City Commissioners Ready to Move Forward on Land Bank Without County
Land Bank Update
November 19, 2016
After Glynn County Commissioners placed a land bank authority proposal from the city of Brunswick on the shelf, deferring the proposal last week for more discussion after the holidays, Brunswick City Manager, Jim Drumm said Friday that Brunswick city commissioners are ready to move forward without the county.
“We’re ready to structure it (the land bank) and do it within the city limits,” Drumm said on Friday. “We still would have to ask the county to approve it, but would not need financial support from them. We were hoping to work with them because our boundaries are so close and they are part of the mechanism to forgive taxes on properties. We believe if we set up the model, the county would hopefully come on board.”
The land bank idea was proposed as a joint effort between the city and county to deal with dilapidated and vacant properties in Brunswick that officials say not only pose a public safety problem, but are also eyesores that can affect property values. Redeveloping dilapidated properties to sell them could potentially increase the tax base for both the city and county, officials have said.
Land banks allow authorities to recoup delinquent back taxes by imposing a lien on a property without the owner’s consent. Following state foreclosure laws, the properties are then sold at a public auction with any unsold parcels deeded to the local land bank. The land bank could also partner with a group or nonprofit to see those parcels sold to new owners or redeveloped.
As he has before, Glynn County Commissioner Strickland still questions where the seed money would come from and has concerns about an annual budget.
“There was no mention of a budget,” Strickland said. “Jim (Drumm) would be executive director of the land bank along with his other duties. If it grows, he will have to hire someone. Where would that funding come from? What we want to do, possibly after the first of the year, is to have a full work session possibly with the city and county commissioners after the holidays.”
Those questions remained even after discussion of the plan between city officials and county commissioners during a county work session this past week.
Drumm said Friday that the city and county would contribute seed money if necessary, but that seed money may not be necessary if both sides provide in-kind services to clear deeds of back taxes.
Strickland questioned during the joint meeting whether Brunswick has enough dilapidated and vacant structures to warrant a land bank.
“We actually have an inventory of a number of properties. I think that it’s been part of our problem, that really for the longest time, we’ve had these homes come up and it’s not the code enforcement side,” Drumm said during the meeting. “I want to clarify that it’s not our goal to just drop the city’s or the county’s code enforcement problems on this agency that we create.”
Drumm added that once action is taken on some of the houses, some of them become vacant lots once the house is torn down.
“As you drive through parts of Brunswick, you will find that there are blocks, almost a whole block, where the houses have come down, so you think the problem has gone away, but it really hasn’t,” Drumm said. “There are people that need affordable housing, so as we watch blocks disappear, very soon we’re the city of Detroit. If you’ve every driven through the outer suburbs of Detroit, their are blocks where there are no houses on them at all.”
The concept, Drumm said during the meeting, is to add structures back onto the tax rolls to create viable neighborhoods.
Brunswick City Planner John Hunter reiterated at the meeting that there are 138 buildings on the city’s dilapidated properties list.
“Those are active cases where we’ve contacted someway within the last two or three years,” Hunter said. “Out of those, we’ve got about 45 that have outstanding tax deeds, which means they’ve gone and presented it on the court house steps for auction and most of those were never purchased by anybody. So that means they’ve got at least three years of unpaid taxes on them and there is no one to claim it, and no activity with them whatsoever except more back taxes adding up.”
Drumm said the idea is not just about filling vacant houses.
“Maybe that block can be transformed into multi-family, or maybe that block could be changed to commercial,” Drumm said during the meeting. “So I think it’s really having a group that meets monthly, quarterly, or whatever it is, that is warranted to try to determine that there is a better purpose to put some of these properties together than just say lets replace them house by house.”
He also explained that he has seen success with land banks and that’s why it’s being recommended as a tool that other counties have used successfully.
Staffing for the land bank could start with a small group of city and county staffers, thereby creating no new bureaucracy. County and city officials could be appointed to serve on the land bank’s board, Drumm added during the meeting.