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Shelby County Commission puts Land Bank changes on hold — for now

Saddled with concerns about the need and the timing, Shelby County Commissioners kept their powder dry on a scheduled final vote to convert the Shelby County Land Bank into the Shelby County Real Estate Department during the Monday, January 29 meeting.

The ordinance will bounce back to the Delinquent Tax Properties Committee for further discussion. Members are anticipating supporting information – like the staff compliment needed –  after sponsor Britney Thorton failed to present hard copies during Monday’s meeting. 

“I would recommend…a restructuring of the office to streamline it for maximum efficiency in executing this ordinance. Then, I would be open to deferring this so we can come back with that additional information,” said Thornton.

Shelby County Public Works Director Cliff Norville is expected to present the information during the committee session.

On and off the agenda since the fall, the proposal is an attempt to increase flagging sales of delinquent tax parcels in the county. Since 2020, sales have dropped off significantly. The COVID pandemic is largely to blame.

“Quite frankly, as this ordinance has been developed, it’s changed and evolved throughout the process. We really need the final document to be able to prepare all of that impact,” said Norville.

Like the current land bank, the real estate department would oversee the sales of delinquent tax properties in the city. It would also be under the direction of the Shelby County Public Works Department.

Ordinance proponents hope to increase individual wealth in low-income communities through property ownership, along with addressing blight.

However, some members of the commission are reluctant to expand department functions. This would include marketing beyond print media. The county currently works with area realtors to push properties too. The department would also be responsible for ensuring the parcel is used for its proper purpose. All would require hiring new employees. 

The new institution would also be required to provide updates to the commission. 

“There are still a lot of ambiguities in the ordinance. They have not been clarified. If the ordinance were to pass today…a lot of work is going to have to be done to define what these particular things mean. There are a lot of responsibilities that are being added to the land bank that have not been our responsibility before,” said Norville. “All of those things are going to require more staff and, obviously, a larger budget to prepare.”

Some members are also cautious about voting on an item and leaving it up to the administration to figure out the details. They fear they could get ahead of themselves, particularly with budget season on the horizon.

One asked of a “chicken and egg” scenario.

“If you are going to have to prepare to restructure a whole department and you were planning to do it during budget season, it is premature for us to be preparing the ordinance that may require a larger fiscal note, when we are already talking about – in the budget meeting we just had – billions of dollars in deficit,” said Commissioner Shante Avant. “The math usually doesn’t act that way, you know. Two plus two doesn’t equal 22.”

A follow-up committee meeting will be scheduled for February 21, where Norville is expected to deliver a cost estimate. Members were assured the update will include the cost of new employees to pick up added duties.

 

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