County Eyes Land Bank

Belmont County commissioners are considering the establishment of a land bank to help address the issue of dilapidated buildings in the county and encourage economic development there.

Commissioners heard a presentation Wednesday from representatives of the Thriving Communities Institute about land banks in Ohio. Land banks are non-profit, non-government groups formed to address the issue of vacated properties in a community, said Jim Rokakis, director of the Thriving Communities Institute.

Members of a land bank work to strategically acquire title-to-tax delinquent properties, then return them to productive use that generates additional tax revenue for a community, he said. Typically the group is funded though 5 percent of the delinquent tax and assessment collection fees accrued by a county, he said.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Belmont County,” said Commissioner Ginny Favede, who has been working on the project. “It’s an opportunity for us to acquire funds to develop dilapidate houses. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to continue planning for the economic development of Belmont County, while helping local governments with dilapidated housing.”

Commissioners believe the formation of a land bank could help in revitalizing vacated properties along Belmont County’s riverfront in Bellaire, Bridgeport and Martins Ferry.

To form a land bank, Belmont County commissioners must first pass a resolution authorizing County Treasurer Kathy Kelich to file articles of incorporation with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. Once the incorporation filing is complete, a county land bank board would have to be authorized.

State law requires at least two county commissioners serve on the board, as well as the county treasurer and an official from the largest city in the county. A township trustee would be tapped for the board, and others with pertinent experience also could be selected.