A motion to reconsider entering into an agreement with the Erie County Land Bank and the city of Corry in an effort to apply for gaming funds that would be used to clean up community blight failed during a Corry Area School Board meeting Monday night. 

The final vote to bring the agreement back onto the table was 4-4, but law states in the event of a tie, the motion fails. Ninth board member Deborah Wood was absent from the meeting.

During a Monday, June 24, meeting, board members previously voted on entering into an intergovernmental cooperation agreement between the Erie County Land Bank, the city of Corry and CASD, which failed to receive a majority. The agreement would have allowed the city to go forward in applying for funds from the Erie County Land Bank, which disburses money from the Erie County Gaming Authority and would be earmarked for purchasing and rehabilitating blighted properties. 

The Erie County Land Bank, which is under the direction of the Erie County Department of Planning and Community Development, is a piece of legislation carved out specifically for Erie County. The entity — which is run by a nine-member board, an attorney and a real estate agent — was established in early 2018 and receives $1 million each year in gaming revenue to be disbursed as it sees fit to municipalities within the county that are looking to clean up neighborhoods. 

Land banks acquire tax-delinquent, vacant and blighted properties with the goal of putting them back to productive use. 

The CASD vote from the June 24 meeting to enter into the agreement was 4-4, and therefore, the motion failed. "Yes" votes came from Joel Cook, Doris Gernovich, Joe Frisina and Chris Johnson. "No" votes came from Mike Baker, Amanda Cox, Lonny Eastman and Deborah Wood. Amy Allen, who would have been the ninth vote, was absent from the meeting. 

Without the approval of the CASD board, the application of funds cannot move forward as all taxing bodies must be in agreement. 

Board members who voted "no" stated during Monday's meeting that they were not comfortable approving the agreement as it was not clear to them how properties would be selected and targeted, and what the follow through would be after rehabilitation.

A presentation on the Erie County Land Bank was given to board members this summer by program coordinator Christie Mahany and Erie County Land Bank board member Dave Mitchell, who is also the mayor of the city of Corry.

Gernovich, who has been researching the land bank agreement, shared additional information with board members on Monday, including reasons why a property could be considered for tear down or rehabilitation.

"Reasons to take over a property include being vacant for a long period of time, in obvious decay, no taxes collected for three years and going up for judicial sale," Gernovich said. "They can take it over or fix it up and turn it into a community project."

Baker, Eastman and Cox specifically spoke up and said they took issue with how it is decided and who decides what property qualifies as blight.

"The one that gives me pause is the one that says 'obvious decay,'" said Cox, who added that she was unclear who decides what qualifies as decay. "That just makes me wonder."

Baker said he feels the program is too simplistic.

"All the other ones (land bank agreements) I have read are very descriptive and have a distinctive way of selecting these houses," said Baker, who was referring to land bank agreements in outside communities, specially in Philadelphia and Troy, New York. "They know exactly what they are going to to do these houses and they have a whole process. I mean it's 50 pages thick. It doesn't matter what the population of a community is, every citizen in this country is worth the same thing. So, why should we have a simplistic thing like this? It's just going to be failed bureaucracy because they have no rules. They are making it up as they go."

With Monday's failed vote, the issue remains off the table. However, if a school board member once again makes a motion to reconsider entering into the agreement and it receives a majority approval, the agreement may be voted on once again.

Mitchell said the Corry community is currently in a unique position as it is one of two municipalities that have done its blighted property research and is ready to go with its application of land bank funds. 

Because the land bank is in its first year of distribution, many neighborhoods have not yet done their preliminary research.

"There are only two communities that have organizations that are tearing houses down — Corry and Erie," Mitchell said. "We have CNI (Corry Neighborhood Initiative), which has been acting like a land bank. It's the same function, but they are not a designated land bank. Our advantage, and why it's a little devastating that we did not get this (school board) vote, is that we have the ability to gain between $100,000 and $200,000 to take care of between nine and 11 houses that are ready to go. If we go past August or September, we will be fighting a lot of other communities for this money. We have done our work and are ready to go now, so we would have a distinct advantage in applying for these funds."



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