The Ohio Attorney General’s (AG) office, which recently received $75 million in federal funding from a national mortgage settlement, will soon distribute the funds to individual counties to help demolish abandoned and condemned houses, according to AG spokesman Dan Tierney.
One obstacle to Butler County receiving federal funding is the absence of a land bank within the county, according to Butler County Treasurer Nancy Nix.
However, Butler County will still be eligible to apply and may soon be working to create a land bank, Nix said.
Tierney said that the Attorney General is still working to establish a grant that counties can apply for to receive a portion of those funds.
“He is still developing grant criteria for that program and there have been no applications, disbursements or rejections,” Tierney said. There is currently no application in place yet, and a deadline has not been decided.
Counties with a land bank have a revenue stream that could match the grant on a dollar-to-dollar basis, and that is what is needed to receive part of the grant to demolish buildings, according to Tierney.
But what is a land bank?
According to Robert Rink, vice president of legal affairs and public records manager for the Cuyahoga County land bank, the main job of a land bank is to acquire vacant, foreclosed or condemned houses or property and turn them into something that can be resold.
“In some cases, rehabilitations wouldn’t be possible, so some are demolitions,” Rink said.
According to Rink, 80 percent of the land the Cuyahoga County land bank acquires is demolished.
“Our goal is not to accumulate and hold on to the land but to acquire the land and make it usable,” Rink said.
Butler County does not currently have a land bank, but could still be eligible to apply for the grant, according to Tierney.
“For a local community to apply for the grant, [it] needs to be able to match [the grant] dollar-for-dollar,” Tierney said.
Establishing a land bank in Butler County is an idea that has been discussed and researched, according to Mike Campbell, interim county administrator for Butler County.
“We have discussed land banking both at the county level and with the Port Authority and we did have some officials come in in early December to do a presentation on land banking utilization,” Campbell said.
Nix concurs with Campbell, but is more specific in her wishes for a county land bank.
“I imagine that in due time we will get one up in running but it will not be a funded land bank,” Nix said.
For a county to get a funded land bank, the funds would have to come from source other than delinquent tax. School districts and other agencies would have to receive cuts for a funded land bank to be started, Nix said.
“Currently, when I collect taxes, [it is] a very small portion of the delinquent tax charges, so what the model is for the land bank is to increase the amount that the treasurer and prosecutor are currently getting and have that go to a land bank,” Nix said.
For example, instead of 95 percent of taxes going to schools and agencies, only 90 percent would go there and the remaining 5 percent would go to the funded land bank.
“If you are going to fund the land bank, a big portion would come from Lakota Schools, which would not benefit, but would take the tax hit,” Nix said. Nix wants an unfunded land bank in order to not take away potential revenue from taxes of other municipal areas, such as school districts of public agencies.
Aside from a land bank, there is another way for counties to acquire funds to demolish properties.
“There is a section in Ohio law: chapter 57 22, [known as] Land Reutilization, [that states] any county or township or municipality can name themselves a land bank,” Rink said.
The county can essentially do the same thing as a land bank and go into the business of utilizing properties to get money for demolition.