2 more communities join Butler County land bank

More communities have joined the Butler County land bank since the commissioners provided a funding source to cover the entire county, but officials from the cities of Hamilton and Middletown say they should not be shut out of the new money.

Up until now only the county’s two largest cities have received land bank funds, but now Ross Twp. and the city of Trenton have joined the blight busting business. The land bank board approved memoranda of understanding with those entities on Thursday.

With $2.7 million it received in Moving Ohio Forward grants from the state, Butler County formed a land bank two years ago to deal with blighted buildings. The cities of Hamilton and Middletown each gave $1.1 million to the land bank fund as well.

At Treasurer Nancy Nix’s request, Butler County commissioners agreed last summer to siphon 1 percent of delinquent tax and assessment collection funds (DTAC) to bolster the land bank and open up services for the entire county. DTAC funds are late payment penalties on real estate taxes. Nix originally estimated the 1 percent would garner about $155,000, but the commissioners approved a $175,000 transfer to the land bank on Thursday. Newly Named Executive Director Mike McNamara said the transfer was for the total amount of DTAC funding for the year.

Jim Foster, Trenton’s economic development director, said the citizens there shouldn’t expect to see bulldozers rumbling through the streets anytime soon, the biggest advantage of being a land bank member is the ability to get clean title on blighted buildings.

“The real advantage to us is to get clean title to some of these properties,” he said. “Trenton doesn’t have large areas with issues, we have one or two scattered around various neighborhoods. What we envision the land bank is being a tool, not necessarily the tool, a tool to help us address some of these derelict properties.”

Ross Twp. Administrator Bob Bass said they will be targeting bad buildings in the Venice Blvd. area.

“This is a great tool for local governments in my opinion, to be able to be proactive in trying to deal with blighted areas,” Bass said. “You feel kind of frustrated as a local government by not being able to get involved in trying to deal with some of these situations.”

Under the Moving Ohio Forward grant, Butler County spent $4.6 million razing 511 ailing structures in Hamilton and Middletown. Now the cities are in the midst of a federal blight elimination program. They needed to acquire 40 blighted properties collectively by March 31 and another 40 by September, in order to keep a $2 million in Hardest Hit Fund monies. They ended up culling 44 by the first deadline.

Hamilton’s Economic Development Director Jody Gunderson gave a presentation to the land bank board, asking for $41,500 to put toward the total cost of $301,000 to banish two buildings in commercial districts. There is an old red brick building at 205 North B St. that needs to come down. The city has blocked off the sidewalk on one side because the bricks keep popping off the building.

“We actually have shut off the sidewalk on the side because of bricks coming off of the building” Gunderson said. “That still worries me because I drove past it this morning and people will move that sign, which means people continue to use that sidewalk. That’s dangerous.”

The other structure is a vacant house sandwiched between two commercial buildings at 232 Main St. The city wants to raze the building and create much needed parking.

Nix balked a bit at the request.

“The situation is we had allocated the DTAC money to outside the cities,” Nix said. “But now it seems the cities might be swallowing up part of that money. I know the commissioners’ intent was to have that money for outside the cities. Are they being short-changed or do we have a separate pot of money.”

McNamara said they have unspent DTAC funds from last year and cash from forfeited land sales and a bank balance of $62,369 which doesn’t include the new DTAC money. He said they can’t use the Hardest Hit funds on the Hamilton projects because those monies are targeted for residential areas.

Middletown presented a project also, to tear down a ramshackle house on Tytus Avenue that has numerous code violations and complaints, but they were not looking for DTAC money. The veterinarian who has his business next door wants to buy the property for expansion purposes and has offered to pick up the demolition tab. The city just needs the land bank to clean the title.

Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins did say though that he doesn’t believe the biggest cities should be shut out of DTAC funds entirely.

“While the DTAC money is designed for things around the county you might not have applications for the money that’s available,” he said. “I certainly would not want to leave money sitting in a bank account somewhere, when there are projects on the table and nobody is asking for money except the cities of Middletown and Hamilton.”

Hamilton Vice Mayor Rob Wile concurred and suggested they have two funding cycles a year and allocate a set percentage per project so there is enough money to go around. Commissioner Don Dixon said they shouldn’t shut out the big cities.

“I think economic development components are important to have to it and I think each project can stand on its own,” he said. “I think we can evaluate what we feel is more important than the other and prioritize it.”

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