Cuyahoga and three other Ohio counties have established land banks to keep tax-foreclosed properties out of the hands of speculators and get them into productive use. Three other Ohio counties are moving plans for land banks off the drawing board. This is a promising idea for Stark County to consider, too.
As The Rep explained in detail Sunday, Ohio law now allows larger counties, including Stark, to transfer tax-delinquent properties to land banks without going through sheriff’s sales. The land bank can then sell properties to developers and others, getting them back on the tax rolls, and donate other properties to nonprofits for uses ranging from parking lots to community gardens.
Interest in establishing a land bank here has been dampened by, among other things, the return to office of Treasurer Gary Zeigler. One of Zeigler’s predecessors, Alexander Zumbar, had led the charge for a land bank, and no one seems inclined to trust Zeigler with the responsibility of running such a program.
That shouldn’t be a barrier. The law doesn’t require a county treasurer to run the land bank, and surely an alternative could be found.
A more serious concern is the necessary diversion of some tax money to run the program, which would impact primarily school districts. Officials need to get these stakeholders to the table to answer their questions. And they need to look at existing land banks to see whether the ultimate benefit to schools might offset the tax loss.
There’s no need to rush into a commitment to creating a land bank, but a commitment to deeper exploration of the idea — including a public conversation about the pros and cons — shouldn’t be allowed to languish, either.
When Commissioner Thomas Bernabei says, “Land banking does not provide a solution to any of Stark County’s very deep financial problems,” he may be right if he’s referring only to county government. But there are plenty of neighborhoods and local governments in Stark County for which abandoned properties create serious problems, and for which a land bank might be one.