Hamilton County Commissioners create land bank

Should Hamilton County pay for potential development with money supplied by schools, cities and county services?

Hamilton County Commissioners have proposed a plan to buy up vacant and abandoned properties.

The county would use $2.4 million a year from something called a land bank to acquire the properties.

They would then sell those properties to developers, in the hopes of making back additional tax money.

But here is where the debate comes in. That $2.4 million per year would come from schools, cities, villages and public service groups.

County schools would kick-in $1.4 million into the land bank. Cincinnati Public Schools would pay half of that.

Cities, villages and townships would foot $476,000 and public services such as The Cincinnati Zoo, The Museum Center, and The Library would kick-in $537,000.

But County Commissioners are quick to point out there are other revenue sources being explored as well.

County Commissioner Todd Portune wouldn't get specific yet about what the other options are, but said the one involving schools, the zoo, and the libraries is just one option.

Portune said, in the long run, increased property values will mean bigger revenues once this land bank really gets going.

Hamilton County Commissioners all voted 'yes' for it Wednesday, effectively creating a land bank.

"This is going to be welcome news, in the 49 villages, cities and townships that make-up Hamilton County," Commissioner Portune said.

The land bank will expedite the re-use of land countywide.

"To allow communities to eliminate blighted properties," Portune said.

Land that is otherwise just sitting there vacant and un-productive.

"Land that is sitting there fallow and vacant," he said. "Is a magnet for criminal activity and to turn into something that's productive and positive."

But that one option, which generates money through several sources, like CPS, The Museum Center, The Zoo and the libraries, is causing a stir.

"It's just one more way our funds are being nibbled away," said Kim Fender, who is Director of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

"$35,710.02," Fender said smiling.

That's the exact amount she said the county could be asking for from the library. She said they have already suffered cuts in the recently passed state budget.

"That cut us again and with the property tax re-evaluations, we're going to be losing additional money next year," Fender said. "So, altogether, we're losing 3.2 million."

"We suffered over a $5 billion loss in value in real estate in Hamilton County since the last appraisal and a good reason for that, is the foreclosure crisis, the abandoned, vacant property that we have," Portune said. "This land bank will help to turn the tide on that devaluation of land, which is going to generate more money for school districts."

CPS Superintendent Mary Ronan was in Columbus Wednesday and unavailable for comment, but a member of their public affairs team told FOX19, her first reaction was for a district struggling to keep nurses and crossing guards, the timing of this land bank could not be worse.

"We haven't made any decisions on that at all, whether or not to use that source of funding whatsoever," Portune said.

Wednesday's actions by the County Commissioners merely created the land bank entity itself.

Commissioner Portune said it's going to take at least a year to organize and start turning those blighted properties around.

We did talk with the Zoo and asked for their reaction, but were told their top guy, Thane Maynard, is in Africa working, and have not had a chance to review any details of the land bank.

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