Expedited foreclosure process being considered to help with blight

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By Steve Robb Messenger Staff Journalist


The Athens County Board of Revision is considering adopting rules and procedures that would allow for expedited foreclosures on tax-delinquent properties that are vacant and abandoned.

Such a procedure would be intended to aid in removal of blighted property, and is expected to be quicker than the normal foreclosure process through Athens County Common Pleas Court.

A draft version was discussed at the board’s meeting on July 19. The board did not take action to adopt it, but intends to consider it again at an upcoming meeting on July 30. The board consists of the county auditor, treasurer and president of the county commissioners.

The county treasurer would be the one to initiate the expedited foreclosure process, but the treasurer could be requested to do so, including by the Athens County Land Bank, Treasurer Ric Wasserman said at Thursday’s meeting.

County Commissioner Chris Chmiel, who is chairman of the land bank, urged the Board of Revision to approve the expedited foreclosure process without delay.

“Our biggest challenge as the land bank is to acquire property so that we can apply for funding to do demolition of these blighted, vacant, abandoned, tax-foreclosed, tax-delinquent properties,” Chmiel said, adding there is competition for the funding. “I just fear that we’re going to miss our opportunity to get funding to clean up parts of our community that really need this work.”

The reimbursement funding would provide up to $12,500 per property, with the money coming from the Neighborhood Initiative Program of the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

If the encumbrance on a property (such as delinquent taxes) is less than the appraised value of the property, the foreclosed property would go to a sheriff’s sale, Wasserman told The Messenger. If the encumbrances are greater than the value, which is expected to be the situation in most cases, then the foreclosed property can be transferred, including to the land bank.

County Auditor Jill Thompson said at last Thursday’s meeting that she was not ready to act on the proposed foreclosure procedures as written in the draft.

“I can honestly say I’m not completely comfortable with the process the way it is,” she said. “You clearly don’t need my vote if you want to go forward, but I would like to have a little more time to gain a little better understanding of the process” and of what is expected of the parties involved in the process.

Wasserman said he would like all three Board of Revision members to be comfortable with what is being proposed before it is adopted. He also said a delay of 10-12 days in adopting the procedures would not be a problem, noting that there is currently no property for which preliminary work had been done that would enable the board to foreclose on it. Wasserman also pointed out what appears to be a conflict in the timing of notifications included in the draft.

The board decided to continue the matter on July 30. Board member Lenny Eliason, who is county commission president, raised the possibility of doing the preliminary work on some foreclosures so that the board would be ready to act once the rules and procedures are adopted.