Lank bank proposal gaining traction in cities, county
Ret h i n k Rockmart founding member Sherman Ross is determined to get a land bank authority created with the cities and county, and his recent meeting with the county commission was a major step towards achieving the goal.
Abandoned, unwanted properties can be foreclosed and sold through the land bank- helping to remove market stagnation. While each municipality in Polk County would be free to use the tool, it can’t be created at all without the county joining forces with at least one other city.
“It will take in properties, abandoned properties, primarily where people owe back-taxes,” Ross explained at an earlier Rethink meeting. “Those can be foreclosed on and put into the land bank authority, and the land bank authority can offer those for sale. Primarily, what we like to do is get developers involved.”
Ross added that if the county and cities can “get them interested in acquiring these properties, and if its an abandoned home, either renovate it, tear it down, or build something new. It’s going be a great tool that will benefit the whole community.”
While yet to approve or dismiss anything, the commissioners requested time to consider the idea before moving on. The item was absent from their meeting session the following day.
“Rockmart and Cedartown have both been participating in the Georgia Initiative Community Housing,” Ross told commissioners. “Part of that is revitalization -- finding a way to get abandoned homes back on tax rows, trying to find some folks that are interested in developing new homes.”
Ross passed out various documents such as the intergovernmental agreement before explaining more about the topic.
“The land bank has to be initiated by the county commission,” he said. “The municipalities in the county can participate, and all three here are interested in participating in the land bank authority. The land bank is (controlled) by a board of directors. The statute allows five to eleven board members. People who have existing land banks that I communicate with recommend five and elected officials can be on that board.”
If created with f i ve members, the board would likely consist of a member from Rockmart, Cedartown, and Aragon, and two county members would serve alongside them. Members would be appointed by the County Commission, with recommendations on who would serve from each entity.
“The land bank can also acquire property through direct market purchases and donations,” Ross said. “Land banks can donate property to non-profits such as Habitat for Humanity, so that’s one way to market some of these properties. One of the best things to do is bundle properties together, and encourage developers to purchase those properties. It expedites the process of acquiring them. The developers have to demonstrate that they have the capability to do those projects through their experience as well as their finances. The land bank works with them to oversee their plans.”
Ross continued to explain various pros of having a land bank, but the board had questions. Commissioner Jose Iglesias mentioned that land banks often derive funds from line items in government budgets, and he demonstrated concern that the cost would be an expense for the county.
“That’s what I would see as seed money,” Ross replied. “Once it gets established -there’s a nearby land bank that generated $100,000 recently. In the beginning, it could be an expense to the county, but I think it would be nominal.”
“Give us a minute to just kind of go over it and look at it, and then we’ll get back to you,” county chairperson Jennifer Hulsey said.
While discussions were ongoing about the Land Bank at the county’s work session, the Cedartown City Commission was also bringing up the issue.
Cedartown City Manager Bill Fann said that he believes there are pros and cons to establishing and using a land bank, but that past successes of the program such as the development generated by Atlanta around Turner Field during the 1990s in conjunction with Fulton County and in the years since are proof that it can work.
“The most important thing for the land bank is that all the entities can put properties in the land bank,” Fann said.
Additionally, he pointed out the land bank can also extinguish delinquent taxes on property it wants to sell, and can also sell properties in a collective group instead of how the cities and county has to do it currently, with the use of the bidding process for each property.
That only comes after years in court on getting a property declared blighted, and having it taken over by the city for failure to pay past due property taxes.
“It’s pretty complicated, all the laws, rules, regulations and procedures that you have to go through because you’re dealing with properties,” Fann said.
He added it was an idea Cedartown looked at when they got involved with GICH during their run through the program, but didn’t have any other interest so didn’t pursue. Fann gives credit to Ross for pushing forward with the proposal, and hoped to see a committee form to pursue the land bank further.
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