By Erin Beck
Shinnston City Council is moving forward with creating a land bank, also known as a land reuse agency, in an effort to alleviate the problem of abandoned and dilapidated properties in the city.
Council members unanimously approved board members for the land bank at the Dec. 12 meeting. Those members are Chris Drain, Duane Blackwell, Andrew Minigh, Julia Currey, Connie Wolfe, and Jeffrey Chalfant.
During the 2022 legislative session at the start of last year, lawmakers approved a bill, Senate Bill 552, that was requested by the executive branch and heavily promoted by State Auditor J.B. McCuskey.
Among other provisions, the bill removed the responsibility of county sheriffs’ offices to sell properties delinquent on taxes at public auction, transferring that function to the state treasurer, at one annual auction instead of two. The law also creates a fund for local governments, including those with land banks, to remediate or demolish properties. Those governments receive the right of first refusal if the property isn’t sold by the auditor.
At the Dec. 12, meeting, Mayor Rodney Strait said the bank would track tax liens and abandoned properties.
“They would determine whether that we will tear those buildings down or sell them to somebody for rehab,” he said. “We’re looking at that as a way to combat abandoned houses which also will eliminate people that are vagrants living in these buildings, causing other problems.”
He added that tearing down the buildings would benefit nearby homes’ property values.
In an interview, City Clerk Kathleen Panek, who attended a conference on the new law, said the bank “will have the authority to take possession of properties.”
“And they will have the discretionary powers to decide if somebody has the bona fides that they can trust, an idea that is doable. They can decide to take this piece of property and sell it to them for $1, rather than trying to get thousands of dollars out of it… And it will be in the contract time period that this has to be accomplished, or the property comes back to the land bank. So there won’t be any more of the Murphy buildings sitting there doing nothing.”
She said the bank would have to consider whether investment in rehabbing the property would generate a return, or if demolition would be more economically-sound.
Panek said that while sheriffs’ offices have tried to work out payment plans to keep people in homes, they’ve ended up doubling fines as delinquency grows.