Northern Schuylkill COG Works to Establish County?s First Land Bank
Land Bank Update
July 22, 2015
In recent years, some municipalities in Schuylkill County have come up with strategic measures to gain ground in the war on blight.
For example, in 2012 the city of Pottsville assembled its own task force. Recently, Schuylkill County started putting its own together. And now a collection of municipalities and school districts is considering the possibility of forming one, too.
“It’s going to be called the Schuylkill County Land Bank,” Clyde C. “Champ” Holman, Ryan Township, chairman of the Northern Schuylkill Council of Governments, said Monday.
“In a nutshell, a land bank can acquire blighted and dilapidated properties easier than a municipality can, and the ultimate goal would be to get those properties back on the tax rolls. Land banks, of course, need funding in order to acquire these properties and either rehab or demolish them,” Mary Beth Dougherty, aide to state Sen. David Argall, R-29, said Monday.
Argall supports the project and said a combined effort may encourage the state to put funding into it.
“There’s strength in numbers,” Argall said.
So far, two municipalities — the boroughs of Shenandoah and Mahanoy City — and one school district, Minersville Area, have committed to join the first county-based land bank. Holman said he’s hoping a total of seven municipalities and five school districts come on board by October.
“It’s not for everybody. It’s for communities in need. It’s not a cure-all. It’s a tool to fight blight. It’s a way to strategically work with properties to re-purpose them to get them back on the tax rolls,” Holman said.
The matter will be discussed at 7 p.m. tonight at a meeting of the Northern Schuylkill Council of Governments at the Mahanoy Township Municipal Building at 1010 W. Centre St., Mahanoy City.
A land bank is a public or community-owned entity established to acquire, manage, maintain and re-purpose vacant, abandoned and foreclosed properties, according to the website for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“There are approximately 75 communities now operating formal land bank programs across the country,” according to www.hudexchange.info.
The largest is the one Argall, Dougherty and Holman used as an example, the Genesee County (Michigan) Land Bank Authority, which has acquired more than 10,000 properties.
“The concept started in Michigan, and I think it started there because of the decline of the automobile industry and the amount of blighted properties they ended up with,” Dougherty said.
In 1999, the Michigan State Legislature created a new, streamlined system for returning tax-reverted properties to productive use. And it allowed communities to reclaim and rebuild their neighborhoods. In 2002, the Genesee County Land Reutilization Council was formed. When the State of Michigan approved land bank legislation in 2004, the council became the Genesee County Land Bank Authority, according to www.thelandbank.org.
In 2012, the state House and Senate approved a version of the land bank law for Pennsylvania, Act 153, which enabled municipalities in Pennsylvania to create land banks. Today there are seven land banks in the state, according to Argall.
They are the Dauphin County Land Bank, Westmoreland County Land Bank, Philly Land Bank Alliance, Pittsburgh Land Bank, North East Pennsylvania Land Bank (which includes Pittston, West Pittston, Duryea and Jenkins), Harrisburg Land Bank and Venango County Land Bank.
Last year, Holman sent proposals to municipalities and school districts and a draft of an Intergovernmental Cooperation Agreement with obligations which include the following:
- Properties owned by the land bank will not be taxed by the county, municipalities or school districts.
- Each member municipality must provide a yearly contribution of $1,000 to the land bank. Such annual contributions will not be required from school districts which are members of the land bank.
- Member municipalities must maintain the lawns and sidewalks of the properties acquired by the land bank. The school districts won’t have that responsibility.
- If the land bank is able to return a property to taxable use, the county, municipalities and school districts agree to give the land bank half of the taxes collected on the property for five years.
“That’s how the land bank grows,” Argall said.
“That’s the funding that would allow it to perpetuate,” Holman said.
In the past year and a half, the Northern Schuylkill COG, which has 17-member municipalities, has been working with a consultant, Christopher Gulotta, Easton, to develop a plan for the first Schuylkill County Land Bank. And the COG sent letters to community and school district leaders, encouraging them to become part of the land bank by adopting ordinances.
On May 18, the Shenandoah borough council approved.
On June 17, the North Schuylkill school board declined.
On July 14, the Minersville borough council held its first reading of an ordinance regarding its involvement, Act 90. The second reading is scheduled for Aug. 11.
On June 29, the Minersville Area school board decided to get involved.
Holman said he hopes the boroughs of Ashland, Frackville, Girardville and Mahanoy City, Delano Township and the Mahanoy Area and Shenandoah Valley school districts sign on.
“We’re asking them to sign up by August 31. Our hope is to have an 11-member board of directors appointed by October,” Holman said.
Once established, he said the land bank can open a bank account and start to apply for funding while developing a list of properties to acquire and improve.
“One thing a land bank can do that a municipality cannot is negotiate with the Schuylkill County Tax Claim Bureau, if a property is eligible for judicial sale,” Dougherty said.
“The land bank’s money could be used for demolition, purchasing or even rehab,” Holman said.
“If a land bank can get a property that’s not completely gone, that’s salvageable, a land bank can go in and renovate it and turn around and sell it and get it back on the tax rolls,” Dougherty said.
One property that could benefit from a land bank, according to Dougherty, is a former home at 1129 W. Centre St., Ashland.
“I picked that property because its on the borough’s blight list plus it is eligible for judicial sale so its a great example of how a land bank could negotiate a sale with the tax claim bureau,” Dougherty said.
Holman said other municipalities and school districts in Schuylkill County are welcome to join, and encouraged officials with questions to call him at 570-778-1278.
Please click here to view the article online.