Lorain County Land Bank Setup Delayed By Commissioners
From the Chronicle-Telegram Newspaper, Thursday, April 26, 2012
Lorain County Ohio commissioners on Wednesday delayed formally creating a county land bank by a week so Commissioner Tom Williams can get up to speed on the issue and to figure out the size of the board that will oversee the nonprofit group.
Williams said he received the final details of the plan less than an hour before the commissioners’ meeting and still had questions.
“It’s a good concept, but there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered,” he said after the meeting.
The proposal would see commissioners create the land bank, which would be funded by taking 5 percent of the fines and interest levied on homes that have delinquent taxes. That would generate roughly $600,000 per year to fund the project from money that currently goes to school districts and other county government entities.
About $200,000 would be used to staff the land bank and cover administrative costs, while the rest would be used to match grants as leverage for loans to support the land bank. That money would then be used to demolish vacant and dilapidated homes throughout the county.
Lorain, Elyria and Oberlin have all signaled their support for creating the land bank, and the commissioners said they have received positive feedback from other communities. But Williams said he wants to make sure school districts, township trustees and others who will see their funding cut to support the land bank are aware of the issue and what the consequences will be.
Lorain Mayor Chase Ritenauer said the land bank will address a major issue in Lorain, which has large numbers of foreclosed and run-down homes, and throughout the county.
“The problem of foreclosure and empty houses in this county is so pervasive–we’ve got to do something to get this under control, and I think the land bank is a good first step,” he said.
County Administrator James Cordes said the land bank would work with other county programs also trying to deal with the issue. Lorain, for instance, uses federal Neighborhood Stabilization Funds to demolish eyesore homes.
Commissioner Lori Kokoski said after the meeting that she’s long pushed for the county to use Community Development Block Grant money to demolish, rather than repair, vacant homes.
“Just having the supply reduced increases the demand of the remaining properties,” she said.
Commissioner Ted Kalo said the land bank will work with municipal leaders to decide what to do with the demolished properties, but they could be sold to developers, turned into community gardens or even given to adjoining property owners to increase the size of their lots.
Kalo said it’s critical for the county to create the land bank, because that will put it in a better position to receive some of the $75 million in mortgage settlement money that Ohio Attorney Mike DeWine has said he wants to divy up to help deal with vacant homes across the state.
Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda, a vocal supporter of creating the land bank, said her biggest concern is the makeup of the board.
Under the current plan, two commissioners, a person with a background in real estate, a representative of Lorain and county treasurer Dan Talarak would serve on the board.
Brinda said she, too, wants a seat at the table, and Williams suggested that the board should be expanded and include a representative from the townships as well.
But Kalo said he wants to keep the board small in the beginning so that it’s more manageable but added that he isn’t opposed to expanding it later.
IN OTHER BUSINESS
Commissioners agreed to cease holding private administrative sessions to learn about county business. Those sessions were held along with executive sessions, and the public was barred from attending.
Williams suggested that opening up the administrative sessions would give the public a better view of what’s going on in county government. He said he was surprised when Kalo and Kokoski didn’t object.
“There’s nothing that we say in administrative session that we couldn’t say in public session, so we might as well say it in public,” Kokoski said.