Note: This story appears in the Thursday, Feb. 8 newspaper on Page A3.
A resolution authorizing a fee to support the newly created Athens County land bank was approved Tuesday by the county commissioners.
In January, the commissioners voted unanimously to authorize County Treasurer Bill Bias to file articles of incorporation for a land bank — actually called a land reutilization corporation — as a nonprofit. A land bank is a mechanism for removing blight by acquiring vacant and dilapidated tax-delinquent properties through foreclosure and demolishing them (or potentially finding a buyer to rehab them).
Nelsonville city officials and some Trimble Twp. residents had urged the commissioners to create a land bank.
Tuesday’s action authorizes use of 5 percent of all collections of delinquent real property, personal property and manufactured and mobile home taxes and assessments to fund the land bank. The money would come from the delinquent tax and assessment collection, known as DTAC.
Five percent of DTAC is already split between the treasurer’s office and county prosecutor’s office. In 2017, that 5 percent amounted to a total of just under $202,000, according to figures from the county auditor’s office. Had the additional 5 percent authorized Tuesday been in place, it would have generated a similar amount for the land bank.
However, the amount will vary because delinquent tax collections vary. For example, 5 percent of DTAC in 2014 amounted to just over $150,000.
County Commissioner Lenny Eliason, who also is a member of the land bank board, said the 5 percent will allow the land bank to begin operation. A possible use would be to pay for demolition of blighted properties, with the money to be reimbursed from grant funds. Eliason said the land bank needs to have a budget in place before it can apply for federal demolition funds through the Ohio Housing Finance Agency.
Concern has been expressed that taking the additional 5 percent from DTAC will hurt schools by taking money they and other entities with levies would normally get. DTAC includes delinquent taxes, interest and penalties.
However, County Treasurer Bill Bias told the commissioners Tuesday that he’s prepared to increase the interest charged on delinquent taxes to increase DTAC if it appears the schools will take a financial hit — something that Bias doesn’t think will happen.
The current interest rate is 4 percent (the state increased it from 3 percent), Bias said, adding that by law he can increase it to 12 percent — but not some number in between. Noting that the interest would be paid by people already having problems paying their taxes, Bias said he would prefer to have the option of increasing it by some lesser amount than 12.
Looking at figures from the past six years, the 3 percent interest rate generated an average of about 138,500 per year, Bias said. Using that average, a 12 percent interest rate would raise about $564,000.
Bias said he can change the rate annually — raising it to 12 percent or reducing it back to 4, and would monitor the impact on schools of using 5 percent of DTAC to fund the land bank. It would be monitored to determine if the interest rate should be increased. Bias said he doesn’t want to give schools and other entities with levies a windfall at the expense of struggling taxpayers.
However, Bias said he doesn’t believe increasing the interest rate will be necessary. He said other counties with land banks are seeing an increase in tax revenue, partly because of people with tax delinquencies signing up for tax payment plans rather than see their properties go through the land bank process.