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Reading School Board considering a role in land bank

The Reading Redevelopment Authority hopes to create a land bank so it has another tool in its arsenal to fight blight in the city.

The authority presented its plan to the Reading School Board in October, and the school board discussed the pros and cons of a land bank at its committee of the whole meeting Wednesday.

A land bank is one of the better tools to acquire blighted properties through donation, purchasing, municipal transfer or tax sale foreclosure.

Reading has 386 properties that have been identified as blighted.

“The primary goals of the land bank is to eliminate the harm caused by vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties,” said Wayne Gehris, chief financial officer for the school district. “Primarily, they are dilapidated buildings that really haven’t been kept up … and are really dangerous to our students to walk by.”

The land bank should be able to more quickly return properties to a viable use, Gehris said.

“It allows certain tax incentives or structures or taxes to be released to allow the land bank to acquire those properties,” he said.

The goal of the land bank is to get the properties cleaned up and back on the tax rolls as soon as possible.

Even if one blighted property is rehabilitated, Gehris said, it will increase the property values around it.

One of the biggest advantages for the district to participate in the land bank is the ability to acquire and redevelop blighted properties, Gehris said.

“It improves the safety of walking zones for our students and increases property values in the surrounding areas,” Gehris said. “And it will return properties to tax rolls in the hope we would generate additional revenue for the benefit of our students.”

Another advantage of the land bank is that the district will be part of the steering committee and help create the operating policies, Gehris said.

There are disadvantages, Gehris said, with the biggest one being that it takes time for a land bank to gain momentum.

“In talking to my colleagues in Lancaster, they have been in a land bank for about five years with very little activity that occurred,” he said. “I can’t say why. It’s going to take some initiatives to make sure this happen within the established time we would like it to happen.”

The district would no longer be able to collect delinquent taxes on any property the land bank acquires.

“We are essentially writing off the tax that is owed on those properties,” Gehris said. “But the end goal is put on (the tax rolls) a property that will have a greater value and return on investment coming back to the district.”

The land bank will be responsible for maintaining the properties until they can be sold, and it’s the city, county and school district that must make sure the land bank is funded.

Another disadvantage is that the district will be bound by the rules of the land bank. What lessens that disadvantage is that the district will help create those rules, Gehris said.

“I think in the long run, if there are 386 properties that have not been generating tax revenue that are blighted properties that are of concern,” Gehris said. “Improving those properties will only help the city in the long run.”

The school board will vote next week whether to participate in the land bank steering committee.


Source: Berkshire mont

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