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Westmoreland commissioners OK land bank finance plan

| Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 11:39 p.m.

The newly formed Westmoreland County Land Bank could take ownership of its first property by May.

County commissioners on Thursday approved an agreement with the fledgling agency to give it a mechanism to raise money to operate.

Commissioners voted to turn over half of all property taxes collected for five years from sites rehabilitated by the land bank and sold back into private ownership.

“It gives the land bank an opportunity to have funds to go out and acquire properties,” said Commissioner Charles Anderson.

Commissioners created the land bank late last year as a means to return blighted and tax-delinquent properties back to the tax rolls.

The bank, which is run by a seven-member board dominated by members of the county Redevelopment Authority, will purchase properties, rehabilitate them and sell them to private investors. The agency is being initially funded through a $50,000 loan from the redevelopment authority.

April Kopas, who serves as director of the Redevelopment Authority, holds the same title with the land bank.

She said that as many as 10 municipalities and school districts are considering joining the land-bank program.

Each municipality and school district would have to agree to give the land bank half of the taxes collected on rehabilitated properties once they are sold.

Kopas has spent the last month meeting with municipal leaders about the program. Municipalities will be asked to pay $5,000 to join. School districts will not be asked to pay the entrance price, Kopas said.

The money collected will be added to the land bank's start-up cash and used to purchase properties.

No municipalities have signed on, but formal votes at the local level could occur in March and April, Kopas said.

“In those communities that enter into the land bank, we'll be looking at projects in those communities. We haven't purchased any properties yet, but we have a working list of priority projects,” Kopas said. “Hopefully by May the land bank would acquire its first properties.”

County officials view the land bank as a primary tool to reinvigorate communities with many rundown, tax-delinquent properties.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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