Brownfield Program could become permanent


News regarding the possibility of a Brownfield Remediation Program becoming a permanent fixture in Ohio’s budget was among multiple updates given at the monthly meeting of the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation (land bank).

Matt Wagner, a certified professional from Tetra Tech, said the Greater Ohio Policy Center, which put together the Brownfield Conference that multiple land bank members attended, sent legislation to the Ohio House to make Brownfield funding permanent.

He said it would be a yearly permanent program and would come from the old Clean Ohio program. He also said the funding would come from liquor taxes. Wagner also said it has support from both Republicans and Democrats.

Wagner said the program’s possibility has some issues. He said the land bank doesn’t know whether a match would be needed with projects. But, he said the land bank was told the funds would be equally distributed throughout the state, with Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus to not receive “all” the funding.

Jason Johansen, the local land bank coordinator, said Highland County is still waiting to hear back from the Ohio Department of Development on its application for the newest round of funds, saying that it should be “any day.”

In other news, the land bank discussed possibly getting rid of the Side Lot Program. Todd Book, the county’s legal counsel, said the program was talked about in April’s meeting in terms of the amount of money put into it for the sale of properties, such as money needed to eliminate taxes but then not able to be recouped.

Book said there were a couple approaches, such as increasing the minimum bid amount from $300 to a $500 range or looking at the number of those kinds of properties and thinking if a Side Lot Program is really needed in Highland County. Book also said that even if the program was eliminated, he still likes the policy of a minimum bid amount in case only one person is interested in a property.

Dave Daniels, a member of the land bank board, said his worry was the land bank putting in money to wipe out debt from the properties but then not being able to recoup almost any of those costs due to the policy requirements of the Side Lot Program.

Terry Britton, another member of the land bank board, said that he thought it would be “better” to think about a phasing out of the program. Daniels agreed, saying that the land bank should get rid of the program because “every property has value,” with the land bank needing to minimize its losses on property sales.

Daniels brought forward the possibility of having something in the land bank’s bylaws saying that a property couldn’t be sold for less than two-thirds of the vacant lot price as determined by the county auditor’s recent appraised valuation of vacant properties.

Book said he liked the idea but also said the land bank could run into issues with the appraisal timeline and how a structure could be gone but the value hasn’t changed, saying it’s not a “giant burden” but could slow the organization down.

Daniels said maybe an exception could be made that after a property is offered for less than two-thirds of the appraised price, it could be reduced to a lesser amount. Lauren Walker, the city of Hillsboro’s representative on the board, said maybe an exception could be made that the board has discretion over if a demolition is happening, then the board could determine the property value.

Daniels asked Book to draft an amendment to the land bank’s bylaws that would reflect the above requests as well as to circulate the information through the rest of the members to get feedback, asking him to have it ready by next meeting.

Tami Disantis, a Highland County homeowner, was in attendance to voice frustration about the land bank and its slow process. She said he was worries about a set of properties the land bank had worked on for over two years, saying people “dropped the ball in multiple areas.”

She said some of the land bank issues are that there are delays caused by problems like property taxes not being paid in full as quickly as she would like. She said other issues include the land bank not looking at the people who buy the properties, pointing out one lot that was purchased and the buyer hasn’t paid any taxes since the purchase date.

Britton said he understood the homeowner’s issues, but also said the land bank has a process that it has to go through. He said the problems with the taxes is a completely different issue and that there are other entities that have their processes as well.

“We’re not gonna do 200 or 300 (properties) a year,” Britton said. “We’re gonna do as many as we can possibly do with the funding that we have. So, you know, to sit here and debate and argue over this, it’s not gonna happen.”

Other issues were brought forward including issues with Highland Hills Homeowners Association and Highland Holiday.

Daniels said opportunities for remedying the issues have only recently started to open for the county thanks to the land bank becoming property owners and having “standing” in the community. He said things are in the “very beginning discussion” between the treasury, land bank and others involved in the process to see how they get involved.

He said a deed restriction can only be enforced if one has standing. He said standing can only be obtained if an organization has a connection to the appropriate entity. Daniels said the land bank now has standing and has started the discussion process on what they can do about the issues.

Johansen also gave updates on the Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program.

He said he has been talking to the Highland County Health Department about a property at 9955 U.S. Route 62 in Leesburg, one of the possible replacement projects. He said there isn’t a septic tank on the property that the land bank owns, adding they would have to acquire the two lots next to it. He said a family owned all three of the lots and tied them into the same septic tank.

He also said the other two properties are in the name of deceased owners and would need to go through probate court. He said that’s because the taxes aren’t higher than the land value, so the land bank can’t submit them for foreclosure.

The land bank board also discussed updates on multiple properties.

For 11923 Elmhurst Trail near Hillsboro, Johansen said he spoke with the owner who said they were willing to donate it to the land bank. He said there is $17,000 in tax delinquency and that when a grinder was put on the property in the 1990s, it cost $4,141. He said upgrades were made to the sewer system in 2014, which cost $227. He said the acquisition of the property would require the payment of those two expenses totaling $4,368. Johansen said the property would be “a good opportunity” for the land bank, even with some of the other issues on it like a mobile home. The land bank board moved to allow the donation of the property to the land bank.

The next meeting of the land bank is scheduled to be on Thursday, June 20, 2024, at 9 a.m.

Reach Jacob Clary at 937-402-2570.

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