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Gainesville to move forward on creating land bank
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The city of Gainesville is moving forward to create a land bank, and the next step is talking to Hall County.

The Gainesville City Council heard a presentation on land bank authorities at its Thursday work session.

A land bank is a governmental entity that turns problem properties into assets. The bank deals with vacant, abandoned, tax-delinquent and foreclosed properties.

Community Development Director Rusty Ligon said the city is working with the county to set up opportunity zones, which are tax incentives for economic development.

“I don’t foresee a problem working with them (the county),” he said.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed land banking legislation into law last year. It allows for creation of multicounty and city regional land banks, and the entity could be self-supporting.

The presentation was given by attorney Sara Toering and Mara Register, assistant to the city manager of Valdosta. Toering is with the project on Affordable Housing and Community Development at Emory Law School.

A land bank can get property through tax sales, donation, purchase and municipal transfer. It has several powers, including investing, borrowing money, holding property, getting rid of back taxes with school board consent and disposing of property.

“It’s another tool we hope to be able to use as we try to acquire property and redevelop property and improve overall housing conditions in the city,” Ligon said.

Land bank property is tax exempt. Vacant, delinquent and foreclosed property can reduce neighboring property values by from 2.1 percent to nearly 10 percent.

“Again, it’s not a cure-all, but it’s a very effective tool,” Register said.

The law requires parties creating a land bank consist of a county and a city, multiple counties and cities, consolidated governments and consolidated governments plus cities and counties.

Register said the land bank in Valdosta has been successful. There are some that are struggling because of inactivity and a lack of consensus between the local governments.

“It looks like it would pay for itself pretty quickly once you get things back on the tax rolls,” Councilwoman Ruth Bruner said to Register. “I guess you feel it’s been fairly cost-effective.”

Register said the properties in her city are back to producing taxes for the city, county, the state and the school board.

“This has been very interesting,” Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said. “We’re excited.”

Councilman George Wangemann said he also was excited.

“I think we ought to go forward at least looking developing a land bank here,” he said. “It’s the right time.”

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