Highland County Commissioners are in the process of putting together the necessary components of a land bank, a new entity which is designed to strengthen land values by returning vacant or abandoned properties to productive use.
Commissioners approved the formation of a land bank back in October. According to Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley at the time, one of the reasons the county has not been able to form a land bank in the past is because there wasn’t the “seed money” available. Commissioner Shane Wilkin added that a population requirement, which Highland County did not meet, had also been dropped.
“I think it will be a great tool to use throughout the county,” Wilkin said in October.
Seed money to begin a land bank has been requested through the $800,000 grant recently awarded to the Rocky Fork Lake area.
By law, land banks – formally referred to as land reutilization programs – are comprised of a board of directors consisting of the county treasurer, two county commissioners, a representative of the largest municipality in the county and a representative of the largest unincorporated area of the county.
On Wednesday , commissioners learned that Paint Township, the largest unincorporated area in the county, has appointed township trustee Randy Mustard as its representative on the land bank.
Commissioners also received a correspondence from Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings’ office asking about the requirements of Hillsboro’s representative on the land bank board.
Hastings said Wednesday that he wants to find out if the city’s rep has to be an executive or employee of the city, or whether it can be a citizen. He said a couple of citizens who are knowledgeable about land banks have expressed interest in the position. Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins is researching the question, according to the draft minutes of Wednesday’s meeting.
Where they have been utilized already, land banks have helped local economies. For example, in Lucas County, which incorporated its land bank in 2010, the land bank took over an abandoned strip mall and turned it into a repurposed office and retail center. It also obtained through foreclosure, donation and negotiation several rundown properties in upper Toledo which resulted in the creation of the Uptown Green, a plaza, garden and small concert venue.
The Lucas County land bank has partnered with local hospitals, schools and other entities for many more community improvement projects.
According to a land bank guidance document produced by Lucas County, land banks “tackle the challenges of vacant and abandoned properties with new tools, create a dedicated funding stream, streamline the county tax foreclosure processes, build and grow community partnerships (and) take advantage of available federal, state, and private funding sources.”
A land bank operates by “facilitating the reutilization of vacant, abandoned, and tax‐foreclosed real property, efficiently holding such property pending reutilization; assisting entities to assemble and clear the title of such property in a coordinated manner, and promoting economic and housing development.”
Wednesday’s commission meeting marked the first with Terry Britton as part of the board. Britton, who joined Wilkin and Jeff Duncan on the board after his election in November, was welcomed by Wilkin to the board, with Wilkin saying that since he was elected, Britton “has been in the office looking over the budget and getting acquainted with the processes.”
Commissioners approved several routine funding resolutions Wednesday, and went into executive session to discuss personnel.
An organizational meeting for the commission will be held at 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 9.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.