SIDNEY — Sidney City Council discussed helping the Shelby County Land Reutilization Corporation, or land bank, with costs during Monday evening’s meeting.
City Manager Mark Cundiff led the presentation about authorizing payments to the land bank for costs in excess of $25,000 per structure. Recently, he said, the land bank submitted invoices for costs for several properties in Sidney where the total property costs exceeded $25,000. Included in those costs were administrative, maintenance and greening fees.
Cundiff reminded council it adopted a resolution on land bank policies last year authorizing the city manager to make payments for demolition expenses not exceeding $5,000, with an annual maximum authorization of $50,000. He said $16,021.43 was paid to the land bank in 2018 for this purpose. The policy states that council must authorize payment for demolition costs in excess of $5,000 per structure, Cundiff said.
Cundiff said although he has the authority to make the payments, he brought it to council’s attention because of previous council comments suggesting a reluctance to finance land bank administrative fees.
Mayor Mike Barhorst said because he is the vice chair on the land bank board, he was refraining from participating in the discussion as a member of council.
Council member Darryl Thurber said he wanted to go on the record as still being against paying for administrative fees. He also asked for clarification of what green fees are, other than grass seed.
Carol Meyer, land bank board secretary, attended the meeting in the absence of Doug Ahlers, director of the land bank. She explained the land bank has an allowance up to $25,000 for each unit they tear down. She said out of that money they must pay to maintain the property and keep it looking it nice beyond the time of demolition. This includes grass mowing and care for three years, or until the land bank gets rid of the property. It was noted greening not only includes seeding of the grass, and mowing, but also filling in the hole with dirt where the basement once was.
Council member Joe Ratermann asked why the topic was before council when Cundiff has the authority to pay the invoice costs. The invoices’ amounts were all within $5,000 per property the city manager has the authority to pay.
Cundiff told Ratermann, the administrative fees is what caught his eye. Cundiff said be believes administrative fees are not reimbursable costs from the grant administered by Ohio Housing Finance Agency through its Neighbor Initiative Program. He said the land bank would not be requestimg help from the city if the administrative fees were not added.
Ratermann said he supports paying people for work well done.
“This is just my opinion, that we shouldn’t expect people to work for free. And what is it, 80 to 180 pages per property?” said Ratermann.
Meyer said they must file between 80 to 120 pages of paperwork for each unit of a property for grant reimbursement. She said they often only recover a percentage of the costs involved with demolition. It is not a simple process and sometimes do not recover enough money to pay for administrative costs.
Vice Mayor Mardie Milligan asked how much the city spent for 2017, 2018 and what if they have anything left for 2019. She also asked for clarity about administrative fees.
“(Administrative fees are) a percentage of it. It a great big calculated thing I have to go through to do it. It is a lot of work. But what we try to do is use the money the best way we can and do it in a manner that makes everything pleasing to look at and deal with in the city and county,” Meyer said. “Most of (buildings) haven’t been able to be salvaged, unfortunately. We have been able to to salvage four out of all that we have torn down.”
Barhorst explained, on behalf of the land bank, that he originally thought they would get $25,000 for each unit, and units that only cost $10,000, for example, they expected to be able to bank remaining amount left over to use toward a more costly future demolition. He said it turns out that is not the way the grant program works. The maximum per unit allowed is $25,000 total, so if a unit comes along that will cost $50,000 they will not have enough handle that property.
Meyer further explained $25,000 must cover everything, including legal fees or anything from the time of acquiring the property until demolition, which can be costly when dealing with abatement properties.
Some discussion then ensued about the county’s involvement of helping with fees. It was noted that the Shelby County Commission loaned the land bank $250,000 to get work started because the land bank has no money up front to pay for work. The land bank must pay contractors to do the work and then submit for reimbursement from the grant program after the work is completed.
Thurber asked what happens with the reimbursement money and why the city would not ask the county to help cover some of the fees the city is paying. It was explained to him the reimbursed money is then used by the land bank to take on next demolition project. Thurber asked if the land bank will be paying the loan back to the county at the end, why isn’t the county splitting administration fees with the city. Barhorst said, speaking on behalf of the land bank, his concern is whether the land bank will even have any funds left over at the end to be able to pay the county back at all.
In the end, council voted to allow the fees to be paid by the city.
In other business, Cundiff also produced a letter received from Sunset Development informing the city about their planned housing development at 2420 Wapakoneta Ave. City staff was also informed of Sunset’s intent to obtain funding from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency (OHFA) for the project. Cundiff said council has the right to submit comments to the agency about the project’s impact on the community in writing within 30 days of receiving the letter on Feb. 19.
Ratermann asked if Sunset’s project will require another rezoning request. Cundiff said Sunset intends to build 24 two-unit structures, which is allowable under the area’s current R-2 single-family residential zoning. Last month council denied the developers request to rezone a parcel of land on Wapakoneta Avenue from an R-1 to an R-3, multi-family residential district.
Barhorst asked city staff to provide follow up information about how many low-and moderate income housing units are in Sidney versus Shelby County before making a decision about submitting a comment to OHFA on an impact to Sidney.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.