The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

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July 3, 2013

Land bank offers hope

Commissioners see this as way to end plague of abandoned properties

JEFFERSON — Ashtabula County is in the process of developing a way to eliminate vacant and abandoned properties in the county.

The Ashtabula County Land Reutilization Corporation (ACLRC) was officially incorporated in May. The ACLRC, commonly referred to as a land bank, will basically hold tax-foreclosed, abandoned and vacant parcels until they can be returned to productive use.

County Treasurer Dawn Cragon began looking into the process two years ago. She said the land bank is not just a demolition tool, but can enable the repurposing of properties as well.

The land bank will provide the county the ability to quickly acquire foreclosed and vacant property. It will then hold the distressed property, clean its title and prepare it for productive use. The goal of the land bank is to secure vacant properties, which would otherwise attract crime, lower neighboring home values and incur public service costs, so they can be put to better use in the future.

The county will be working with the Western Reserve Land Conservancy to get the land bank up and running. The non-profit organization works with counties to establish rules and regulations for the land bank and then is available for consulting and advise for up to one year after the land bank begins taking in properties.

The organization will solicit foundations, on the county’s behalf, for grant funds. The grant funds will pay for WRLC’s help in establishing the county’s land bank.

There are 16 counties in the state with land banks, including Lake, Cuyahoga, Summit and Portage counties, with Ashtabula County being the most recent. Once established, the land bank will operate under a board of directors. The board will include the county treasurer and two county commissioners. The board can be expanded to up to nine people.

Cragon, Commissioner Joe Moroski and Commissioner Dan Claypool currently make up the board; however, it was decided that the board will be expanded to seven people and will include the third county commissioner as well as a representative from the City of Ashtabula, a representative from the township association and hopefully a representative from the Ashtabula County Board of Realtors.

The board needs to establish a plan for the land bank and the commissioners have to approve it before the land bank can begin to operate on its own. It will operate as a non-profit entity.

WRLC will have the initial bylaws drafted by the middle of next week for officials to review.

There will be some initial cost to the county including hiring a legal advisor and bookkeeper as the county prosecutor and county auditor cannot be used for these services, Cragon said.

A budget will also have to be established as well. The board will also need to determine how revenue will be generated for operating costs of the land bank.

Robin Thomas, land bank program director for WRLC, said the land bank can use the county’s delinquent tax and assessment collection (DTAC) fund to generate revenue.

“When delinquent taxes are collected, they are held until it’s time for the next distribution,” she said. “Five percent is held back and goes into the DTAC fund.”

The funds are distributed to the school districts in the county.

A statute allows the county to take up to an additional 5 percent and transfer it directly to the land bank, she said.

Cragon said if the county opted to take the entire 5 percent, it would generate $300,000 for the land bank; however, $30,000 will come out of the funds the districts receive.

Cragon said the county needs to get everyone on board with the idea and then establish a budget. The entire 5 percent may not be needed.

“This is a great thing for the community,” said Commissioner Peggy Carlo.

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