Process eased for Mechanicsburg vacant properties

Springfield News-Sun - May 25, 2012

Matt Sanctis

Village hopes to get abandoned properties on the market.

MECHANICSBURG — County and village officials here are experimenting with a process that could move a handful of abandoned properties back onto the market more quickly.

The properties, which have been abandoned by their owners and have no mortgage attached, have been a nuisance in Mechanicsburg for the past few years.

“We’re just trying to speed the process up because it’s been bogged down for the last few years,” said April Huggins-Davis, village administrator.

Taxes are owed on most of the properties, and the village has incurred costs from mowing them as well.

Although there is interest in some of the properties, the village has struggled to get them back on the market.

The issue of how to deal with abandoned properties throughout the state is fairly common, said Kent Scarrett, director of communications for the Ohio Municipal League. Although the economy is slowly improving, he said cities and villages have fewer resources now to address the problem.

“Now that they don’t have the financial resources to deal with (the properties), they’re accumulating,” Scarrett said.

Two of the Mechanicsburg properties are vacant lots while two others have houses. The county is considering foreclosing on the properties, a process typically handled in the county’s common pleas court. That process can be costly and take time.

To speed the process, the county will pursue foreclosures on the four Mechanicsburg properties through the county’s board of revision, Champaign County Treasurer Kermit Russell said. The process can move much quicker than the typical court procedures, he said.

With fewer funds available in the street department budget after a failed levy earlier this year, Davis said the village will now only mow the four abandoned properties three times a year.

“We’ve been good in the past doing that but those funds come out of the street department,” Davis said of mowing the properties. She said these four properties were selected specifically because there is a chance the village could find a new owner and recoup some of its costs.

“We’re willing to give it a shot,” Davis said.

David Rothstein, project director for asset building for Policy Matters Ohio, said dealing with vacant properties has become a fairly common problem throughout the state in recent years.

Some municipalities have turned to land banks as a long-term solution, but he said it does little to resolve the issue in the short term.

“Obviously the problem becomes how many can they take on and what do they do with all this vacant land,” Rothstein said.

He said the board of revision is a quicker process. Statewide, however, tracking down the true owner of a property can often be difficult, Rothstein said.

“This shows the system for housing is just not set up for how these transfers work in many ways,” Rothstein said.

In Mechanicsburg, Davis said the village will pay the fees for advertising costs while the county will cover other fees associated with the process.

Russell said a change in the Ohio Revised Code in 2006 allowed counties to expedite the foreclosure of abandoned properties through the board of revision.

“The four that we have chosen possibly will sell and then everybody recoups their costs and back taxes on it,” Davis said.

Process eased for Mechanicsburg vacant properties

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