Highland County commissioners on Wednesday heard from two Clay Township trustees about “nightmare” blight in the Buford area, and said the county land bank will hopefully begin addressing that problem by midsummer.
Brett Glover and Kenneth Bohl, Clay Township trustees, visited commissioners to complain about what Glover described as a “crisis” of blighted properties in Buford.
Glover said in particular a burned out house near the local fire station and the old school building, now in disrepair, is causing problems. The properties look bad on the outside, he said, and youngsters often enter the buildings and cause trouble. The trustee said the former school building’s floor is collapsing, and that he found a prescription drug bottle and syringe inside.
“Somebody’s going to get hurt,” he said. “Somebody’s going to get killed.”
Commissioner Jeff Duncan said blight is a problem in “every community” in Highland County. The county land bank, he said, may provide a solution.
Funded by delinquent tax funds, the land bank can purchase or retain properties and clean them up and resell them. The land bank can also forgive delinquent taxes on properties it obtains, Duncan said.
The bank currently has about $80,000 to work with, according to Duncan, but it is not ready to be fully deployed. According to Duncan, commissioners and county officials are meeting with land bank coordinators from other areas to create strategy and structure for the land bank here.
Duncan said the Highland County land bank will likely be ready to obtain property by midsummer this year.
“It’s going to take some time,” he said. “Nothing moves fast.”
Commissioner Gary Abernathy said blight is “a terrible problem in this county,” and that it kills economic development, adding that the trustees should make a list of the worst blighted properties and give it to commissioners for consideration.
Greenfield City Manager Todd Wilkin, who was in attendance at the meeting, explained a legal process that can help solve blight problems. He said property owners within 250 feet of a blighted property can take the owners to court through receivership proceedings, which can sometimes result in the blighted property owner simply handing over the property title rather than tangling with a court case.
In other business, commissioners voted to allocate $40,000 per year for a new assistant prosecuting attorney.
Duncan said Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins’ office is “maxed out,” and that rising delinquent taxes in the county demand attention. The new attorney will mostly work in that area, he said.
Abernathy said Collins’ office is one of the smallest prosecutor’s offices in the state, and that the staff handles a “tremendous workload.”
Commissioner Terry Britton added that he has been told 50 children have been removed from homes here so far this year.
According to Abernathy, the office had another assistant prosecuting attorney a number of years ago, making Wednesday’s decision somewhat of a return to prior staffing.
Also Wednesday, the board gave final approval for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant for drainage work in the Village of Greenfield.
Duncan said the county was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for electrical and water upgrades in the Rocky Fork Lake area. He said officials are trying to decide whether to improve the East Shore Overlook or the camping area for the annual Smokin’ in the Hills barbecue competition in September.
Commissioners voted to continue meeting once a week instead of twice a week as they have in previous months. Duncan said the board may begin meeting twice a week in August when its workload typically increases.
Duncan said Highland Countians should vote for a replacement levy for the Highland County Health Department in the May 7 primary election.
Commissioners also approved wifi hot spots for polling locations in Highland County; held a first hearing for this year’s Community Development Block Grant; approved routine financial resolutions; and accepted a bid for material for a bridge project on Straight Creek Road.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.