Bill cleared to allow more Ohio land banks


COLUMBUS - By nearly unanimous votes, the Ohio Senate and House yesterday sent Gov. Ted Strickland a bill authorizing Lucas and 42 other counties to create land banks to acquire vacant properties to save the houses and their neighborhoods from deterioration.

The idea started as a pilot program in Ohio's largest county, Cuyahoga, but just months into that pilot, lawmakers have already voted to dramatically expand it. Before approving the bill, the Senate increased the number of counties involved by raising the population threshold for participation to over 60,000.

Northwest Ohio counties that would be eligible to participate include Lucas, Wood, Hancock, Sandusky, Erie, and Allen.

"To me, that's a sign that we've really worked through a lot of pieces and concerns," said former state Rep. Peter Ujvagi (D., Toledo), who sponsored the bill.

The land banks could acquire vacant, abandoned, and tax-foreclosed properties with the intention of improving them for resale, demolishing them to eliminate blight, or sitting on them until the housing market improves. The theory is that the properties would otherwise remain vacant, deteriorate, and drag down both local property values and neighborhood pride.

The nonprofit County Land Reutilization Corp. would rely on advances from the county treasurer's office to acquire and renovate properties and to pay the real estate taxes owed to schools and local governments.

Both chambers also ratified a separate bill that had been sponsored by Mr. Ujvagi to provide up to two weeks of leave for any employee who is the spouse or parent of someone called to active military service or injured while on active duty.

Before voting, however, the Senate merged the bill with a separate measure designed to write between the lines of a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November. That amendment authorized $200 million in state borrowing for cash bonuses for veterans of the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars.