County land bank gets more cash

LISBON – Columbiana County’s land bank is hoping to be able to acquire and demolish up to 100 residential properties in Salem, East Liverpool and Wellsville after learning it will receive twice as much funding as was requested.

The land bank board reported at Wednesday’s meeting it was awarded $1.1 million in state demolition funding after applying for $500,000 from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.

“That’s great news, but it also means we’re going to have to move fast to get properties under ownership and begin demolition,” said county Development Director Tad Herold, who is in charge of the land bank program.

Herold said receiving double the money means they should be able to acquire and demolish twice as many homes – an estimated 100, depending on the cost – in Salem, East Liverpool and Wellsville, which are the first three communities the board decided to focus on with the grant money.

According to the grant rules, 23 properties must be acquired by March 31 and a total of 45 owned by Sept. 30, 2015.

County Commissioner Mike Halleck said East Liverpool Mayor Jim Swoger advised him the city had 30 foreclosed properties that are ready to be acquired and demolished. Herold said he would have to meet with officials from all three communities to establish a priority list of properties.

“Their ready to go is sometimes different than my ready to go,” Herold said.

The land bank – or the county Land Reutilization Corp., as it is officially known has already begun the process of acquiring an abandoned residential property in East Liverpool and another in Wellsville. The board voted at Wednesday’s meeting to also acquire another abandoned property at 2989 Buck Road, Butler Township.

Herold said the property is located at the intersection of Georgetown Road, and the home at the site had been razed with demolition money received by commissioners several years ago. The property is now overgrown with high weeds and trees that need removed, so much so that it obstructs the view of oncoming traffic at the intersection.

The township trustees want the property so they can clean it up, and Herold said the land bank should be in a position to acquire the property for $45 once it is listed for sale by the county auditor’s office since there were no bidders when it was twice offered at sheriff’s sales.

These properties are being acquired and/or demolished with $50,000 in seed money provided by county commissioners.

The board praised Herold for his efforts, noting the only county to receive a larger grant was Cuyahoga County, which is the largest in the state.

“You’re application must have been the best to get double,” said Robin Thomas, the consultant working with the land bank for free.

“We did a better job because we have the smarter guy,” Commissioner Mike Halleck said of Herold.

The board approved a standard memorandum of understanding (MOU) that communities would have to enter into with the land bank before they can participate. The MOU outlines the responsibilities of the participants before and after they receive the properties.

Salem, East Liverpool and Wellsville are expected to enter into MOUs at their council meetings next week.

This would be the second wave of homes demolished around the county in recent years. Commissioners are currently completing demolition of 72 abandoned and dilapidated homes under a program begun in 2012 with $530,000 awarded through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

Herold believes their efficient administration of this demolition money is a major reason why they scored so high on the other demolition grant and received more funding than was requested.