County land bank: Tax foreclosures back on rolls

MARQUETTE – In its continuing work to return tax-foreclosed properties to the tax rolls, the Marquette County Land Bank Authority has acquired 55 parcels since its creation in May 2009, according to a new Marquette County report.

Land Bank Authority Chairwoman Anne Giroux said in a report to the Marquette County Board Tuesday that of those 55 parcels, all but 10 have been disposed of and returned to tax-producing status.

“I can talk for hours about land bank because it’s pretty exciting. I always tell people it’s kind of neat when you’re the tax collector to be involved in something positive like this and make people happy,” Giroux said. “Marquette County’s land bank is really looked at as a model in the state for others who are trying to do land banking in rural communities.”

In 2009, seven parcels were acquired by the Land Bank Authority; 18 in 2010; 19 in 2011; and 11 in 2012. A total of 19 blighted structures have been demolished since 2009. Last month, the authority was announced among the recipients of Blight Elimination Program grant funding. Marquette County applied for $486,385 for the Sawyer project to fund removal of 15 buildings and 21 garages which have been vacant since the U.S. Air Force Base closed at K.I. Sawyer in 1995.

The dilapidated structures at K.I. Sawyer are expected to be foreclosed on April 1 for non-payment of property taxes. Those structures will be demolished this year and expected to take three to four months to raze. The buildings – which have been targeted by vandals and are in advanced disrepair- are located along Warhawk, Raider, Stratofort and Panther streets, near the Sawyer Elementary School.

Final approval for the project is expected within 60 days, Giroux said.

“I’m really pleased,” Giroux said. “I couldn’t be more thrilled about this Sawyer grant. It’s a great grant and we’re making a huge impact in that community.”

Elsewhere, through the land bank’s efforts, additional structures have been demolished from K.I. Sawyer and the city of Ishpeming to Champion and Michigamme townships over the past few years.

“We make a real conscious effort to spread the work out around the county,” Giroux said. “We’re going to try to do a little bit of work everywhere if we can. We certainly have pockets that we get more tax foreclosures in than others, but we’re really trying to work with all the different townships and cities in the county.”

The authority’s biggest project so far demolished the former West Ishpeming School In Ishpeming Township. During the past year, planning for developing the site continued.

Of nine lots created on the property by the demolition, two were sold to adjoining property owners and a purchase agreement was signed with Habitat for Humanity for three more. The sale of those lots was completed. Complete construction of two Habitat for Humanity homes is scheduled to take place this year and partial construction of a house on the third lot will take place this year, with completion slated for 2014.

“That project is moving nicely forward as well,” Giroux said.

A community meeting was held last fall, facilitated by the county planning department, and some options were discussed for preserving some green space on the site.

“In 2013, the Land Bank hopes to market the remaining sites to the general public and work with Habitat for Humanity on any additional lots that they are able to purchase,” the report said.

Since the authority was created, there have been 18 side lot transfers to adjoining property owners; 23 sales to private ownership; four transfers to local units of government and 10 retained by the land bank, available for sale.

The amount of money in the fund balance for the authority has increased steadily since 2009, when $609 was in the fund. In 2010, there was $62,432 in the fund; $84,066 in 2011 and $102,196 last year.

Giroux detailed a few budget accomplishments of the authority.

“(We’re) very proud of the fact that the majority of our expenses are going right into property acquisition, demolition, maintenance of these properties and getting these properties back on the tax roll,” Giroux said.

Almost half of the total budget has been expended on demolition and abatement activities with 16 percent of the budget set aside in fund equity and available for future projects. Giroux said only 8 percent of the budget has been spent on administrative expenditures, 5 percent of which related to legal expenses.

No additional staff has been hired. All support for the authority is provided by the county treasurer (Giroux), with assistance from the Marquette County Planning Department.

“We’re accomplishing a lot with little,” Giroux said.

The mission of the authority is to work collaboratively with local community organizations and governmental units in finding the best way to return tax-foreclosed properties to the tax roll.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.