Williamsport City Council is expected tonight to review and may approve an ordinance authorizing the designation of the Redevelopment Authority as the Land Bank Authority.
Land banks are one of the tools that municipalities may use to facilitate the return of vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties to productive use, according to the state Department of Community and Economic Development.
That role for the authority was recently affirmed by Skip Memmi, director of the city Department of Community and Economic Development, in a discussion he had with the Sun-Gazette.
Memmi was instrumental in establishing the first Land Bank in Pennsylvania in his prior role in another county, Mayor Derek Slaughter said.
One of the projects listed by Slaughter and discussed with favorable results by City Council was to fund the Land Bank Authority using a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act funds. The city was given nearly $25.5 million in installments of $12.7 million this year and one in spring.
Slaughter said that funding — whether it is $2 million or on up to, as suggested by Councilman Adam Yoder, $5 million over time, would give the Redevelopment Authority as the Land Bank Authority actual “teeth” to help to eliminate blighted properties and improve the city economic conditions.
Yoder, who sits on the finance committee, said such use of the rescue plan funds would return dividends through redevelopment, blight remediation and reinvestment in these properties.
The Land Bank will help as the blighted property review board looks over properties that are blighted, Joseph Gerardi, city codes administrator, said.
The authority can purchase the properties, through acquisition — not by eminent domain process — and at a fair market value, Gerardi said.
“Then, the city gets the property, looks for certain qualified developers who fix up the building, put them back onto the market and then the city gets its money back,” he said.
“The city does not make a profit,” Gerardi said. “Say we spend $30,000 on the building, we will get that back,” he said.
Currently, the city has not formulated a list of developers and is developing criteria for these builders.
“We do not want someone without the funds available to make the necessary repairs,” Gerardi said. “We want a developer who is qualified and who does good work to repair the property, then ‘flip it,’ “ he said.
The goal is to get the property back onto the tax rolls and have a building – either residential or commercial – renovated that produces more in tax revenue and may also provide housing for individuals who will live, work and recreate in the city.