Harrison updates commissioners on Land Bank

Seneca County Treasurer Paul Harrison returned a Land Bank advance of $300,000 during the county commissioners’ meeting Thursday.

The commissioners had advanced the money to provide operating funds until the program could be reimbursed by state funds. Harrison said the program has $279,000 remaining to continue demolition and rehabilitation of blighted properties.

During his update, Harrison said about 40 houses have been demolished so far and five houses were sold to be rehabilitated. Of those, three or four have been completed.

“Instead of demolishing those houses and ending up with a vacant lot, those five properties were returned to tax-paying status in the county,” he said. “They also afforded the opportunity of owning a home to people who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford to buy a house.”

Harrison said the average cost of demolition — from start to reseeding the lot to grass — has been $13,400 per house. He said the lots left vacant were offered for sale first to the owners of neighboring properties.

Harrison the grant program ends at the end of this year, but the remaining money is enough for about 20 more houses — either for demolition or to offer for rehab.

“We’re looking forward to a successful year in 2020,” he said. “We’re still working on some secondary areas that can use some attention.”

Commissioner Mike Kerschner noted that Renee Smith, director of Fostoria Economic Development Corp., former treasurer Damon Alt and other people played big parts in the land bank.

“It was those folks who initially formed the land bank and did a lot of heavy lifting in the beginning,” he said.

Commissioner Shayne Thomas said the land bank has been a collaborative effort with elected officials, cities, villages and others.

“Having that level of collaboration has allowed us to realize half a million dollars,” he said.

Also Thursday, the commissioners heard a 2020 budget update from Administrator Stacy Wilson, who said revenue could be lower next year due to several factors, including declining revenue at the county jail and decreases in commitments from the state to counties across Ohio.

She said 2019 expenses were at about 80% of what was budgeted, and revenue was at 86.5%.

The commissioners are planning to meet with county departments concerning their budgets this month.

During budget adjustments, the board approved:

• Moving their meeting from Thanksgiving to 9 a.m. Nov. 26.

• A $3,000 supplemental appropriation to the DRETAC Fund for supplies.

• A $22,740 supplemental appropriation to the Justice Reinvestment and Incentive Grant Fund for contract services.

• Met in executive session to discuss pending litigation.