EATON — During a meeting on Friday, July 22, the Preble County Land Reutilization Corporation Board (the “land bank”) and Preble County Commissioners discussed the “missed opportunity” of not receiving any of the demolition funding announced at the state level earlier this month.
The bottom line: the initial process for setting up a land bank was not completed several years ago — and the current entity has no properties in its possession yet.
Land banks are entities created by counties or municipalities to effectively manage and re-purpose an inventory of underused, abandoned, or foreclosed property. State officials on Friday, July 1, announced over $42.1 million in grant funding to help communities in nearly every Ohio county turn blighted properties into new opportunities that attract investment, business, and jobs. Eighty-seven counties will receive up to $500,000 in grants as part of this first phase of the Ohio Building Demolition and Site Revitalization Program, which funds the demolition of dilapidated commercial and residential buildings and the revitalization of surrounding properties.
Preble County was the sole county not awarded the funding. “Development did not receive an application for Preble County,” was noted at the bottom of the award funding listing released.
Officials said on Friday, the opportunity for funding “really didn’t get ‘missed.’”
“We didn’t have a list that we could move forward with for the application, and the application asks for building amounts, addresses — and we didn’t have that,” Preble County Treasurer Brenda White said on Friday.
White said while filling out the application for the recently announced round of demolition grants, she was “like, wait a minute, we have no properties. I can’t finish it.”
Current commissioners met with White during an April 2021 meeting regarding the Preble County Land Bank, which had been in discussions since late 2018 under the previous Board of Commissioners.
According to White, in a meeting in 2019, a chairperson and vice-chairperson were selected but a secretary and treasurer had not. Land bank documents have to be signed by its secretary, she noted at the time, so no actions had yet been taken by the new iteration of the land bank board as of April 2022. The incomplete land bank organization was the one on file at the state level at that time.
The newly created land reutilization board had no properties under its control for which it could apply for the grant funding in this round.
Commissioner Rachael Vonderhaar said during the meeting information needed to be shared “that we are set up and we’re operating, that we’re going after the properties to get control of them so that we will be in a position to apply for grants going forward.”
“Most of the other counties already had an established land bank working. We did not,” White said on Friday.
“It was basically put together and then put on the shelf and left for dead,” Commissioner Adam Craft said.
Of gaining control of the properties, “it takes almost a year to get a property foreclosed on. So from nine months to a year,” White added. “We had our articles filed with the state. I’ve been filing audit reports every year on it. But when there’s no money, I mean, you don’t report any money, but you still have to report that it’s open,” White said.
“And your office has been doing those as a courtesy to the county and the land bank,” Craft said of White.
“In our meeting a couple of weeks ago, we’ve now appointed all of the officers,” White said. “We have our new articles and a plan signed by the commissioners. So, that part’s taken care of.”
Bylaws have been created, according to officials. “And we have a plan on getting us the money to get going,” White said.
Commissioners have hired a lawyer for the group, as it could not utilize the services of the Preble County Prosecutor’s Office. (The Prosecutor’s Office handles foreclosures, which the land bank would be going after.)
The new land bank board has been meeting, and has a plan, according to White, including some properties they will need to work on getting in the Preble County Land Reutilization Corporation’s name.
“July 1, statutorily, the money goes back into the pot for redistribution, which will probably be after Jan. 1,” Commissioner Vonderhaar said of the next potential round of state demolition grant funding. Meanwhile, other funding sources are being gathered for the work of the land bank.
“This work was not contingent on a single grant — this work is going to take place,” Vonderhaar said.