Land bank set to change

WARREN – Trumbull County’s land bank board president is preparing to ask county commissioners to let more money flow to the organization, an influx of cash that he says is needed as it undergoes some change.

Perhaps the most substantial of those changes is possibly shifting control of the land bank away from the Trumbull County Treasurer’s Office to the community development nonprofit Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership.

Treasurer Sam Lamancusa already has stepped aside from running the land bank day-to-day, he’s put an end to employees in his office doing work for the land bank, and there’s work under way to get an attorney on board to guide the transition.

What’s left is to ask county commissioners to divert another 2.5 percent of the penalty fees charged to delinquent property taxes to the land bank to help fund it, and move operational duty to TNP, something Lamancusa says he’s already brought to the land bank board.

”I’ve presented to the board that this needs to happen, it needs to take place,” said Lamancusa of passing authority to TNP. He is staying on as land bank board president.

At this point, TNP’s duties for the land bank haven’t changed.

Lamancusa said the additional money is needed to pay for land bank-related work that has been done by his office since the organization was created in 2010, such as printing deeds, tracking bills, writing checks and website maintenance.

The land bank helps revitalize rundown neighborhoods by returning vacant and abandoned properties back to some productive use.

Also, the board is going to be in the market for legal services because the county prosecutor can’t provide representation because the land bank is a private corporation.

The land bank already receives 2.5 percent of maximum 5 percent that Ohio law allows county treasurers to keep from the 10 percent the office is allowed to charge in penalties to late payers. The 10 percent is evenly split between county treasurers’ and prosecutors’ offices to pay for the costs associated to foreclosure cases filed in court.

The 2.5 percent generates about $150,000 a year, Lamancusa said.

The changes are the result of an Ohio Attorney General’s opinion that was sought by Stark County’s prosecuting attorney, who wanted answers to questions he had about land banks.

In a nutshell, Lamancusa said, the opinion says a county treasurer or treasurer’s office employees cannot operate a land bank.

”What they have ruled, we are not to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the land bank,” Lamancusa said.

Matt Martin, TNP program director, said TNP’s involvement with the land bank began with a partnership in 2011 to help the organization dispose of residential property, specifically side lots. TNP’s activity grew last year when the organization helped create the proposal to land a housing demolition grant from the state.

But it wasn’t until the land bank really began to grow that TNP was brought on formally, through a contract, to do the groundwork for residential property disposition, like making houses and side lots available for sale, putting together bids for demolition and then out that work out to bid, Martin said.

”It was significant, but literally was just on the ground stuff,” Martin said.

Martin said TNP is ”available to explore and expand the contract, but that it is not by any stretch, set in stone.”

”That is for the board to decide,” Martin said. ”They have to do something. I don’t want anybody to feel they have to do this. I believe we are incredibly well positioned to take on the roll of facilitating the land bank, should the board choose to go that direction.”