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.

Origin

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.

Progress

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.

x

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.

x

Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.

x

CHEIF INFORMATION OFFICER

George Mehok

George Mehok is the chief information officer for Safeguard. He is responsible for all strategic technology decisions, new systems deployments and data center operations supporting a national network of more than 10,000 mobile workers.

George has more than 20 years of leadership experience dedicated to high-growth companies in the mobile telecommunications and financial services industries, spanning startups to global industry leaders.

George played a senior role in the formation of Verizon Wireless, leading the IT product development and strategic planning team. He led the integration planning for the Verizon merger including: GTE, Vodafone-AirTouch, Bell Atlantic Mobile and PrimeCo.

As chief information officer at Revol Wireless, a VC-backed CDMA wireless communications network operator, George’s team implemented an integrated technology infrastructure and award-winning business intelligence platform.

George holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Eastern Michigan University and an M.B.A. from The Ohio State University. He is a board member of Akron University’s School of Business Center for Information Technology, in addition to an advisory board member for OHTec.

In 2013, George won the Crain’s Cleveland Business CIO of the Year award for his team’s work in completing a major acquisition and technology transformation at Safeguard. In 2015, George’s team was recognized by InformationWeek’s annual Elite 100 ranking of the most innovative U.S.-based users of business technology. The mobile inspection technology developed at Safeguard was selected as InformationWeek’s “One of the top 20 ideas to steal in 2015”.

x

General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard, with oversight responsibilities for the legal, human resources, training, compliance and audit departments. Linda’s broad scope of oversight covers regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, pro-active risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human capital and training initiatives, compliance and audit services, litigation and claims management, and counsel related to mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda’s oversight of the legal department along with multiple compliance and human capital focused departments assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans almost 20 years, and Linda’s experience, both as outside and in-house counsel, covers a wide range of corporate matters, including regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.

x

Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for oversight of the Control, Quality Assurance, Accounting and Information Security departments, and is a Managing Director of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.

x

AVP, High Risk and Investor Compliance

Steve Meyer

Steve Meyer is the assistant vice president of high risk and investor compliance for Safeguard. In this role, Steve is responsible for managing our clients’ conveyance processes, Safeguard’s investor compliance team and developing our working relationships with cities and municipalities around the country. He also works directly with our clients in our many outreach efforts and he represents Safeguard at a number of industry conferences each year.

Steve joined Safeguard in 1998 as manager over the hazard claims team. He was instrumental in the development and creation of policies, procedures and operating protocol. Under Steve’s leadership, the department became one of the largest within Safeguard. In 2002, he assumed responsibility for the newly-formed high risk department, once again building its success. Steve was promoted to director over these two areas in 2007, and he was promoted to assistant vice president in 2012.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve spent 10 years within the insurance industry, holding a number of positions including multi-line property adjuster, branch claims supervisor, and multi-line and subrogation/litigation supervisor. Steve is a graduate of Grove City College.

x

AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.

x

AVP, Finance

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of finance for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.

x

AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.

x

AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.

x

AVP, Mobile and Analytics

Jason Heckman

Jason Heckman is the assistant vice president of mobile and analytics for Safeguard. He is responsible for both Safeguard’s mobile development and strategy as well as the company’s data warehousing and business intelligence. Jason oversees the design, development and release of all Safeguard’s internally developed mobile applications. He also oversees the development and delivery of operational and analytical data technologies throughout the organization.

Jason joined Safeguard as manager of mobile in 2012. During that time he led the development and integration of Safeguard’s mobile applications across the company’s vendor network to provide real-time data from the field. In 2014, he was promoted to director of mobile applications and named assistant vice president in 2017.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Jason was the director of application development and business intelligence for Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana.

Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

x

AVP, Business Development

Tim Rath

Tim Rath is the AVP of business development for Safeguard. He is responsible for developing innovative growth strategies for Safeguard and developing and overseeing potential partnerships, mergers and acquisitions.

Tim joined Safeguard in 2011 as project director and has filled numerous roles within Vendor Management, most recently serving as director of vendor management, a role he assumed in 2011.

Prior to Safeguard, Tim worked as director of supply chain at PartsSource Inc. in Aurora, Ohio, a provider of medical replacement parts, procurement solutions and healthcare supply chain management technology services. He also has held sales positions with Rexel, ComDoc, and Pier Associates, all based in Ohio.

Tim holds a degree in marketing and sales from The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. He also earned his FAA Certified Commercial UAS (Drone) Pilot license in 2017.