The Champaign County Board of Revision by a 3-0 vote approved transferring a long-abandoned property to the city of Urbana Thursday.
The board authorized the transfer of the former Q3 JMC Inc. property, 605 Miami St., consistent with the conditions of an ordinance city council approved Tuesday authorizing Urbana director of administration Kerry Brugger to submit a request to transfer the 26 parcels listed in the property to the city.
At a sheriff’s sale on Wednesday no bids were offered for the property creating the potential for the city to acquire the property.
“We really expected once all the facts were out and once all the summaries were put in place, both the city and the county saw the opportunity to make this a win-win,” Brugger said following the board’s action. “The community at large wins in this. If everything plays out like we hope it does we really believe this is a good opportunity for the community as a whole and helps eliminate a blighted area and expands on our economic base.”
As part of the ordinance and the city’s request, the board will waive all taxes and other expenses against the property and all lands acquired and held by the city shall be deemed real property used for a public purpose and shall be exempt from taxation until the property is sold.
Some of the benefits of a transfer Brugger discussed with the board included the potential to bring in 110 jobs into the community, the opportunity for millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements and retaining existing employees in the area.
Prior to the board’s action, Marcia Bailey, economic development director for the Champaign Economic Partnership, spoke about how the transfer would benefit economic development.
“I was just in Dayton last week for a site selector’s meeting and I’m always hard pressed to be able to take properties to the table to be able to showcase that ‘this is what’s available in our community for somebody to grow on,’” Bailey said. “If we can move forward with this we can show the rest of the region and the rest of the state that we are progressively looking for how we can redevelop properties.”
During the meeting Champaign County Auditor Karen Bailey provided a summary of events that dated back to June 2014 when the city submitted an application to receive the property through an expedited foreclosure. The board, consisting of Karen Bailey, Champaign County Commissioner Bob Corbett and former county treasurer Kermit Russell at the time, accepted the application and the began the process.
Speaking on the long process that ensued, Karen Bailey said she believed it should never be an easy or quick process for government to take ownership of property and everyone involved in the process would agree that it was not easy or quick.
The current board consists of Karen Bailey, commissioner Steve Hess and county treasurer Robin Edwards.
Champaign County Prosecutor Kevin Talebi reiterated the property could not be turned over to the city through an expedited foreclosure because of how high the property valuation was and the amount of outstanding taxes on the property.
Attorney Joe Reidy, who represented the city at the meeting, said a letter from Brugger dated on Wednesday served as the city’s legal request to have the property transferred. Within the letter, Brugger summarized the investment the city has already made in the property.
Vacant since 2008, Brugger stated the property has quickly deteriorated into a “community eyesore” as a result of absentee ownership. The property has dealt with persistent vandalism and has required ongoing abatement of tall grass and weeds and the open dumping of solid waste.
The letter states the tax delinquency for the property is in excess of $245,000.
During the meeting, Urbana Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Asper discussed some of the safety hazards the property currently poses. He said the Urbana Fire Division has a record of going there for inspections indicating fires, vandalism and mold.
The transfer is also contingent on the city being able to close on funding for the cleanup and redevelopment of the property. Reidy said the city is in active negotiations with JobsOhio, the Ohio Water Development Authority and a private party whom he said is supposed to provide a significant amount of funding.
“Assuming that that money does come forward – and we fully expect that to occur – then we will accept title on behalf of the city of Urbana and move forward with the cleanup and the development of the property,” Reidy said. He added the city expects this to happen within 60 days.
In the event that the city does not secure funds for demolition and environmental remediation, Talebi said the property would be transferred back to its previous status.
Before the board voted on the request, they asked city representatives multiple questions.
Edwards asked about the proposed tax waiver.
“I know that we had talked about suspending the taxes and that is where the city of Urbana would not be responsible for paying those taxes, that would transfer over to the end user once (the property) is sold,” Edwards said. “I guess the city’s goal is to come out of this spending none of your money so speaking on behalf of the taxpayers, why do you feel that you should walk away with no money and all those different tax districts that are missing out on this money should walk away with nothing?”
“The basic rationale is that currently this property is generating no taxes for anyone’s benefit and but for the city’s actions to acquire it, clean it up, and put it back up into productive use that will continue on for the foreseeable future,” Reidy responded. “By essentially accepting the loss of revenues historically that has occurred the county, the schools, the city, and all involved stand to benefit going forward by putting the property back to good use. The notion of simply putting off the payment of the taxes for some end user to take them on does not make economic sense in that they’re going to have to purchase the property from the city to begin with – for that property to then have the burden of past due taxes that were someone else’s responsibility in all likelihood would prevent end users from acquiring that property.”
Edwards then asked what kind of tax credits or abatement had been discussed with possible end users. Reidy said none have been discussed at this point but noted the state could potentially offer a job creation tax credit.
The board also discussed what was described as a “gentleman’s agreement” that was proposed by Karen Bailey when the city originally asked for the expedited foreclosure. Karen Bailey previously suggested that when the city takes control of the property the city should issue a check to Urbana City Schools and other entities that would not receive tax money due to the waiver.
Talebi said this would not be a legally binding agreement with nothing in writing.
Brugger said the city’s current timeline for cleanup and remediation to start is during late fall depending on other factors.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.