Officially, it is known as the Highland County Land Re-utilization Corporation but informally it is called a land bank, and Highland County Board of Commissioners President Jeff Duncan accepted an appointment to its governing board during Wednesday’s commissioners meeting.
The land bank allows the county to either purchase at foreclosure, or acquire by deed transfer, blighted or abandoned properties so it can renovate, demolish or reconstruct and sell them.
The land bank concept was designed so blighted properties that are delinquent in property taxes can re-emerge as valuable real estate with new owners, restoring the property to the county’s tax base.
Duncan joins fellow Commissioner Terry Britton as representatives from the board of commissioners on the land bank, which also has a representative from the county treasurer’s office, the largest city in the county, and the largest township.
“These five people have their own bank account which doesn’t go through the auditor’s office,” Highland County Auditor Bill Fawley explained, “and we don’t write their checks or do any payroll… It is completely outside.”
The land bank acquires property a number of ways, Commissioner Gary Abernathy said, such as a deed in lieu of foreclosure transfer, where a delinquent owner signs over the blighted property, and lending institutions such as Fannie Mae can transfer low-value properties, sometimes providing funds for demolition.
Abernathy added that the Department of Housing and Urban Development can transfer low-value properties to county land banks, as can private individuals and probate estates no longer wanting the burden of owning worthless or delinquent properties
Also Wednesday, Creed Culbreath of REACH for Tomorrow was present to answer commissioners’ questions regarding the proposed Get Worker FIT jobs assessment program, and the Growing Regional Independence Together program, which he described as “broader and more expansive than was presented last year.”
As previously reported in The Times-Gazette, Get Worker FIT Chief Executive Officer Dr. Denise Reading originally presented the program to commissioners on Dec. 19, telling them “everybody that comes out of high school should be ready, willing and able to go to work, regardless of whether they’re college bound or not.”
Culbreath said the DeWine administration has released $20 million in funding for a two-year program to study Get Worker FIT in a five-county region in southern Ohio that includes Highland, Adams, Brown, Scioto and Pike counties.
The state, in releasing funding for Get Worker FIT and GRIT, has established a program goal of delivering 1,000 people in the next two years from each county that have obtained a job sufficient to sustain an entire family.
The goal of Get Worker FIT, he said, is double that of what Ohio expects, in that the program envisions 2,000 people enjoying gainful employment by 2021.
“I think the possibility of having 2,000 more people paying taxes, consuming goods and services and contributing in the area they live and work in is exciting, and to me, that’s meaningful change,” Culbreath said.
Abernathy expressed some hesitation about a formal endorsement of Get Worker FIT, saying that while he supports its goals, he had concerns about putting the commissioners’ stamp of approval on a program for a for-profit organization.
They agreed to meet again with Reading at their next meeting on Monday, March 11, with Culbreath indicating he would make contact with area business and education leaders to gauge their support to attend the meeting as well.
In other matters, Highland County Emergency Management Agency Director David Bushelman briefed commissioners on Ohio House Bill 62, a transportation and public works appropriations measure, and expressed apprehension regarding an amendment to it that he said would “greatly affect every emergency management office in the State of Ohio.”
“Several years ago this came up where the county commissioners could put the EMA director under the sheriff or a countywide fire department,” Bushelman said. “If this passes, the EMPG (Emergency Management Performance Grant) money, which is our grant funding, would probably go away.”
He said the other aspect of the the bill that concerns him would be the neutrality his office enjoys concerning grant funding, with the fear being that any monies would be redirected from EMA to whatever department the agency would be under.
“This was attempted a few years ago in Butler County where the sheriff there was trying to take over Butler County’s emergency management and it got shot down then,” he said. “This bill is not good for the emergency management community as a whole since I think it should remain a neutral party in the county.”
Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner echoed Bushelman’s concerns, with opinions based on his previous experience in the emergency management field, and reiterated his feeling that EMA should be an independent agency “especially when you look at the different funds that become available.”
Bushelman said he contacted State Representative Shane Wilkin Wednesday morning and that a vote was scheduled to be taken in the finance committee late Wednesday afternoon in Columbus.
Commissioners then went into executive session to discuss personnel issues, emerging into regular session shortly afterward and then adjourning until Monday, March 11.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.