Land bank moving forward

ST. CLAIRSVILLE The county land bank held its second meeting Wednesday, following a regular session of the commissioners, and saw the selection of the board’s fifth member.

Richland Township Trustee Greg Reline was selected by Richland Township to join Commissioners Ginny Favede and Matt Coffland, and Treasurer Kathy Kelich. Martins Ferry Mayor Paul Riethmiller will serve as the fifth member, but was represented by Martins Ferry Development Director Kathy Wade-Gagin.

Robin Darden Thomas, Western Reserve Land Conservancy Thriving Communities Institute, had been retained to advise the board on the process of establishing a Land Bank.

“With the townships across the county I know that every one of them has issues with dilapidated structures, structures that are no longer livable and we are going to be able to make an impact throughout and across the county to get rid of some of these blighted structures,” he said. Reline, a former fire chief of the Cumberland Trail Fire District, said he dealt in unsafe and dilapidated structures throughout his career. “I’m going to be able to bring that to the board.”

Kelich raised the issue of whether Reline’s background had sufficient experience in real estate and rehabilitation to meet the statue requirements. After some discussion, the board concluded that Coffland’s experience covered the statues’ requirement for a member with expertise on non-profit or private sector real estate acquisition or rehabilitation.

The matter settled, the board looked into further steps necessary to establish the land bank before they are able to apply for funding through the Neighborhood Initiative Program. They will apply for $500,000. The application process has already begun and must be submitted by July 31.

Kelich related that it would be necessary to fund the land bank by a Delinquent Tax Assessment Collection fee increase of five percent. She noted that this will take away from the political subdivisions and though the issue had been discussed with the school districts, and they have no objection to the plan. The municipalities and townships must be contacted.

The funding will begin after settlement on tax collection. After collection is completed July 25, paperwork will be sent to the state for settlement. A wait of about three to six weeks is expected for the settlement, followed by distribution to the political subdivisions.

The board noted that the benefits to the land bank would likely offset these costs.

Kelich also reported on the process of finding a corporate bank account. Several local banks were contacted. Board motioned to set up the account with Huntington Bank, since they have promised collateralization and the money could flux more than $250,000 at one time.

The board will also investigate the purchasing of insurance coverage.

The board approved the ethics policy and will consider a whistleblower policy.

If the grant is approved for the land bank, they must select 20 properties. They must own at least 10 properties by March of 2015.

A county land bank is a private, non-profit corporation that is not classified as a county agency and is committed to the public purpose of promoting economic and housing development and facilitating the reclamation, rehabilitation and reutilization of vacant, abandoned, tax-foreclosed or other real property.

The land bank would efficiently hold and manage that real property pending its use and assist government and other entities to assemble that real property and clear the title in a coordinated manner.

The next meeting will be held Aug. 27 at noon.

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com