Commissioners agreeable to WR land bank idea

wcrenshaw@macon.comNovember 20, 2012 

WARNER ROBINS -- If the City of Warner Robins goes forward with creating a land bank to clean up blighted properties, it will need the backing of the Houston County Board of Commissioners.

When presented with the idea at a meeting Tuesday, the board didn’t seem inclined to be a roadblock.

The idea behind a land bank is to take vacant residential properties where taxes aren’t being paid, and often the owners can’t be found, clean the properties up and sell them.

While they had questions about how it would work, the commissioners seemed supportive of the concept at least. Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said he would appoint a commissioner to work with the city as it develops the idea.

“It does appear to be a positive thing to try to get properties back on the tax roll,” he said.

City officials, including Councilman Daron Lee, came to the meeting to discuss the idea. Tax Commissioner Mark Kushinka and members of the tax assessor’s office were also there and said they like the concept.

Lee said it would be a “self-sustaining” enterprise because once the properties are sold, the land bank would get 75 percent of the taxes and that money would be used to clean up more property.

Kushinka said he has spoken with Bibb County about its land bank, and was told it has been successful and self-sustaining.

When years of taxes are owed on a property, the county attempts to sell it to collect that money. However, in many cases the taxes owed are more than the property is worth, but the buyer is responsible for those taxes, Kushinka.

“Nobody will buy these properties,” he said.

A land bank would have the authority to wipe the tax slate clean, making the property more marketable.

There could be some up-front costs until properties are sold and taxes start coming in, but Lee said grants could pay for that.

Tom Prior, executive director of Houston County Habitat for Humanity, gave a specific example of how a land bank can help. He said a local bank had a vacant lot it had foreclosed on and offered it to Habitat for Humanity for free, but the organization would have been stuck with a tax bill that was more than the property was worth. Through the land bank, it could have gotten the lot without the taxes and built a new house on it, Prior said.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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