SIDNEY — Information on the Shelby County Land Bank’s goals, happenings and pictures of some of its properties was presented to Sidney City Council during its Monday evening meeting.
Doug Ahlers, director of the Shelby County Land Reutilization Corporation (commonly known as the Shelby County Land Bank) said the organization’s goal is to “stabilize property values by removing and greening or rehabilitating blighted one to four family residential properties in Shelby County.“
“Demolition is a critical component of strategies to stabilize and enhance home values,” he said. “Most properties are obtained through tax foreclosures, Ahlers said, deeds in lieu of foreclosure, donations and purchases.”
Funding originally came from the city of Sidney, county villages and county commissioners’ donations. Since then, Ahler said, it has derived from a Housing Improvement Program grant. That grant has now expired. It is now funded by a portion, approximately 5%, of the Delinquent Tax and Assessment Collection Fee (DTAC) from the county, equalling about $55,000 to $60,000 per year, along with money made from flipping properties, he said.
Since 2017 the land bank has acquired 101 properties. In the city of Sidney they have aquired 84; of those, 10 properties were sold and rehabbed. Many of the older properties are located within five blocks of downtown Sidney.
Approximately $1.2 million of grant dollars were spent on these demolitions.
“We receive referrals, look at delinquent taxes, and vacant properties. The problem is not as much finding the properties. It is finding motivated persons who are willing to get rid of the properties. A typical question is, ‘What is in it for me?’” Ahler said, noting “foreclosures are a lengthy and expensive process.”
The land bank is not code enforcement, he said, when also praising the city’s code enforcement office for handling those types of issues in Sidney.
Ahler then began by displaying a series of photos of the inside and outside of deteriorated properties the land bank often takes possession of, and detailed the lengthy and expensive process to demolish structures. Along with pictures, he provided the financial break down involved with properties that went beyond the $25,000 they were entitled to be reimbursed, causing the non-profit to lose as much as $6,623.60 on a particular property. The unexpected high cost came from scenarios such as vertical land banks, asbestos and tire removal costs, which has caused the land bank’s finances to go in the negative.
Challenges for the land bank include trying to stay within budget and attempting to acquire properties at a faster pace. The largest properties cost the most to demolish, have the most junk and have the most tires on site, Ahler pointed out. Foreclosures take time and there is a limited capacity. It is a challenge to convince property owners to sign a “deed in lieu of foreclosure,” and is a challenge to acquire more properties through donations.
Among some of the properties donated were from the Alpha Center. The Alpha Center is a community outreach organization geared toward providing basic critical needs to at-risk adults, families, and children. They may be homeless, addicted, disabled, and mentally ill, or a senior on a fixed income. The land bank continues to own this property but leases it back to the Alpha Center. The original structure was demolished and in its place was built “three duplexes for six unique addresses” that are located adjacent to the center on Court Street for Alpha Center program needs, Ahler said.
A large project for the land bank, which it now owns, is the Wagner Ware Manufacturing facility property. Ahler said a grant application was submitted on Dec. 20, 2021, for $2.8 million for the demolition of the property. It is estimated to cost a total cost of $4.5 million for the demolition.
The Wagner Ware site originally was the former foundry of the Wagner Manufacturing Company that produced cast iron and aluminum products until 1952. The building had several owners until the metal finishing manufacturer Master Vision Polishing closed the location in 2008. Prior to Master Vision Polishing pulling out in 2008, Community Development Director Barbara Dulworth said in 2016, there were already issues with the poor condition of the building. Afterward, it continued to deteriorate from neglect and vandalism.
“This is a team effort. The city of Sidney has been working on this for so many years. SSEP (Sidney-Shelby Economic Partnership) is on board, the city, the county, the land bank. The land bank is just here because we had the ability to foreclose, but it will continue to — so the grant will come through and will continue to be here to get it cleaned up,” Ahlers said.
Redevelopment funds for the Wagner site includes $1 million in the Ohio state capital budget that is earmarked for Sidney, the land bank grant of $2.8 million, $500,000 from the city of Sidney and $250,000 from Shelby County, for a total of $4.5 million.
Vice Mayor Steve Wagner thanked Ahler for his hard work, and said he is supposed to be retired, but took on the role with the land bank which has turned into full-time work.
Ahler thanked Wagner for the recognition and said, when people asked for a timeline on the property, his response is that it will likely take a couple of years. Ahler said he believes the grant will be issued before then, but with the government things don’t move quickly.
Mayor Mardie Milligan thanked him for all of his work and that she, along with everyone else, is looking forward to the Wagner redevelopment.
In other business, all present sang happy birthday to City Manager Andrew Bowsher, whose birthday was on Tuesday. After receiving the well wishes, he then reminded the public city offices will be closed Monday, Feb. 21, 2022, in observation of Presidents’ Day. Trash pick up will be delayed by a day all week.