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MAHONING COUNTY Panel targets vacant land parcels and delinquent property taxes



Published: Thu, February 13, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The task force suggests focusing on 1,200 vacant properties the first year.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County officials have developed a plan they hope will help reduce the number of vacant land parcels and increase collection of delinquent property taxes.

Part of the plan hinges on getting a change in the law that governs how delinquent tax money is distributed once it's collected. The rest depends on splitting the work involved in the foreclosure process among the county treasurer and prosecutor's offices, making the process more efficient.

Those are some of the key findings in a report handed out today by the county's vacant land task force, which was formed last year to come up with solutions to the vacant land and delinquent tax problems.

Treasurer John Reardon said if the plan works, the county could eliminate about 1,200 vacant properties per year. There are about 16,000 such properties on the books in Mahoning County.

Initial targets

The panel's report suggests immediately focusing on 1,200 parcels from a list of properties owned by people or companies with the 10 highest tax delinquencies in the county, and processing them in the first year.

Those owners will be given an opportunity to simply deed the property over to the city, rather than be subject to the foreclosure process, Reardon said. In nearly all cases, the delinquency is far greater than the value of the property.

Those properties that are deeded to the city will be put into the city's land bank and eventually the city will be able to use them in a long-range development plan, Reardon said.

"Getting properties that way would be cheaper ... than foreclosing," Reardon said.

Those that aren't deeded over will be subject to foreclosure. The treasurer's office would do the necessary research, then send bundles of foreclosure requests to the prosecutor. The prosecutor's office does the title searches and research.

Once the parcels become property of the city or county, any remaining delinquent taxes can be wiped off the books, Reardon said. Over time, the county's tax delinquency can be sharply reduced.

Delinquent tax money

The panel also suggests seeking an increase in the amount of delinquent tax money that comes back to the treasurer's and prosecutor's offices.

Under Ohio law, 5 percent of all delinquent taxes collected is split between the two offices, which uses that revenue to fund further delinquent tax collection. The rest is applied toward the delinquency.

The report suggests seeking legislation that would increase the amount to 10 percent.

The task force also suggested ways to make foreclosure cheaper by reducing the cost of advertising properties.

bjackson@vindy.com




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