MAYVILLE - One of the state's first land banks will be coming to Chautauqua County.
The Empire State Development Corporation announced early Thursday the first five land banks to come to the state. The coveted status allows government entities to seize foreclosed and abandoned properties to return them to their respective tax rolls.
If successful, property values and housing rates could increase through the program.
In March, the County Legislature approved the Chautauqua County Land Bank Corporation and its initial board of directors.
That board includes James Caflisch, county director of real property tax; legislators Larry Barmore, R-Gerry, and Minority Leader Lori Cornell, D-Jamestown; Steven Centi, Jamestown Department of Development; and Steve Neratko, Dunkirk Department of Development.
Presidents and directors of local businesses are also on the board.
"I heard it through the grapevine we were selected," Mark Geise, deputy director of Planning and Economic Development, said of the news.
"The neat thing is, we're a small county that could benefit from this," he added. "We were able to position ourselves to develop a methodology to utilize our resources. We will do it gradually because we have to learn to walk before we run."
Geise said the next step in the process will be to contact the board of directors and supporting members to discuss a criteria for the land bank. He said the group plans to obtain six properties the first year, 12 the following year and 18 beyond that.
But in terms of early hopes and expectations, Geise said he hasn't had a chance to think it over.
"We're still in our infant stage," he said. "I haven't had a chance to think about it (but) I'm absolutely proud of everyone that was involved. It was a group effort."
County Executive Greg Edwards applauded the efforts of local officials to secure the land bank status. He also tipped his hat to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for establishing the program.
"I would like to recognize the leadership demonstrated by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and by Empire State Development for their creation of the land bank program," Edwards said. "This program empowers local municipalities to address one of our most significant challenges created by vacant and abandoned properties. We in Chautauqua County are pleased to be one of the first five land banks to be created in New York state and this is a great accomplishment for us as a county."
In 2011, Cuomo signed the land bank program into law. He called Thursday's announcement a positive step toward rehabilitating communities across New York.
"The land bank program empowers local entities to transform urban blight into a source of economic development that will strengthen communities across New York," Cuomo said in a news release. "The land bank program is a central part of my administration's urban agenda to help transform our struggling urban communities. With these applications being approved, municipalities will be able to return vacant, abandoned and tax delinquent properties to productive use."
State Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, was also pleased with local efforts.
"When we passed the land bank legislation, I was hopeful that these tools could benefit rural areas in addition to urban settings to address blight and economic revitalization," she said. "The competition for the land banks was fierce, and Chautauqua County was successful because everyone worked hard and did a professional job. I'm very proud of the county's efforts and commend County Executive Greg Edwards and thank Gov. Cuomo."
Other land banks approved include:
Cities of Buffalo, Lackawanna, Tonawanda and Erie County;
City of Syracuse and Onondaga County;
City of Schenectady, County of Schenectady and City of Amsterdam;
City of Newburgh.
"Our success in this effort is due in large part to the efforts of our Department of Planning and Economic Development Director Bill Daly, Deputy Director Mark Geise, Center for Community Progress President Dan Kildee, and other leaders from across our county who like me are committed to improving the quality of the county's housing stock," Edwards said. "Special thanks go out to Mr. Geise for his exceptional work with developing the financial model."