2012-04-04 / Editorials

Land Bank and roadwork ahead through county improvements

EDWARD RATH
Erie County Legislator

Major improvements are on the horizon for Erie County’s governmental landscape. At session No. 6 of your Erie County Legislature, we unanimously approved both the creation of a land bank and a multimillion dollar investment in capital improvement.

Land banking is a complex issue that addresses tax liens and vacant property. Its mission is to invest in the community through the purchase of vacant buildings and take action to re-purpose the buildings or the land. The goal is to get the property back on the tax roll. Through the plan created by the county, in partnership with the cities, towns and villages, every municipality stands to benefit. Last week, the application process was completed and submitted to New York State. Funds in the Land Bank would be used to repair vacant properties to prepare them for resale or demolish structures that are beyond repair.

Not only is there a significant financial benefit, but it will also address all the issues associated with vacant buildings. From being aesthetically unappealing, or producing safety concerns through failing structure, crime or rodent infestation, vacant buildings plague every village, town and city. None are immune, and all suffer lost revenue, which is coupled with the cost associated with dealing with the property.

Before voting to move forward with the land bank, I addressed the commissioner of Environment and Planning and my colleagues in the Legislature, reiterating that the focus of the Land Bank board must remain regional. Every community should receive the same consideration for solving vacant property issues through the Land Bank process. There are more than 73,000 tax liens in Erie County, totaling more than $53 million in taxes owed, and the City of Buffalo has only 11 percent of the assessed value of all liens. While a map shows a large concentration in the city and first-ring suburbs, it is surprising the number of vacant properties plaguing all communities. My district, Amherst, Clarence, Newstead and Akron, has many vacant buildings and will benefit considerably by the Land

Bank.

The one issue associated with the Land Bank that we must be mindful of is that it has to be self-sufficient. Additional taxpayer dollars should not be used to operate this program. If handled correctly, the funds collected will allow for reinvestment and the continued purchase of properties.

The collection of taxes on delinquent properties allows municipalities to reinvest in their own properties, which includes infrastructure. During the same meeting, the Legislature approved a capital list project of 23 items totaling nearly $24 million. Focused mainly on road projects, the list includes bridge and road reconstruction on East Robinson and North French roads; drainage and sloping issues on Burdick Road in the Town of Newstead; and replacement of the 67-year-old bridge over Murder Creek in Akron Falls Park. There is also a general budget line of $2 million for preservation of roads, and I have already advocated that funds from that line be used on Hopkins Road, which continues to deteriorate, and is reduced to one lane between Smith and Tonawanda Creek roads. This is a major investment in safety and quality of life. The county maintains more than 1,300 lane miles and continues to prioritize projects to avoid major failures in roadways and bridges.

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