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Tarentum studies joining land bank effort | TribLIVE.com
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Tarentum studies joining land bank effort

Tribune-Review
| Sunday, April 9, 2017 11:00 p.m.
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Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
Tarentum, Pa.

Tarentum officials are looking at joining an Allegheny County land bank effort that plans to acquire blighted properties, then prepare them to be resold and returned to the tax rolls.

Tom Benecki, executive director of the Allegheny Valley North Council of Governments, talked with council recently about the Tri-COG Collaborative land bank that is getting started in Allegheny County.

So far, 21 municipalities and six school districts, along with Allegheny County, have joined, and a nine-member board of directors began meeting in March.

In the Allegheny Valley, Sharpsburg, Etna and Millvale are members.

A state law enacted in 2012 allows municipalities to form land banks, and they are becoming a popular tool to fight blight in older riverfront communities and elsewhere.

“For what we know about it, we like the idea,” Tarentum Council Vice President Erika Josefoski said. “We have looked into land banks all over the United States to see how they have performed.”

Benecki said he was asked by Mike Gutonski, Tarentum’s manager, to address council about the land bank.

“We heard some positive things about other communities involved,” Gutonski said, so Benecki was invited to a recent meeting to outline for council members how the land bank works.

Tarentum Council took no action.

“I don’t think any of us have enough knowledge yet to make a decision,” Gutonski said.

Approval from all three taxing bodies — the municipality, school district and county — is needed for a community to join a land bank.

The three taxing bodies must agree to forgive tax liens on properties the land bank acquires.

“The land bank is one of the tools to fight blight,” Benecki told council. “The goal is to get abandoned, tax-delinquent properties back on the tax rolls. This is a problem in the Mon Valley, our A-K Valley and the Ohio River Valley. This gives control to the land bank municipalities.”

Because many abandoned, deteriorating properties are tied to large tax liens, he said Friday, they’re unattractive to potential buyers.

The Tri-COG Collaborative area includes 41 municipalities in the Mon Valley and east suburbs areas, and Benecki told council they lose about $9 million a year in uncollected real estate taxes because of blight.

Land banks are financed through tax recoveries, not from municipal coffers. Five percent of delinquent taxes collected from properties in the land bank’s jurisdiction go to the program, along with 50 percent of property taxes collected for the first five years after a land bank property becomes taxable again.

Benecki said if Tarentum wants to join, the Highlands School District and Allegheny County must be partners.

“Not necessarily every municipality in the Highlands (School) District would have to come on board,” he told council.

“The Fox Chapel Area School District is a member, even though Sharpsburg is the only school district community land bank member.”

Benecki also explained how each land bank member would have control over its area, by way of a board with municipal, school district, real estate and financial and resident members.

Tarentum, meanwhile, plans to raze several structures this year and is taking other steps to address blight.

Kim Leonard is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4674 or kleonard@tribweb.com. Freelance writer George Guido contributed to this report.

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