Mantua Twp. – After the Neighborhood Development Services, Inc., demolished an abandoned home next door, Deeanna and Thomas Barkett purchased the vacant lot, which was adjacent to their property, at Sheriffs sale in the fall of 2013. In January 2016, the Barketts were notified that an assessment of $9,000 — more than they paid for the property — was now owed on the property.  In contacting the trustees, township solicitor, County Auditor, County Prosecutor, and the Land Bank, the Barketts were told the issue would be discussed at the next Land Bank meeting. According to Portage County Treasurer Brad Cromes, the tax lien/assessment that was applied to the Barkett’s property arose out of the Moving Ohio Forward program, a grant the Land Bank used beginning in 2012 to demolish blighted structures around Portage County.  Funding for the program came from the federal government, directed by the Ohio Attorney General’s office. “It’s my understanding,” shared Mr. Cromes, “that at the time the funders preferred local partners like the Land Bank to recapture funds spent on demolitions so that they could be reapplied to future projects.”

According to Mr. Cromes, the Land Bank chose to capture the funds through use of a tax lien/assessment, to have been placed via the city, village, or township where the property was located, and repaid at the transfer of the property.  In a few cases, like the Barkett’s, those liens were not placed or were placed well after the demolition activity had been conducted. There are three additional properties in the county, according to Mr. Cromes, that are in a similar position to the Barkett’s, where a sale occurred before the lien/assessment was applied.

At its most recent meeting, the Land Bank agreed to forgive its interest in the balance due on those four assessments.  Now, each city, village or township that filed the lien/assessment must now file a withdrawal. Ms. Barkett was pleased to learn that the Mantua Township Trustees unanimously agreed to follow suit. Mr. Cromes remarked, “Our attorney is working with the Prosecutor’s Office to achieve that goal, and we are optimistic that work will be completed relatively quickly.”

At this point, there are 30 other properties where a demolition has occurred as a part of this program. As yet, no assessment has been applied; fortunately, in these cases, the properties have not yet been transferred to a new owner. In those instances, the local community has an opportunity to apply the lien so that it can be repaid. According to Mr. Cromes, there are another 60 properties where the demolition work by the Land Bank and lien/assessment by the local government has been fully completed.  Thus far, the Moving Ohio Forward program led to the demolition of 94 blighted structures around Portage County.

Going forward, states Mr. Cromes, “the Land Bank intends to manage all aspects of demolitions it conducts, including local funding, demolition contracting, and the application of any necessary liens/assessments to recoup costs.” He continued, “We will continue to work with our cities, villages and townships to identify structures and parcels that are in need of rehabilitation, and to convert those parcels to productive use for the benefit of our communities.”

Dave Vaughan, Executive Director of Neighborhood Development Services, Inc., shared that the Moving Ohio Forward funds, which were utilized to start the program, were administered by the State Attorney General’s Office. The program’s current funding is from a new fund — the Hardest Hit Fund, which is administered by the Ohio Housing Finance Office.