Land bank aims to complete projects by May

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Belmont County land bank board of director members Josh Meyer, Greg Reline in front, and Chairwoman Kathy Kelich on Tuesday discuss ongoing and potential future demolition projects. About 13 buildings are expected to be razed by May at a cost of more than $250,000.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — The Belmont County Land Reutilization Corp. plans to change the landscape of three riverside communities in a noticeable way and to be reimbursed by the state in the next few months.

Officials with the group are concerned, though, that long-term state funding for such land banks is in doubt.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the full board, Chairwoman Kathy Kelich reported on the 13 properties on the land bank’s list of planned demolitions. The properties went through tax foreclosure in December, and the land bank moved to acquire them in January. Kelich said since then, the group has made progress in preparing the buildings for demolition.

“We have acquired all of the properties that we had set forth to do. We had a list of properties we were going to acquire,” she said. “We have contracted two companies to go out and do the asbestos evaluations … and before the next meeting, we’re going to go ahead and bid the asbestos abatement. That way we can potentially to do demo by May.”

Kelich said two properties on the list are in Martins Ferry, five in Powhatan Point and six in Bellaire. Another in Bridgeport is being bid out, bringing the total to a possible 14.

Toward the end of 2018, the land bank was confronted with the inability to spend funding issued by the Neighborhood Initiative Program. Kelich and Director Tim Hall noted that while the area had many properties eligible for acquisition and demolition, the land bank was unable to find sufficient contractors to take on the jobs.

This meant a reduction of funding for 2019. The land bank originally had received $500,000 from the Neighborhood Improvement Project, then an additional $135,193 for a total of $635,193. But 75 percent of the funds, or $476,394, needed to be spent by the end of 2018. The land bank was only able to spend $287,902.60 by the end of 2018.

As a result, the NIP adjusted its allocation for Belmont County based on what had been spent. This meant the land bank had to return $188,492.30 to NIP.

However, Kelich said the land bank’s new round of projects could make an impression on NIP officials.

“If we get this all done by May and put in for reimbursement, we may be able to be reimbursed for all of those,” Kelich said, referring to non-allocated funds still available through the NIP. “We’ll be able to ask them to allocate some of those to us. Until it’s completely dispersed, those are available to every county, so we’re hoping to get reimbursed on all of these properties.”

Kelich said the total expenditure for these demolitions would be about $260,000, and reimbursement would allow the Land Bank to look at more projects.

“We will be able to do more work in the valley and do demolition,” she said.

She added that when the land bank bids demolition of the Powhatan Point properties, they will likely all be bid together as a group.

“We have five in Powhatan that we’re going to do all at one time, so you’re going to see very much of an impact as opposed to how we’ve been doing it, which is one here, one there, and you don’t really see the impact of the change. This is going to create the impact that we need people to see, what we’re doing and how we’re doing it,” she said.

Kelich added that bidding all of those projects at once likely will mean an overall savings, since the equipment and personnel already will be deployed.

“We’ll just be able to move job to job to job and show the impact in Powhatan,” she said.

The land bank could be reimbursed by July, she noted.

“If this all goes as intended, as we get all of our invoices in, we can get reimbursements. So we’ll put those in as fast as possible.”

However, the funding for land banks statewide is in question.

“NIP expires Dec. 18 of 2019. The whole program expires,” she said, adding that the future of land banks across the state will depend on the governor’s evaluation. “There is talk that the governor is looking at his budget and putting some money on the side for some additional projects for the counties that have land banks, however there’s no guarantee until we reach July.”

Kelich added that land banks have the option of utilizing local funding sources through delinquent tax collection.

“We have never done that. We hope to not do that,” she said, adding that the local land bank has relied on funding from the state. “We’d like to see if we can keep functioning the way that we have been.”

Board members Josh Meyer, Jerry Echemann, Greg Reline and Scott Porter also were in attendance Tuesday. The next land bank meeting was set for 9 a.m. April 9 at the Belmont County Courthouse, 100 W. Main St., St. Clairsville.