Group seeks dollars to fund county land bank

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — After clearing blight from roughly 250 residential lots, the Allen County Land Bank is now looking for new funding from both private and public sources to jump start an initiative to transfer commercial properties to prospective investors.

Administrated by Auditor Rachael Gilroy, the land bank has been relatively inactive since depleting a $4.5 million federal grant received to tear down blighted housing throughout the county. That could change as a number of key players in both the public and private sectors want to see the the land bank reinvigorated with a renewed focus on commercial and industrial properties.

Gilroy said the land bank has encountered 30 to 40 commercial properties that could come under the land bank’s purview due to tax delinquency. Many of the processes the land bank needs to foreclose on properties also stand at ready, and Gilroy expressed concerns about the land bank slowing down if commissioners planned to “mothball” the program.

“We can get 20 properties started on the process and not lose any sleep knowing it’s going to get done right,” Deputy Auditor Keith Cheney said.

But moving the machinery necessary to seek foreclosure requires additional dollars, and funds have been sparse since federal dollars ran out.

One such avenue introduced during a Wednesday meeting between Allen County Commissioners, Greater Lima Region Inc. President/CEO Jeff Sprague, The Lima News Publisher Doug Olsson, Gilroy and Cheney is to seek dollars from Ohio’s biennial budget.

Just last week, state legislators from Ohio’s House had considered approving $50 million for county land banks to go after commercial and industrial lots, but the line item had been nixed when the state’s budget discussions moved into the Ohio Senate.

Cheney, who is also the Allen County Republican Party chairman, said that line item could be renegotiated by Sen. Matt Huffman if the county could show significant buy-in and interest from both private and public entities.

Such private buy-in could be provided by those businesses already funding the Greater Lima Region, GLR President/CEO Jeff Sprague said. As the umbrella organization coordinating private economic initiatives, GLR could be used to connect interested parties with the land bank while providing the necessary investment to ease the land bank’s financial needs.

The land bank has already worked with AEDG in the past in a similar function, resulting in the transfers of two commercial properties — 1107 E. Kibby St. and 330 N. Central Ave. The land bank had acquired both properties during a sheriff’s sale, and both are now under private ownership. Six other commercial buildings obtained by the land bank have been demolished.

As for the county’s involvement, Allen County Commissioner Jay Begg offered an increase in conveyance fees collected during property transfers as a way to give weight to land bank coffers. Such a method is already used by counties dealing with similar blight options, such as Richland County, or the home county of Mansfield.

No official action, however, was taken during the meeting, but those involved planned agreed to start moving the wheels to help the land bank find additional dollars.

“I think (Gilroy) has a well-oiled machine. We need to keep it operating,” Begg said.

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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