With grants gone, Butler County land bank to change focus in battling blight

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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For Denise Callahan story slugged Ham Demolition

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Butler County’s land bank could soon be shifting its focus if state and federal funds for batting eyesores dry up, which could mean funds distributed to more places throughout the county but less money to award.

With $2.7 million it received in Moving Ohio Forward grants from the state, Butler County formed a land bank in 2012 to deal with blighted buildings. The cities of Hamilton and Middletown each gave $1.1 million to the land bank fund as well, which is why those cities have been the only recipients of grant funding thus far. About 600 bad buildings were demolished under the state program.

Then the county was awarded $4.3 million in federal Hardest Hit Funds for the Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP) beginning in 2014 that targeted preventing foreclosures and stabilizing local property values through the demolitions in Hamilton and Middletown. Fairfield Twp. received a sliver of the funds as well. To date, 220 eyesores have been razed under the program.

RELATED: Butler County land bank ‘racing to beat the clock’ to demolish grant-eligible blight

All the money must be spent by the end of the year. Then the only funding source available will be delinquent tax assessment collections funds, called DTAC. County Treasurer Nancy Nix, who chairs the land bank board, said if no new state or federal monies come along, the land bank’s focus will change.

“We would just be a much smaller operation, we would just be on a real shoe string,” she said.

The county commissioners were poised to approve a $169,978 allocation of DTAC on Monday. With the latest infusion, the land bank has received $791,851 in DTAC funding and $208,750 for demolitions. Some of DTAC pays to administer the land bank.

At Nix’s urging, the commissioners in 2014 agreed to siphon 1 percent of the DTAC funds off for the land bank, so other jurisdictions could get help eliminating their eyesores.

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The Butler County land bank has approved razing a structure in downtown Trenton at a cost of $63,700 and demolition of the old Taylor School in Hamilton is on hold while a citizen’s group tries to save it. This property is located in the 100 block of E. State Street in Trenton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Butler County land bank has approved razing a structure in downtown Trenton at a cost of $63,700 and demolition of the old Taylor School in Hamilton is on hold while a citizen’s group tries to save it. This property is located in the 100 block of E. State Street in Trenton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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The Butler County land bank has approved razing a structure in downtown Trenton at a cost of $63,700 and demolition of the old Taylor School in Hamilton is on hold while a citizen’s group tries to save it. This property is located in the 100 block of E. State Street in Trenton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The land bank is already moving in new directions with the recent approval of $54,000 so the city of Trenton can tear down a commercial eyesore in the heart of downtown. This is the first commercial property demolition for the land bank. The state and federal monies could only be used for residential blight.

Interim Trenton City Manager Rob Leichman said he can’t discuss the project until he has a signed purchase contract with the property owner. In his application for funds, he described the situation.

“The building was built around 1900. The last 15 years or so, the building has been continually falling into disrepair. There have been numerous code violation notifications on this building,” he wrote.

The first application for a commercial demolition was for the 110-year-old Taylor School in Hamilton, but that demolition is hold while the city and neighbors try to find a way to save the “iconic landmark.”

The land bank’s membership has grown steadily since the DTAC option became available. There are now 16 communities including the cities of Fairfield, Hamilton, Middletown, New Miami, Seven Mile and Trenton and Fairfield, Hanover, Lemon, Liberty, Madison, Oxford, Reily, Ross, St. Clair and Wayne townships.

Seven of those communities have used DTAC funding. Ross Twp. was the first, using $5,000 in land bank money to down a house on Cardinal Avenue in 2015.

Township Administrator Bob Bass said part of the reason the township doesn’t utilize the land bank more often is that it, like most of the smaller township members, doesn’t have an economic development department to diagnose problem properties.

“Ours just come up as they come up,” he said.

MORE: Should Hamilton save a 110-year-old school or ‘bury your dead’? That decision now has more time.

The Ross demolitions have resulted in at least one new Habitat for Humanity home. Hamilton has created pocket parks, provided land for Habitat and otherwise re-purposed many parcels after it knocked down wrecked structures. Middletown has not been re-purposing properties but has an extensive plan in the works to totally revamp its housing stock.

Land bank Executive Director Kathy Dudley said re-utilization will be part of the new focus for her and she expects members to utilize the tool more now that the emphasis will be off the grant program.

“I think the emphasis for the future is probably going to be about what is the re-utilization and seeing what our footprint wants to be,” she said. “Part of that has to be an evaluation of the processes that we’ve done and obviously what grants or other funding is out there.”

Dudley, who was the point person for land bank business for Hamilton, replaced former executive director Mike McNamara last fall. At the county level, she has been helping both Hamilton and Middletown with the grant process as well as working with the other jurisdictions. The cities pay half of Dudley’s $81,500 salary, and the land bank pays the rest.

Commissioner Don Dixon said if land bank projects slow down as anticipated, the commissioners will find other jobs for Dudley, who is a lawyer, to do.

“My guess is we’ll give her a new title, a new job description and she’ll probably just go right on,” Dixon said. “There’s no doubt she won’t be sitting there looking around like the Maytag man.”

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