Belmont County Land bank works out funding

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The Belmont County Land Reutilization Corporation operations will continue as planned, although with some changes of plan concerning funding.

During Wednesday’s meeting the commissioners authorized and designated an added five percent of all collections of delinquent real property, and manufactured and mobile home taxes and assessments to be deposited in the delinquent tax and assessment collection fund for the use of appropriating such amounts for the Belmont County Land Reutilization Corporation and providing for related matters.

Treasurer Katherine Kelich, member of the LRC board, requested the board designate 2.5 rather than the expected five percent from the DTAC fund. She said she made her decision based on concern for the ability of schools and local governments to make ends meet in the face of cuts from the state and levy losses.

To make the five percent for this year, she has pledged the treasurer’s portion of the second half of 2013 pay 2014 delinquent tax collection.

Kelich noted that both her office and the treasurer’s office receive 2.5 percent of the DTAC fund.

“We are going to give up ours and give it to the land bank to give it a good opportunity to get started,” she said. “I’m very hopeful that the 2.5 will be enough to get it through.”

She is withholding a request for any additional DTAC funding at this time. She voiced the hope that the land bank will soon become self-sustaining through its redevelopment activities. If this does not happen as quickly as hoped, she will consider an additional pledge of DTAC funds in subsequent years.

“I’m very hopeful that the Belmont County Land Re-utilization Corporation will be self-sustaining. When we start acquiring properties, whether it’s under demolition or not, then when we sell the properties we can be self-sustaining. It’ll pay for itself,” she said. “I’m hoping that the 2.5 percent will be the most that we need to do.”

She noted that she was hesitant about increasing the DTAC to five percent.

“In any government situation, once money goes out it never seems to come back in,” she said. “If we take that DTAC money, I don’t anticipate it ever going back.”

She added that she would be willing to revisit the matter in upcoming years if necessary. She said there would also be time to further consult with the schools and municipalities.

“I want to work with the commissioners, and since I’m on the land bank I do want it to succeed,” she said.

The commissioners spoke about the importance of the land bank in improving the economy and safety of the county.

“He have to do what’s best for the county as a whole, and what’s best for the county as a whole is to work towards grant funds and an organization that can address the blight that persists throughout the county,” said Commissioner Ginny Favede, who sits on the LRC board. “It is crucial that this plan be looked at in a positive light in its ability to help local government. That is its primary purpose.”

Commissioner Mark Thomas, not on the land bank board, but offering legal expertise, noted that the LRC has the ability to benefit the entire county in cleaning up dilapidated property and make productive fiscal use of those properties. He noted the long term benefits of the land bank, which he said offset any concerns about a loss of funds through the use of DTAC.

“When we do clean up these properties, whether they are purchased by private developers and those properties rehabbed and put in productive residential/commercial use or if they are torn down and then the lots sold again to private residential and/or commercial developers who will build on those lots they will again become again productive tax-paying lots in Belmont County.”

He added that the school districts receive about 65 percent of every tax bill in the county.

“The schools will end up benefitting way above where they stand now,” he said, noting that the properties targeted are currently not paying taxes.

Favede added that the land bank is designed specifically to aid local governments with the immediate target areas of Bellaire, Bridgeport and Martins Ferry.

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com