Butler blight-busting agency approves spending more local funds

The Butler County land bank approved spending more than $200,000 worth of delinquent tax collections funds Monday to demolish eyesores, a local funding source that hasn’t been used much.

The old Taylor School in Lindenwald is coming down, at a cost of about $75,000 — the land bank agreed to pay $37,500. As much as $160,000 was also approved by the land bank board to raze eight — estimated at $20,000 per structure for demolition — dangerous properties in St. Clair Twp. and another in Madison Twp.

Tom Vanderhorst, Hamilton’s director of external affairs, said the city has received constant complaints about the abandoned 109-year-old school and he doesn’t believe the structure is “savable.” The city plans to re-purpose the site on Benninghofen Avenue

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“The potential plans for the property could one day be a fire station, if we get the funding to do that,” he told the land bank board. “But most likely it’s probably going to be a property that the parks conservancy keeps for a pocket park, for the foreseeable future.”

Since its inception, the land bank has razed about 382 eyesores in Hamilton and 277 in Middletown at a cost of $7.3 million, most paid for with state and federal funds.

A 500 percent leap from about 500 to 3,000 foreclosures between 1999 and 2010 prompted the establishment of the land bank in 2012. There was also state money available that Hamilton and Middletown wanted. In the beginning only the two largest cities were members of the land bank because they paid $1.1 million each to collect Moving Ohio Forward monies.

Since then millions have come available through the federal Hardest Hit Fund Program and a one percent cut of delinquent tax assessment and collections funds (DTAC).

County Treasurer Nancy Nix, who is chairman of the land bank board and chiefly responsible for bringing the local land bank to fruition, urged the commissioners several years ago to allow siphoning DTAC for the land bank. She said they needed the local match dollars to cull more outside funding and it also allowed the land bank to open its membership to other jurisdictions.

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The land bank has collected $594,409 in DTAC funds since 2014 and before Monday’s approvals had spent $139, 957. Executive Director Mike McNamara’s salary is partially paid — $101,276 over four years — out of the DTAC funds and $38,400 was for demolitions.

Projects like razing a ramshackle house that was sandwiched between two commercial buildings on Main Street in Hamilton — estimated at $16,000 — and other smaller demolitions around the county have been part of the DTAC program.

Barbara Schick, zoning administrator for St. Clair Twp., described the eight vacant properties that are now primed for the wrecking ball, as animal, mold and pest infested, havens for drug activity and vandals, and structurally unstable. Schick said one abandoned house was too dangerous to go inside and photograph.

“There are nice homes around there, they feel it is taking down their property values,” she said.

A study by Miami University students a couple years ago found property values of homes within a 500-foot radius of a downed eyesore increased 29.65 percent in Hamilton but a “statistically insignificant” amount in Middletown.

Membership in the land bank includes: Fairfield, Hamilton, Middletown, Seven Mile, Trenton and Fairfield, Hanover, Lemon, Liberty, Madison, Oxford, Ross, St. Clair and Wayne township.

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