Delaware County Commissioners have approved the adoption and the implementation of the Delaware County Land Reutilization Corporation.

“It’s an attempt to take properties that are abandoned and return them to productive use,” said Delaware County Treasurer Jon Peterson. “Ohio is a leader in reutilization efforts.”

With commissioners’ approval, Peterson was directed to file articles of incorporation with the Ohio Secretary of State that would technically and “legally form the Land Reutilization Fund,” he said. “At that point, it would start its life as a separate corporate entity.”

Peterson said there are only 47 other counties in the state that have similar corporations. He said that in the larger counties where there is an “extensive operational organizational structure” that takes thousands of properties, they have a staff separate from the treasurer’s office.

“At least in the beginning, it’s anticipated that I will handle administrative work and then present that to the board,” he said. “If the board doesn’t like that, then they can reverse that and change it to hiring an executive director and so forth.”

Peterson said the corporation would be funded by the delinquent tax fund that is set aside by the treasurer to collect delinquent taxes.

“Which is right at the heart of this proposal,” he said. “There is over a million dollars sitting in that fund.”

“I think this is a good tool to keep the county vibrant,” said Commissioner Jeff Benton. “The proceeds from this subsequent sale of a property goes back to the corporation which would reimburse (the fund).”

Peterson said the corporation would only have the authority to take a property under the statute, established rules, and only after two foreclosures.

“We have several ways to determine if it’s abandoned — no payment of property taxes over a period of years, no successful attempt to reach the owner, the grass isn’t cut, utilities aren’t paid,” he said. “There is a variety of ways to do that.”

Peterson said he regularly receives calls from neighbors about properties that have been abandoned, asking when foreclosure of the property will be conducted.

“So we foreclose, but still no purchaser and it just sits there. It’s a blight on that particular area,” he said.

Peterson said there is such a property in Shawnee Hills where “the only thing living in there is raccoons.”

However, “In that particular situation,” he said. “An heir was found and did come forward.”

Peterson said it could happen with any abandoned property. He said the process requires giving extensive notices to preserve the right of the owner to redeem the property.

“There are multiple opportunities even before this process (for an owner) to bring their property taxes current,” he said. “We send a delinquent tax bill each year for those taxes that are in arrearage. We offer contract payment plans and at any point, you can redeem the whole property. It’s advertised so an owner would know it we’re in a situation that deserves some attention.”

The number of properties matching the criteria in the county was “in the dozens” and “not the hundreds,” he noted.

According to Peterson, another reason to have a corporation is because it’s the only repository of federal demolition funds.

“We have missed two rounds of demolition funds because we didn’t have a (corporation),” he said. “I don’t know what Delaware County’s allocation would have been, but I suggest it would be at least in the tens of thousands of dollars, perhaps more.”

Peterson said the county doesn’t have a great need, but whatever the county would have received would have been a benefit. He said that there is currently discussion from the administration in Washington that there is about to be an infrastructure initiative.

“It is hard to imagine that any serious infrastructure movement would not include money provided to local governments for demolition,” he said. “It’s such an integral part of that process.”

Peterson said statutorily the corporation board would consist of two county commissioners, the county treasurer, a representative from the county’s largest municipality, and a representative from a township that is greater in population than 10,000. The representative of the municipality would represent all the municipalities and the representative from the township would likewise represent all the townships.

By D. Anthony Botkin

[email protected]

Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.