By David Skolnick
Mahoning County is eligible to receive $1,531,680 from a state attorney general program for the demolition of blighted structures.
“That’s all?” said Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone when told of the county’s amount Friday by The Vindicator.
The mayor’s biggest concern is city officials wanted to use about $1 million from the state program fund and match it with a similar amount from money it put aside for this purpose.
That might not be a problem.
County Treasurer Dan Yemma, who’s office through the county land bank will oversee the distribution of funding for Mahoning County, said Youngstown will have top priority.
“Whatever the city does for a match, we’ll do the city first,” Yemma said. “The biggest problem is in the city, and the city is willing to put up the largest amount.”
When told of Yemma’s comments, Sammarone said: “I’m glad to hear we’ll be the top priority. I’d like to see the total for the whole county larger, but if we can get $1 million for our $1 million, I’d be satisfied.”
The city has demolished more than 2,500 vacant structures in the past six years. But there are about 2,000 to 4,000 more structures — depending on whom you talk to — that need to come down in Youngstown.
When asked if the $1.5 million and the $1 million Youngstown plans to spend in matching money are enough to take care of the county’s demolition needs, Ian Beniston, deputy director of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., said: “No, it will allow for continued demolition progress but will not address every vacant property in the county.”
A recent vacant-property survey shows there are about 5,000 vacant homes that need to be torn down in the county, he said.
That “would likely cost $25 million or more,” Beniston said.
Yemma said, “We can certainly make a big impact with that [money], but it certainly won’t do everything. It’s a great program, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In Mahoning County, we would have taken as much as we could get.”
Attorney General Mike DeWine, who’s office is in charge of the $75 million statewide demolition program, said in a February visit to Youngstown that there are at least 7,500 vacant houses in the Mahoning Valley that need to be torn down.
Guidelines for the Moving Ohio Forward Grant Program, released Friday by the state attorney general’s office, divided the money among the state’s 88 counties based on the percentage of foreclosures filed in each county between 2008 and 2011.
The counties must give the attorney general its applications for demolition proposals by June 30 to receive funding.
All projects must be done by Dec. 31, 2013, though there is some flexibility as counties may not have all of the work done by that date, said Mark Moretti, an attorney general spokesman.
Eventually, the unused portions would go back into a pot of money with other counties able to apply for that.
Trumbull County is eligible to get $1,275,797, and Columbiana County’s amount is $576,119.
The largest amount of $11,850,744 went to Cuyahoga County (Cleveland).
While in Youngstown in February to discuss the program, DeWine said that he wanted to come up with a way to help poor communities obtain demolition money. The attorney general’s office said Friday that it isn’t requiring a match for the first $500,000 allocated to each county.
Rather than distribute the money to communities, the attorney general’s office decided to do it by county because foreclosure rates are available for all counties but not all communities in Ohio, Moretti said.
“It’s the most transparent way,” he said.
The $75 million demolition program is part of the state’s $335 million share of a $25 billion national mortgage settlement with the country’s five largest mortgage companies over foreclosure abuse, fraud and improper practices.
DeWine’s office is in charge of $97 million of the funding.
In addition to the $75 million for demolition, his office will provide $20 million for grants to assist those at risk of foreclosure or those who already have lost their homes, and $2 million to expand his economics-crime division to go after criminals involved in foreclosure rescue and debt-relief scams.