From left Meigs County Commissioners Jimmy Will, Randy Smith and Tim Ihle listen to residents’ concerns about loosing the opportunity for a land bank in the county during the December 12 meeting. Photo by Carrie Gloeckner.

Land Bank Issue, $250,000 in Potential Grant Money Public Meeting to be Held

Delinquent Tax Collection Issue Raised as Well

POMEROY, Ohio – The Meigs County Commissioners are planning a public meeting to gain input from the community concerning the possibility of a land bank.

While the commissioners previously passed a resolution to have a land bank, according to the Ohio Revised Code, the county treasurer must sign off on it. As of this writing, Meigs County Treasurer Peggy Yost has not filed to have a land bank. The public meeting is set for Thursday, December 19 at 6 p.m. in the Meigs County Court of Common Pleas at the Court House. The Meigs County Commissioners will be extending their meeting from the regularly scheduled meeting at 11 a.m. to the evening that day.

The issue of timeliness comes into play due to $250,000 in grant money available to counties in Ohio that are starting up land banks. Residents brought up the issue again during the Meigs County Commissioners meeting on December 12, 2019.

Residents and business owners Maureen Burns of the Brickhouse Apohecary and Herbal Sage Tea along with Bruce Martin of Holly Hill Inn questioned the commissioners on the progress of the land bank.

“It does concern me. We’re on the sideline of loosing a lot of money,” Burns said to the commissioners.

“We’d love to see it happen,” Commissioner Jimmy Will responded and noted that the commissioners previously passed the resolution to create the land bank. He said that conversations with Yost have not produced progress on making the land bank a reality for the county. Will said that Yost had reservations on the concept of the land bank.

“We are loosing a quarter of a million dollars,” Burns said and questioned the commissioners on what could be done to keep it going.

Martin commented on what his customers have talked to him about coming into the area from outside the county. He talked about the abandoned homes and properties. “They drive by these houses, and they are afraid.”

“If the County Treasurer is the person holding the county back, what can we do,” Burns asked.

Commissioner Smith said the county treasurer is the only one that can move it forward at this point. He said without the start up grant money the land bank would be run off of 5 percent of the delinquent tax collected each year which amounts to about $3,000.

“Over 60 of Ohio’s 88 counties have a land bank,” Will added.

The process to move a property through the land bank system is not easy, according to Smith. Commissioner Tim Ihle added that it was not a “land grab” but “another tool in the tool belt” to deal with abandoned properties that have fallen into disrepair and tax delinquency. Will additionally commented that many people ask for land banks to “just take it.”

The commissioners agreed that they had done as much as they could do concerning the land bank. They also stated that Treasurer Yost and Meigs County Auditor Mary Byer-Hill would be invited to the meeting along with Meigs County Prosecuting Attorney James Stanley.

Treasurer Yost has had reservations. “I’m cautious,” she said to the Meigs Independent Press. She said some counties have chosen not to have land banks. She added that there have been law suits filed concerning land banks.

Lawsuits involved with land banks involve the overage amount of money received from the sale of the property verses what is owed in delinquent taxes and the cost of demolition of condemned structures. The suits so far have not presented a victory on the part of the former property owners. The land bank system is a lengthy process. Hearings are held and the owners have opportunities to retain the property.

Land banks are about dealing with blighted properties according to Will. He said even if the land banks are not something that continues long term, the opportunity has been presented to have funding to deal with long blighted and abandoned properties in the county.

Part of the discussion has been not just about properties that have fallen into disrepair, been abandoned and even condemned but the delinquent tax burden the county has been carrying. Properties that go into the land bank would be cleaned up and sold with the purpose of making the neighborhood look better, encourage economic development and have a new land owner that would be paying the property taxes according to Will.

Will told the Meigs Independent Press that the county has about more than $6 million in delinquent taxes. With budget issues ahead for the county with the loss of the Medicaid Sales Tax (MCO), Will said there are concerns about making the budget work going forward. Having the back amount of property taxes owed would help with the budget issues. Will said the biggest percentage of the back amount would go to the school districts, but it would also go to fire departments, villages, police departments, and others where a levy was in place. For the schools it could mean about $1 million to each district. Will said the collection rate of taxes for the county is 68 percent. Other counties are in the 90s on their collection percentages. Vinton County has an 86 percent collection rate. Will said that Meigs County needs to do better than 68 percent.

Auditor Byer-Hill told the Meigs Independent Press that as of June 30, 2019 Meigs County had collected 67 percent of taxes which included the delinquent amount. She said that with the second half property taxes included now it was closer to 71 percent with the delinquent amount included. Byer-Hill said that if the amount of delinquent taxes are removed from the equation, Meigs County’s percentage of taxes collected would be in the 90s as well. Will said those back taxes still have to be part of the equation because the back tax burden is still there.

“We are not sitting around here doing nothing,” Treasurer Yost said. She said collection on taxes has grown every year. She said that last year many people caught up their taxes with settlements from C8. She said that under the old system, delinquent taxes had to be paid via a “5 Pay” plan. That meant the taxes had to be caught up with the back amount and the current taxes at the half year tax collection within five payments (five half year tax collection times). Yost said people couldn’t make payments that high and just didn’t pay anything. She said they take payments through a contract system now, breaking down the tax delinquency into monthly payments. She said that has helped, but some are referred on to the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office for foreclosure. She said that in the past eight years there has been an increase in tax collection. About $15 million is billed (along with the back amount for an approximate $22 million in property taxes for Meigs County). According to Byer-Hill, about $15 million is collected.

The back amount is still an issue and it seems as though some chronically delinquent tax property owners do not seem to be getting the message. That is where the land bank comes in according to Will. It presents another option and funding is available for the start up of one, until the end of December.

The public will have an opportunity to hear from elected officials and express their thoughts on the matter at the meeting on December 19.