Columbus, county reach agreement on land-bank protocol (Columbus Dispatch)

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Columbus, county reach agreement on land-bank protocol (Columbus Dispatch)

Columbus and Franklin County have reached an agreement to guide how the county’s new land bank will help Columbus address some of the city’s 6,000 vacant and abandoned houses.

The city council passed a memorandum of understanding at its Monday meeting that gives the city first dibs on any vacant or abandoned property within its boundaries. Other than initially acquiring properties, the county will focus on the suburbs, villages and townships. The land bank’s administrators also signed off, said Franklin County Treasurer Ed Leonard.

“I think it’s a good agreement because the county is focusing on property outside the city limits, and we have property we want to address,” said City Councilman Zach M. Klein, who helped draft the agreement.

“We will be identifying properties throughout the city to put back into use, and this agreement is an example of two levels of government working together to make Columbus safer and stronger.”

John Turner, who oversees land development for the city, said much of the property the city seizes through the county land bank will be demolished.

Under the agreement:

• The city has 30 days to claim a property once the county land bank seizes it. The land bank then has 90 days to turn the property over.

• After 30 days, the city can still take a land-bank property, but it must reimburse the land bank for any rehabilitation costs.

• County land bank properties must comply with city codes, with grass no higher than 4 inches. The city has the right to demolish dangerous properties.

A 2010 law allows counties to seize properties before they go to a sheriff’s sale if they are tax-delinquent for at least a year and are vacant. That’s a power that can help the city.

County Treasurer Leonard formed the land bank a year ago by holding back $3.5 million delinquent property taxes that would normally go to schools and levy-funded agencies. About $1.1 million of that was diverted from Columbus City Schools.

Under the agreement with Columbus, the county could take properties in the city before a sheriff’s sale and then quickly turn them over to the city, helping Columbus claim the 900 vacant properties Mayor Michael B. Coleman wants demolished. He has set aside $11.5 million for demolitions in neighborhoods with the highest concentration of vacant properties.

The city also has about $8.5 million to demolish vacant properties from state Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Leonard hopes the relationship with Columbus is a model for the rest of the county.

“We intend to use the land bank to help every (municipality) in the county accomplish their goals,” Leonard said.

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