From left, fiscal officer Beth Allering, land bank board member Karen Bridges and Highland County Community Action Organization Housing Director Mark Current are pictured at the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation's Oct. 15 meeting. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
From left, fiscal officer Beth Allering, land bank board member Karen Bridges and Highland County Community Action Organization Housing Director Mark Current are pictured at the Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation's Oct. 15 meeting. (HCP Photos/Caitlin Forsha)
The Highland County Land Reutilization Corporation reviewed a list of eight potential properties for acquisition submitted by the city of Hillsboro during their Thursday, Oct. 15 board meeting.

Present for the meeting were land bank board members Karen Bridges, Terry Britton, Jeff Duncan and Charles Guarino; Highland County Community Action Organization Housing Director Mark Current; fiscal officer Beth Allering; and City of Hillsboro code enforcement officer Lauren Walker.

Current gave an overview of the properties provided by Walker, along with displaying photographs of the parcels and the exterior of any structures on the land.

“Most of these I’ve sent letters to or had to contact relatives,” Walker said. “There’s a couple of them where they said ‘we want nothing to do with this,’ or most of them are deceased.”

• 256 E. Walnut St. has “major potential,” according to Current, as it is need of repairs but is in a historic area. The property owner passed away and had no known relatives, he said.

It is only $1,038.77 behind in taxes, and the property is valued at $77,900. At least one person has expressed interest in buying the property.

Both Duncan and Current indicated that the land bank should pursue the property.

Allering asked, “If somebody even without our involvement would purchase that, without us doing anything, what is the benefit? Do you think you’re going to sell it for a considerable amount? Is that a flip situation on this? I guess my thought is, aren’t you looking for things that are much deeper in tax debt that are not liable to sell unless you intervene?”

Guarino said that he thought that Probate Court is likely to be involved with that property and suggested contacting the court for more information.

“If gets purchased without us or through us, as long as the taxes get paid,” Current said.

• Walker said she spoke with the owner of 622 South East St., who indicated that a bank owned the property.

“I couldn’t see anything where it was bank-owned,” Walker told the board. “She was supposed to call me. She never did. I had told her daughter, any kind of paperwork she has, if she can call me if she wants to show me any of the paperwork, because I know she wants it off of her plate.”

Current said “removing the vegetation would change a lot on the property.”

• A house at 229 East South St. “could possibly be rehabbed,” Current said, but “could go either way.” Efforts by Walker to contact the owner have had no response.

• 305 East South St. “could have some promise as a fixer-upper,” Current said. Walker said that the city mows grass on the property.

• Walker said she has contacted the owner’s son but has not spoken to the owner of 608 South East St.

• 235 Willow St. was also listed, and Walker said she thought it was in foreclosure.

• Walker said that a city employee indicated to her that the home’s foundation at 775 N. West St. is “not good.” A neighbor has expressed interest in the property, and the owner’s family “wants nothing to do with the house,” she said.

• The first property they reviewed, 540 Johnson Street, is one that Walker said they could remove from the list because she wanted to take legal action on the property for alleged ordinance violations. Current called the house on the property “bad” and said it would need to be demolished.

“I think it’s a ticking time bomb as far as more of it falling, so I need to proceed with that one,” Walker said.

Current said he had not done any title searches on the Hillsboro properties yet, as he wanted guidance from the board first.

“That’s a lot to consider, but I think there’s some opportunity there, whether it’s demo or rehab work,” he said. “Each one could make an impact on the area it’s in.”

Guarino asked if Current “had a recommendation on which properties should be appraised.”

“Maybe what you could do is get some contractors, go through these, see what’s [able to be rehabbed] and report back next month, and we can decide on next steps,” Guarino said. “I don’t know if we have enough information.”

Current said he would bring more information to the Nov. 19 meeting.

In other new business, Current told the board that some local general contractors told him that they would be interested in bidding on houses before they are demolished.

“Before we demo, they’d like to be able to bid on them for possible rehab,” he said. “We can put restrictions and expectations on what we want that to be.”

Guarino agreed that they should also have time frames and other specifications in place “so we don’t give it to somebody saying they’re going to rehab it and six months down the road it’s in worse shape.”

“My thought was that as we have talked about on other properties, we sell it contingent upon ‘this is what you’re going do with it,’” Current said.

Guarino asked who would ultimately be responsible for the properties. “My analogy would be do we want to Band-Aids on it or actually get someone to do it right so it’s going to last a long time?” he said. “That’s my fear.”

Walker pointed out that there is that risk in selling a property. Duncan said he thought that “if a contractor’s bidding on it, he’s bidding on it to fix it up and resell it.”

According to Bridges, the paperwork could stipulate that if a contractor fails to meet the board’s specifications, the property could be “forfeited back to us, or until it’s done, it’s not completely theirs.”

Current said they would also have to look into whether it made more sense to demolish the house or have someone renovated it.

“If we acquire [a property], even with foreclosure costs or whatever, we don’t have to demo it,” Current said. “They have to put the money into it, and we’re selling something that’s worth more than just an empty lot. If the empty lot’s worth more being an empty lot, then we should demo it.”

Current added that even if the home are renovated and used as rentals instead of being resold by the bidders, “there’s people all the time calling us for housing, looking for a place to rent or a place to live.”

“I think the purchase of the land bank is to fix things up,” Bridges said. “If you also put in a bidder in that’s local, word gets out that you’re not only fixing up the community, but you’re also giving local businesses a chance to have jobs. It’s kind of a full-circle thing.”

The board also heard the following information on already-discussed parcels from Current during the “old business” portion of the meeting:

• Current and Matthew Wagner of Tetra Tech are continuing to look into cleaning up the former Rocky Fork Truck Stop property.

As previously reported, the HCLRC heard a proposal for acquiring and cleaning up the former Rocky Fork Truck Stop location through a state grant program at their Thursday, July 23 meeting.

At that meeting, Current said the property, located at 12410 U.S. 50, had $10,578.51 in back taxes owed. Matthew Wagner of Tetra Tech spoke to the land bank board in July regarding the Abandoned Gas Station Cleanup Grant, which he said they could pursue if the land bank acquired the property.

However, Current told the board last month that the Rocky Fork Truck Stop owners are now up-to-date on their taxes, so the county will not be foreclosing on the property.

Current said Thursday he had spoken recently to a man who said “he knows the guy who owns it, and he’s in Chicago.”

“I’m trying to get ahold of him,” Current said. “All I’ve got so far is the address the tax is mailed to, and that is the truck stop address.”

Duncan and Britton suggested that Current check with the auditor’s office or treasurer’s office to see if they can give him the address of the person who recently paid the back taxes on the property.

• A letter from the prosecutor’s office sent to the owners of 6774 Heathermoor Trail was returned as undeliverable, and they determined there was a mortgage of over $33,000 on the property. Current has also sent a letter to the owner of 11410 Cathys Court, which has a mortgage of over $166,000.

Britton asked if the properties could be foreclosed on. Bridges said they could, but “our expenses that we put into it, we’ll never get back out.”

“With our policies and procedures, we can’t acquire it with another mortgage — anything other than taxes,” Current said. “The only way we could get it from the state or the county is if that went away.”

Britton asked if the properties are ones the corporation would actually want if they entered that process. Current said they would not make a profit on one of the properties and “might break even” on the other.

“If we’re going to do anything with them, we probably will need to foreclose on them,” Britton said. “That’s the only way I see to start shaking them loose. It could take a long time, too.”

Bridges said she thought both properties were certified delinquent.

“As long as they’re certified delinquent over two years, we can foreclose,” Bridges said. “Knowing that they’re so upside-down and there’s mortgages, that’s something that I’m going to question and double-check with Kathryn [Allen, of the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office] as well. If you want me to foreclose, I can see what she says.”

Guarino moved to proceed with starting the foreclosure process if both properties are certified delinquent. The motion passed unanimously.

• Current is trying to reach the owner of 6652 Golden Doubloon Lane, Hillsboro, which includes land in one person’s name and a mobile home in another person’s name.

“That could be something that we close on, but we’ve got to get the title to mobile home that’s on it transferred to the landowner,” Current said.

Bridges advised that if taxes are delinquent, they could foreclose on the land without foreclosing on the mobile home. “They have so many days to remove the mobile home, because that’s not what you’re taking,” she said.

Current said that there are delinquent taxes on the property, but it “otherwise appears to be a clear title.”

• A property on McClain Avenue in Greenfield has squatters inside who have utilities in their name and are paying the bills, according to Current.

“I believe, since they do have utilities in their names and they’re paying the bills, they would have to be evicted from the property,” Current said. “Taking ownership of the property would also take on liability. I’m not sure what to do there.”

Britton asked if Fannie Mae could evict the squatters. “We can ask,” Current said.

“Say ‘we’ll take it as soon as you get those squatters out,’” Britton said. “We don’t want that liability.”

Guarino suggested also seeing if the squatters were interested in purchasing the property, but Duncan expressed concerns with doing so if the property was blighted.

“If it doesn’t meet certain property maintenance codes, if they have any, they could start to condemn it, and then they have to leave the house,” Walker said. “I don’t know what Greenfield has in place as far as that. I know with our codes, we can condemn a property and then they have to evict.”

Current said he would talk to city manager Todd Wilkin and public service director Gary Lewis about that idea.

• According to Current, Fannie Mae wants to transfer two parcels on Carford Pike in Greenfield to the HCLRC.

“They have nothing on them,” Current said. “They do have a clear title, and Greg [VanZant] already checked that. That’s kind of in the works right now, and we can put them up for sale right away once that’s complete.”

• Two parcels on Cinderella Drive were put out for bid, but Current said they did not receive any bids. One neighbor is potentially interested in purchasing one of the parcels, he said.

• 6830 Heathermoor Trail, which is being split, has been surveyed and was “fifth in line in the Maps Department.”

“As soon as they get it, it will go to the recorder, and we’ll have a closing,” Current said.

• A quit claim deed is ready for 11540 Dundee Dr., Hillsboro.

• Greg VanZant is doing a title search on a property on Cameron Drive in Greenfield.

• Current said someone is interested in a parcel on Dutch Street in Hillsboro, which he is researching.

In the fiscal report, Allering presented an overview of costs, profits and losses associated with the recent sale of several properties. She also compared the land value of the corporation’s properties to the cost of renovations by Banks Construction.

On an accounting basis (including land value, cost of rehab, total cost and sale cost), the four sold properties resulted in a loss of $18,264.66. However, on a cash basis (cost of rehab and sale cost), Allering said there was actually a profit of $11,635.34, since the properties were donated to the corporation to start with.

“That’s great,” Duncan said. “I was going to be happy with a break-even type situation.”

The board also voted to approve payment of a $96 invoice.