took the idea before the Commissioners.

According to the Center for Community Progress, “land banks are governmental entities or nonprofit corporations that are focused on the conversion of vacant, abandoned, and tax delinquent properties into productive use.”

The land banks are designed to help revitalize areas and properties which have been abandoned or have not been taken care of for many years.

The idea of a land bank 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 57 in Ohio, Gallia County is the latest addition.

After several county commissioner meetings, a resolution in support of the idea was issued and sent to County Treasurer Peggy Yost in late August, who has the ultimate authority to either adopt or reject the idea of a land bank, according to the legislation.

Two concerned business owners approached the Meigs County Commissioners during last Thursday’s regular meeting, asking the status of the proposed land bank for Meigs County.

Commissioners Jimmy Will explained that the establishment of the land bank is a two part process. The first step in the process was the resolution passed by the commissioners earlier in the year.The second step is for the county treasurer to file the articles to form the land bank.

Will indicated he had not received a clear reason why Yost had not moved forward.

Should the land bank process not be completed by the end of 2019, the county stands to lose funding which is set aside for counties who establish new land banks.

Speaking for the commissioners, Will said the land bank could help with efforts to clean up the properties and to address the delinquent tax problem in the county.

Meigs County tax collection is around 68 percent, well below the surrounding counties which are in the 90s. The current estimate amount of delinquent taxes is between six and seven million dollars.

With questions surrounding the deadline and reasons it has not been moving forward, a town hall meeting was scheduled by the commissioners to include the treasurer and auditor.

Commissioner president Tim Ihle opened the meeting.

“The first time land banks were presented to the commissioners it didn’t seem like a good idea for our county, but the laws around the land banks has been tweaked, so the question came up again, and with the new information we reconsidered,” said Ihle.

Ihle said that the state’s offer of seed money for the program meant county dollars would not be needed to begin the program.

Commissioner Randy Smith explained that without state funding a land bank would not be possible given the county would only have a small portion of tax revenue to begin operation.

Smith also said that the original $250,000 grant was now reduced to $175,000.

“With every day we wait the amount of money gets smaller, the state had a pot to distribute and when it is gone it is gone. When we passed the resolution we were looking at $250,000, now it is down to $175,000, and for all we know at this time it could all be gone,” said Smith.

“This won’t solve our problem of delinquent taxes and blighted properties, but it is another tool we can use,” added Smith.

Ihle said the same procedure for foreclosures must be followed before properties would be eligible for the land bank program.

“(The county) would still go through the current system, we would just have other options on what to do with the property if taxes aren’t paid and it isn’t sold in a sheriff’s auction.”

Several topics were covered during the meeting, ranging from the pros and cons of land banks to efficiently managing the process already in place.

Racine Mayor Scott Hill and Syracuse Mayor Eric Cunningham expressed their support for a land bank, both agreeing it would help with rundown properties in their villages.

Pomeroy Mayor Don Anderson said land banks would encourage new growth where delinquent rundown properties now stand.

“If someone restores a property or builds a new home, it provides taxes for our village. We aren’t collecting taxes on those abandoned properties, and they are discouraging investment in our community,” said Anderson.

Middleport Village Administrator Mike Hendrickson. encouraged residents not to fear the land bank initiative.

“I’ve done a lot of research and think it is a good thing for our county. Rules will be set by the committee for our land bank, I can only see it as a good thing,” said Hendrickson.

Some in the audience expressed concerns that land banks could be abused by those seeking to purchase property cheaply. Some argued it is government overreach; others argued that a process is in place already, and that the county should just work on administrating it efficiently and timely.

When Treasurer Peggy Yost was asked if she would now consider the land bank, she said she was rethinking her decision, but did not make her final decision known at the meeting.

When pressed by audience members on why she had so far declined to submit the application, and whether she was reconsidering, Yost did not directly address the question.

“I have learned so much about land banks in these past few days,” said Yost.

She also said her office is always working on collecting back taxes, and that they have new information that will assist them.

The Meigs County Commissioners meet each Thursday at 11 a.m. in their office on the third floor of the Meigs County Courthouse.

By Lorna Hart

Special to OVP

Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.

Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.