New Castle News

Letters to the Editor

February 15, 2012

Backlog in county land repository shows need for innovation

NEW CASTLE — There are about 550 properties in Lawrence County that no one wants to own.

Or at least that’s the way it seems. This is the number of parcels held at the moment in the county’s repository.

The repository consists of the properties given up for taxes or otherwise abandoned. Despite steps taken to offer these properties at tax and free and clear sales, they remain available. Typically, they can be acquired for a payment of $500 to the county.

As you may suspect, many of these properties are in the city of New Castle. And they are not going to be prime real estate. There are people who make it their business to know what the county has available for sale, and they acquire what they think are the best sites.

This creates the impression that the remaining properties are virtual wastelands, absolutely undesirable by everyone. But that may not be the case.

Not every resident of Lawrence County is attuned to ongoing property sales by the county. Even though they are advertised in accordance with the law, that doesn’t mean everyone notices or makes the connection.

In fact, a property in the repository might be in someone’s neighborhood, and that person may not even know it.

A recent report in the New Castle News outlines some changes in the procedures that must be followed regarding the sale of properties in the repository. Basically, changes in state law now require bids, and sale approval by the county commissioners and the school district and municipality where the property is located.

That strikes us as a definite increase in the level of bureaucracy — considering officials should be happy with any request to put such properties back on the tax roles. But perhaps the state views this as a way to keep properties away from slum landlords or speculators who have no specific interest in developing available land.

However, individuals inclined to exploit properties in this fashion already know what’s out there. We’re more interested in the people who don’t.

And we think officials should be as well.

Getting properties out of the repository has dual benefits. Not only does it mean the land will return to the tax rolls — thus easing the burden on other property owners — there is also the possibility of economic development, however modest, if these sites are put to productive use.

Traditionally, government isn’t particularly adept at marketing, because that’s not its task in society. But the repository is an exception to the rule. Promoting the availability of these properties in new ways may get them back on the tax rolls.

We encourage county officials to explore options in this regard. Doing so would provide a clear benefit to the community.

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