Historic Countywide Agreement Will Transform the Way Abandoned Properties are Dealt With by Municipalities
ERIE COUNTY, NY— Today, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz announced that Erie County (the “County”) and the cities of Buffalo, Lackawanna and Tonawanda, with the support of the Association of Erie County Governments (“AECG”), have joined together to address the growing countywide abandoned property problem.
Poloncarz was joined at an official signing ceremony by representatives from Buffalo, Lackawanna and Tonawanda as well as from AECG and other officials, to announce an intermunicipal agreement and joint application seeking to be one of the first five communities in New York State to create a land bank. The joint application creating a countywide land bank will be submitted to the State today.
“I look forward to a well-coordinated strategy between the municipalities of Erie County including the cities of Buffalo, Lackawanna and Tonawanda that effectively deals with the overabundance of vacant, abandoned and tax delinquent properties in the region,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown. “The land bank will be a key tool in combating crime and improving the quality of life in neighborhoods, while creating new opportunities for business investment within the City of Buffalo.”
“Decreased property values, blight, and crime are costly to local governments and result in a cycle of disinvestment for neighborhoods across Erie County,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “By working with our partners in Buffalo, Lackawanna, and Tonawanda as well as all of the towns and villages on our abandoned and tax delinquent property problem, we have put together a powerful countywide approach that I am confident the state will approve. I want to thank everyone from the Association of Erie County Governments, WNY Law Center, and LISC for all of their help in coordinating this effort with us.”
“Land Banking is a regional project to fix a regional problem,” said Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski. “This is not a leap of faith hoping that this project will work, we are following a proven blue print that will be successful here in Erie County.”
“The establishment of this land bank not only recognizes the need to deal with distressed and abandoned properties, but forwards the shared services concept on a regional basis that can lead to efforts in other facets of government,” said Tonawanda Mayor Ron Pilozzi. “The City of Tonawanda is the "poster child" for this type of effort as we purchase water from the ECWA, our sewage is treated by the Town of Tonawanda Water Treatment plant and, most recently, we share an Assessor with the Town of Tonawanda. This is an ideal way to stabilize tax rates without diminishing services. I look forward to other initiatives in the near future.”
“This is long overdue, and if chosen, land banking will be one of the most important and exciting programs that could bring an economic resurgence to Erie County and the City of Buffalo,” said President of the Association of Erie County Governments and Town of Brant Supervisor Len Pero.
This new land bank, which will be called the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation, will create a coordinated structure to handle vacant properties, simplifying the process for municipalities to dispose of tax delinquent, vacant, abandoned, and foreclosed properties. Once created, the land bank can obtain title to tax delinquent parcels and rehabilitate, or if necessary demolish structures and then put the properties back to productive use.
The Erie County Department of Real Property Tax Services has determined that there are in excess of 73,360 delinquent tax liens within Erie County worth more than $53,529,325 in taxes owed to Erie County. While the City of Buffalo is often the focal point of the issue of abandoned properties, it is not the only community in the County that is suffering from the blight and disinvestment in real property. For instance, although the City is the location of approximately 64% of the tax delinquent properties (46,883 out of 73,360), the City has only 11% of the assessed value of all liens (approximately $6 million).
Poloncarz added, “This reality reflects the growing problem posed by vacant and abandoned properties, is just as significant outside the city of Buffalo, not only in the first ring suburbs like Amherst and Cheektowaga but also in village centers like Angola and Springville.”
These properties, in addition to having a negative impact on County and municipal finances, if not dealt with, lead to negative economic and physical impacts on adjacent properties and neighborhoods. As the foreclosing government unit for towns and villages within the County, Erie County has been looked to for leadership in addressing the crisis of abandoned properties. The new land bank will provide a comprehensive and efficient regional mechanism for dealing with these properties. The land bank will work cooperatively with all local governments to assure that local plans are fully incorporated into all land bank decisions.
After years of effort, dating back to 2006, to create land banks in New York State by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (“LISC”) and others, New York State passed the Land Bank Act in July 2011. This act establishes a competitive process to allow municipalities to create land banks but will only permit the formation of 10 land banks throughout New York state, with no more than 5 land banks being approved with the first round of applications, due March 30th.
While the City of Buffalo began preparations to submit an application over the summer, the Brown administration was met by disinterest from the former-county executive and decided to submit a lone application to Empire State Development.
In January after taking office, County Executive Poloncarz, understanding how vital a countywide joint application was to successfully achieving a land bank, tasked Environment and Planning Commissioner Maria Whyte on coordinating with the towns, villages, other cities and Buffalo to create an intermunicipal agreement and the strongest application possible.
The intermunicipal agreement, already approved by the three cities and supported by the AECG, gained the endorsement of the Erie County Legislature on Thursday, allowing the joint application to be filed with Empire State Development Corporation, the State’s economic development agency, before the deadline. The City Councils in Buffalo, Lackawanna and Tonawanda have previously approved the application. With the agreement, in addition to the 3 cities, the land bank will be able to address properties in the County’s 25 towns and 16 villages.
The Land Bank’s board will include representatives from Buffalo, Erie County, Lackawanna, Tonawanda, and Empire State Development Corporation.
Additional Quotes of Support
Town of Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary F. Holtz added, “This Land Bank intergovernmental agreement will provide a defined plan for the management and reuse of vacant and abandoned properties which are a problem in all areas of the county and I am glad that we have taken this important step.”
Town of Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein, M.D. added, “Amherst supports the creation of the Erie County Land Bank and looks forward to assisting it in establishing new, vibrant uses on vacant and abandoned property throughout the county. I pledge my support for the Bank's redevelopment efforts that are consistent with Amherst's Comprehensive Plan and economic development strategy.”
Village of Angola Mayor Howard “Hub” Frawley added, “This is a historic day for Land Banking in Erie County. After working on distressed properties for the past eight years, I am so pleased that we are finally moving forward with our land Bank intergovernmental agreement/application to the Empire State Development with all 44 municipalities on board. Looking forward, it is our home that by redeveloping vacant, abandoned and tax delinquent properties, we will revitalize communities across the County and transform our neighborhoods through economic development.”