Land bank funds approved

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – The county’s fight to aid in tearing down dilapidated properties and building up the area has made progress and major work should begin in a matter of months.

The Ohio Housing Finance Agency has announced that the Belmont County Land Reutilization Corporation has been awarded funding totalling $500,000.

Ginny Favede, commissioner and LRC board member, said county officials took action to form a land bank when they learned funds were available to put toward demolition projects.

“The county moved very swiftly once we were notified,” she said, adding that the process was completed within a few months, in time to get the application in.

“It shows our full commitment,” she said. “We are thrilled and eager to get to work.”

The first properties targeted are along the riverfront in the communities of Martins Ferry, Bridgeport and Bellaire. Favede said they have worked with Auditor Andrew Sutak, who provided 100 likely homes.

During the board’s next meeting they will discuss acquiring properties and seeking out companies to demolish them. The first home could be taken down in 45-90 days.

She praised the three communities for their proactive work in having the paperwork ready. The goal is both to remove a health and safety risk and to provide properties that can be sold to taxpayers who will benefit the area. Profits from the sales could be used for commercial demolition to facilitate economic development.

Favede also thanked State Rep. Jack Cera for his assistance in alerting them about the availability of funds and the need for a land bank. She said it was exemplary of a healthy relationship between state and local government.

Favede added that they had some experience with similar operations when working with the Move Ohio Forward program.

“It’ll grow very quickly,” she said.

Commissioner Mark Thomas thanked Favede for taking the lead in this effort.

“It was a project that moved as fast as I’ve ever seen government move,” he said, adding that he also credited Sutak and Treasurer Kathy Kelich for their work.

He noted the advantage of being able to use the funds countywide to both beautify the city and turn negative properties into productive ones.

“It is desperately needed among local government,” he said. “It’s a very positive day for Belmont County.”

“This is a great program for Belmont County.” said Matt Coffland, commissioner and board member. “We’re looking forward to moving along.”

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com