Commissioners vote to create Athens County land bank

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By Steve Robb, Messenger Staff Journalist

Creation of a land bank as a way of dealing with dilapidated, tax-delinquent properties was approved Tuesday by the Athens County Commissioners.

They voted unanimously to authorize County Treasurer Bill Bias to file articles of incorporation for a land bank — actually called a land reutilization corporation — as a nonprofit.

This is the initial step in creating a land bank, with other approvals by the commissioners needed once the nonprofit corporation has been created.

“It’s another tool to try and deal with the (tax) delinquent properties in the county,” Commissioner Lenny Eliason said after the meeting. “It’s a chance to try and deal with some of the situations around the county where we have properties that are abandoned and not being kept up, to make them productive and useful on the tax rolls instead of allowing delinquencies to grow, to improve the areas of the community where they are located.”

Commissioner Charlie Adkins echoed those reasons for supporting creation of a land bank.

Nelsonville City Council approved a resolution Dec. 26 in support of a land bank, and Councilman Ed Mash attended Tuesday’s commissioners meeting to voice support.

“It’s something we need dire in our city,” Mash said. “We’ve let these homes set for 10 or 15 years and they have become a blight on the community.”

Also at the meeting to encourage creation of a land bank was Kathy Trace of Trimble Twp. She said that over the years she’s heard people complain at Tomcat Bridgebuilders meetings about the condition of some buildings in the township.

It was Commissioner Chris Chmiel who introduced the matter at Tuesday’s meeting, presenting a proposed resolution for the commissioners to approve to create the land bank.

“I know that there is a need in the county (for a land bank),” Chmiel said. “I’m not going to say it’s going to solve all of our problems, but I think people are actually pretty excited about this process.”

He urged passage of the resolution on Tuesday because there is competition for housing demolition funding from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

“They only have a few more slots available, and I don’t want to miss the thousands of dollars that we can get for the houses,” Chmiel said.

Eliason objected to the wording of the resolution, in particular where it indicated that proposed articles of incorporation had been filed with the commissioners’ clerk. Chmiel had presented sample articles of incorporation from Lucas County and a description of the purpose of the Athens County land bank that he said were provided to him by consultant Robin Darden Thomas. During a break in the meeting, Eliason went on the website of the Ohio Secretary of State and obtained a copy of the articles on incorporation form, filled it out and filed it with the commissioners’ clerk. With that done, the commissioners voted to authorize Bias to actually file the incorporation articles with the state.

The land bank will initially be governed by a five-member board, with membership specified by state law. Two commissioners are to be members, and Tuesday they appointed Chmiel and Eliason. Adkins also expressed interest in serving; state law allows the five-member board to expand its membership up to nine.

The five-member board is also required to have the county treasurer as a member, as well as the mayor of the largest city (Athens) and a township representative. The commissioners will seek clarification on whether the township representative must come from Athens Twp. because its population is over 10,000. Chmiel said it may not be required if only the population of the unincorporated area of the township is to be considered.

Nelsonville also has expressed interest in having a member on the board.

Once the articles of incorporation are filed with the state, a resolution needs to be approved by the commissioners designating the land bank as an agent of the county and directing the land bank board to create an agreement and plan. Once the landbank board approves those documents, the commissioners would need to adopt a resolution also approving them.

Some school officials in the county have raised concerns that the land bank could cost their districts some money.

One way to fund a land bank is by taking 5 percent from the Delinquent Tax and Assessment (DTAC) fund. That would reduce the amount of DTAC money distributed to government entities, including schools.

Chmiel said a way of addressing that concern might be to increase the 4 percent interest charged on delinquent taxes to 12 percent.