December 10, 2008 [Plain Dealer]
COLUMBUS — A radical plan to help turn around decaying Cuyahoga County neighborhoods through a land bank cleared the Ohio Senate Wednesday by a near unanimous vote.
The legislation, which passed with only a single Republican dissent, allows officials in the state’s most populous county to set up a non-profit land reutilization program to accept or buy foreclosed or abandoned properties.
Modeled after a Michigan program, the land bank would give properties beyond repair a date with a wrecking ball while others would be held in a trust.
“An upheaval of enormous consequences is coming if we don’t do something now,” said Sen. Tom Patton, a Strongsville Republican, referring to the continued decline of real estate prices in the county.
Despite overwhelming Senate support for the bill, which was championed by County Treasurer Jim Rokakis, House Republican leaders had concerns with the broad powers given to the land bank setting off a series of Statehouse hallway huddles with Rokakis’ crew.
The solution: Adding language which makes it clear that a major purpose of the land bank is to clear land, not rehabilitate homes.
“That is a little too free enterprise for them,” Rokakis said. “But that’s OK because it was never our intent to get into that business.”
He said that clarifying language would be added in the House, where the bill heads next with passage expected next week.
Another amendment slipped into the bill in committee limits the program to Cuyahoga County and keeps the land bank from acquiring any new property deeds after two years.
“This is drastic legislation, but drastic legislation is what is needed now,” said Sen. Dale Miller, a Cleveland Democrat. “This legislation will give us a tool to start rebuilding our neighborhoods and come back from the devastation of the foreclosure crisis.”
Meanwhile, House lawmakers easily approved legislation aimed at preventing state employees from using state databases to snoop on private citizens. The bill, which was approved by a 69-26 vote, would require officials to fire unclassified employees who improperly access confidential personal information.
It was sparked by a state investigation which found that Department of Human Services Director Helen Jones-Kelley had no legitimate reason to authorize a database check on Samuel Joe Wurzelbacher, the Toledo-area man better known as Joe the Plumber.