Steel Valley school board ponders land bank (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Steel Valley school board heard a presentation about land banks by Ann Lewis, executive director of Steel Valley Council of Governments, at Monday’s workshop meeting.

Lloyd Cunningham, Homestead council president, and Kyle Thauvette, West Homestead manager, also came to the meeting.

Ms. Lewis said the district has a population of 16,500, 8,700 housing units, 517 properties in poor, very poor or unsound condition, and about 1,334 households that are chronically tax delinquent.

Police and fire calls are also much more frequent to blighted properties, she said, creating added expense for municipalities.

Ms. Lewis said the value of properties within a 150-foot circle of blighted properties decreases by 15 percent.

In a handout, she estimated that the district loses $179,500 in real estate taxes from tax delinquent and blighted properties, and $104,471 in real estate taxes from vacant lots.

A land bank can acquire properties, renovate them and get them back on the tax rolls, she said.

The land bank legislation allows Allegheny County, school districts and municipalities to share their real estate taxes 50/50 with the land bank for the first five years after a property is back on the tax rolls, she said.

However, she said the amount of money wasn’t enough to obtain properties, bring them up to code, do any additional renovations and maintain the properties until sale.

The Cuyahoga County Land Bank, a very successful land bank, added another source of revenue, she said.

Ms. Lewis asked the school board to consider giving the land bank 5 percent of the delinquent real estate taxes collected the previous year. People involved with the land bank calculated that would allow it to cover expenses and grow, she said.

Superintendent Ed Wehrer spoke of a dilapidated apartment building next to Barrett Elementary School that he would like to be removed. School officials talked about how to get rid of it — by using the land bank or by condemnation — and whether implosion would be safe as a method of removing it with asbestos inside.

During the workshop meeting Monday night, Dennis Keesecker, director of buildings and grounds, also gave a presentation on a steel building he wants to buy to store district maintenance trucks, paper records and other items.

A 40-by-60-foot building would cost $52.80 per square foot, and a 50-by-75-foot building would cost $47.60 per square foot, he said.

The board had been considering buying the former Munhall No. 3 Firehall building for storage.

School officials said the firehall is not up to code and doesn’t have a restroom.

President Donna Kiefer, referring to the firehall, said she didn’t want “someone else’s garbage.”

“It just seemed that [the firehall] being off campus, it didn’t fit the bill for what we need,” Mr. Wehrer said.

School Director Mike Terrick said he wanted to speak to fire department officials about a possible purchase, which might cost half as much as the proposed $180,000 steel building.

“I will not put that kind of money out for a steel building,” Mrs. Kiefer said.

The matter was tabled and will not be on tonight’s agenda, she said.

Teachers will meet with the district in early November for another negotiation session, district solicitor Donald Fetzko said. They have been working without a contract since the third week of August.

The district has met with the teachers six to eight times already, he said. Mr. Fetzko said he doesn’t want to comment on the progress of negotiations now.

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