The group will need to address legal and financial issues, the county treasurer said.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County and community officials have given themselves a January deadline to find a way to reduce vacant land parcels by 1,500 a year and along with them, a $47 million property tax delinquency.
Under a plan spearheaded by county Treasurer John Reardon, the new Vacant Land Task Force was formed this week.
The group will respond to a proposal Reardon announced last month that would reduce the time line on foreclosures to seven months and bring costs down to $75. The current process used by his office takes from 10 months to two years and costs between $620 and $1,000.
Owners of 15,600 vacant parcels across the county, most in Youngstown, owe $24.2 million in delinquent taxes, according to 2001 figures. Since 1999, there have been 482 foreclosures.
Under Reardon's proposal, a Foreclosure Process Committee will find a cheaper, quicker way to foreclose. It will be headed by Joseph Caruso, the county's special projects director. An Economic Development Committee will find ways to put those properties back to use. It will be led by Jeff Chagnot, Youngstown's economic development director.
Members of the committees come from various communities and county agencies and Youngstown State University.
Reardon said the task force will have determined the foreclosures by January.
The costs of advertising, title search, program expenses and legal issues must be addressed, Reardon said. The committees will also discuss established programs in 11 other counties, including Trumbull.
In a July meeting, Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said the type of proposal made by Reardon was deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court because property owners were not notified of the foreclosures, but Linette Stratford, an assistant prosecutor who will serve on both committees, said legal issues have been worked out.
Stratford said committee members must remain innovative and aggressive in finding an expeditious foreclosure process and funding sources within the boundaries of the law.
"I think we've gotten past the legal issues and can do what's right and acquire this property legally," said Stratford, chief assistant in the prosecutor's civil division.