Open enrollment for Mohawk Valley land bank starts

JOHNSTOWN — The Herkimer County-based Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank is again recruiting Fulton County and the city of Johnstown to join, although both municipalities showed no interest two years ago.

The Little Falls-based land bank issued a news release this week indicating it is receiving applications for “open” membership during August from what it calls potential Foreclosing Government Units, or FGUs.

Karl Gustafson, chairman of the GMVLB Board of Directors, stated in the release: “In December 2016, the board set each August as the annual open enrollment period during which counties and municipalities having foreclosing authority, but which were not original members of GMVLB, could apply for land bank membership.”

Gustafson said that Fulton and Oneida counties and the city of Johnstown are now eligible again to join GMBLB. Herkimer, Montgomery, Otsego, and Schoharie counties and the cities of Rome and Utica are already members.

GMVLB received $1.6 million in funding in March 2017 from the New York state Attorney General’s settlements with banks as a result of their practices during the 2008 mortgage crisis. The funding was part of $20.9 million disbursed to 19 land banks across the state. The money was awarded by the Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative established in 2013 by the Attorney General’s Office.

“We are working with all our member FGUs to acquire selected abandoned, vacant, and tax delinquent properties to be remediated and returned to the tax rolls,” GMVLB Executive Director Tolga Morawski said in the release. “We’re on the move.”

The GMVLB’s “mission” is to strengthen communities across the Mohawk Valley by helping to return neglected and abandoned buildings to productive use, its website says.

New York state land banks are formed by local governments that have the power to foreclose on properties. The purpose of land banks is to provide funding for rehabilitation of foreclosed properties. Land bank funding can be allocated in different ways, sometimes with the land bank acquiring ownership of the foreclosed properties and other times only providing funding.

The city of Johnstown voted in a “consensus” in 2016 not to join the GMVLB, and Fulton County that year never took action. The city of Gloversville in 2016 said it was giving “official support” to the land bank, later deciding not to join after Fulton County didn’t take action.

Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead recalled Wednesday that after the county was approached to join in 2016, the Board of Supervisors decided not to take action.

“I think that’s how it ended up,” Stead said. “There was two different discussions at the board level.”

During a June 2016 board meeting, Gloversville 2nd Ward Supervisor Frank Lauria Jr. brought up land banks late in the meeting, during old business, and made a motion to endorse the concept. The board never took action.

Stead said the county has been waiting to hear if any “good success” has come out of the land bank, but he hasn’t heard much news in a couple years.

Johnstown Mayor Vern Jackson couldn’t be reached this week.

But Johnstown Councilman-at-Large Craig Talarico, a fairly new member of the Common Council, said Wednesday he hasn’t had dealings with the land bank.

“I’m sure I’ll hear a discussion about them soon,” he said.

Former Johnstown Interim Mayor Cindy Lakata stated in September 2016: “The council has come to the consensus the land bank is not a good fit with the city of Johnstown.”

On the other hand, the Montgomery County Legislature voted in October 2016 to join the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank. Cited as a reason for joining at the time was the success of land banks in Buffalo and Syracuse.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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