Delaware County in late December established a land bank in the hopes of receiving federal funding to demolish blighted structures and prepare abandoned properties for reuse.
The county's commissioners Dec. 28 unanimously voted in favor of creating the Delaware County Land Reutilization Corp.
County Treasurer Jon Peterson said reutilization is the key word in the formal title of the land bank.
"It's an attempt to take properties that are abandoned and return them to productive use," he said.
Peterson said evidence that a property has been abandoned can include a lack of property-tax payments over multiple years, unpaid utility bills and unkempt grass. The property also must have gone through multiple foreclosure processes before the land bank starts the acquisition process.
Peterson said "extensive notice requirements" would give a parcel's owner a chance to "redeem a property, if they wish" before a potential acquisition by the land bank. Property owners, including financial institutions, also could choose to donate or sell property to the land bank for a nominal fee, if that proves more beneficial to them.
The treasurer estimated dozens of properties in the county fit the criteria for reutilization.
If the land bank is successful, Peterson said, it would be a boon to school districts and other government entities that receive funding from property taxes, as well as county taxpayers. He said the goal is to put abandoned property into the hands of new owners who will maintain it and pay taxes on it.
Revenue from the resale of land-banked properties would go into the corporation's coffers to use in the acquisition of other abandoned properties.
The establishment of a land bank also gives the county a shot at receiving federal grants to pay for demolition of abandoned properties. Peterson said the county missed out on the last two rounds of federal funding because it did not have a land-reutilization corporation.
"I don't know what Delaware County's allocation would have been, but I suggest it (would have been) at least in the amount of tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps more," he said.
Two county commissioners, the county treasurer, a representative from the county's most-populous municipality and a representative from a township with more than 10,000 residents will sit on the corporation's board.
Commissioner Gary Merrell asked Peterson if the county would need to hire additional staff members to oversee the land bank's activities.
Peterson said the relatively small number of abandoned properties in the county should allow the bank to operate without the need for new employees.
"At least in the beginning, it's anticipated I will handle administrative work and then present that to the board," he said. "If the board doesn't like that, they can reverse that and change it to hiring an executive director."
Commissioner Jeff Benton said he views the establishment of the land bank as a positive step for the county's future.
"I think that this is a good tool to have to keep the county vibrant and address the problem property," he said. "We're fortunate that we don't have many."
Peterson said he expects the board for the bank will hold its first meeting early this year.