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Commissioners approve a new tool in the fight against blight

November 28, 2018

The Somerset County commissioners approved the creation of a land bank in the Somerset County Redevelopment Authority Tuesday.

During the meeting, the board approved Ordinance No. 3 of 2018, which designates the authority to act as a land bank on the county’s behalf.

Land banks are used to return vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties to productive use. The biggest difference between a land bank and work that the redevelopment authority already does is that while some of the authority’s projects have to follow guidelines based on grant funding, the land bank does not have those restrictions.

“It is another tool in the toolbox for our fight against blight,” said Steve Spochart, authority executive director.

According to the ordinance, the redevelopment authority must hold public meetings to gather input and maintain a publicly accessible inventory of its properties.

The ordinance is a result of legislation introduced by state Sen. Pat Stefano, R-Bullskin Township, in the 2017-18 session that allows redevelopment authorities to also serve as land banks. The law is known as Act 33 of 2018.

“That bridges the gap and minimizes the need for a separate board,” Spochart said.

Stefano, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said the idea came from talking with authorities such as the Somerset County Redevelopment Authority.

“It allows you to work with your properties that are abandoned or foreclosed and get them back on the market,” he said. “You are already doing that kind of work, but that gives you another tool.”

Both Fayette and Somerset counties now have land banks because of Stefano’s legislation. He said some urban areas are also considering land banks, which are considered an alternative to public tax auctions.

“Now we need it to spread across the state,” he said.

Land banks receive funding through agreements with taxing bodies for future tax revenues. Simply put, by getting properties on the tax rolls, municipalities share tax revenue with the land bank for a predetermined amount of time.

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