Clock is ticking on $1 million Butler County has to raze eyesores

Butler County has until mid-December to spend nearly $1 million tearing down eyesores in Hamilton and Middletown, or the federal funds will be lost.

Butler County was awarded $4.3 million in Neighborhood Initiative Program, monies, a Hardest Hit Fund program designed to help prevent foreclosures and stabilize local property values through the demolition of vacant and blighted homes across the state.

So far Hamilton has been reimbursed $1.78 million for banishing 140 blighted properties under the program, and the city is awaiting approval of reimbursement for six more tear-downs. Middletown has been reimbursed $277,214 for downing 21 homes and there are 14 demolitions pending approval.

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“I think both cities are optimistic they can make strides toward that goal, but with less than a month to go in the program it is a very tough target to hit, based on performance so far,” said Mike McNamara, who has been in charge of the land bank, port authority and special projects for the county.

Butler County commissioners are hoping Kathy Dudley, who will replace McNamara as the new land bank administrator, is the person to ensure $868,053 in federal blight-busting funds aren’t left on the table.

Dudley, who was the Hamilton assistant law director until her position was eliminated last month, was hired for the newly created position of community stabilization administrator last week. Dudley had been the point person for the city working on land bank business. Commissioner Don Dixon said they are hoping Dudley can save some of the federal funds, or at least ensure they are not wasted again.

“Hamilton has done a pretty darn good job of meeting the demands and using the dollar resources to get stuff torn down,” Dixon said. “Middletown has been lagging behind. I attribute most of that push from Kathy Dudley for Hamilton.”

While the land bank doesn’t control what the cities do in terms of blight busting, Dudley’s new role will allow the county to be more hands-on.

Dudley, who started work as a county employee Tuesday, said Hamilton should have about 30 more properties ready for federal reimbursement by the deadline, and she expects Middletown to pick up the pace on its demolitions.

The county is still waiting for reimbursement requests from Fairfield Twp. — that entity was approved for the federal funds late — so “there are still a lot of moving parts,” she said.

To meet the goal, the county needs to have about 66 properties razed.

Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins said the city has been demolishing eyesores according to the city council’s direction.

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When asked if the city needs to change its philosophy so funds aren’t jeopardized in the future, Adkins said there is a plan and that he believes the county will meet the deadline.

“The city remains focused on improving the lives of our citizens,” Adkins told the Journal-News. “A comprehensive housing plan is currently under development, to be completed in 2019. Demolition is one part of this plan.”

McNamara has been in charge of the land bank, port authority and special projects for the commissioners and development department, but with Dudley’s hiring, he will now just concentrate on the latter two responsibilities.

Butler County Treasurer and land bank board President Nancy Nix said it is smart to have Dudley take over the land bank, because of her legal expertise and experience dealing with the nuts and bolts of the federal funding program.

“ (Dudley) is basically the guru as far as the Hardest Hit program, where Mike has been administrative,” Nix said.

Butler County Administrator Charlie Young said they still have to ratify the deals with the county’s two major cities, but Dudley will continue working on Hamilton’s land bank business and will now also help out Middletown. Those jurisdictions, along with the county, will pay half Dudley’s $81,500 salary and the land bank will pick up the rest.

“Both Hamilton and Middletown will be using Kathy to help support the acquisition of properties, the expenditure of funds related to the Hardest Hit Fund grant,” Young said. “So while it’s related to the land bank, it’s more the kind of the work the cities would be doing themselves rather than a land bank employee.”

The land bank almost missed out on the first $2 million allocation of federal funds back in 2015. The federally funded program mandated the two cities acquire 40 properties collectively by the end of March and another 40 by September that year, to redeem the $2 million Hardest Hit Fund award. Hamilton culled 30 blighted properties and Middletown — which had none in the pipeline at the end of January — acquired 14 eyesores for a total of 44 in time for the deadline.

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