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Syracuse Land Bank still waiting on contract with city after 4 months

Tom Magnarelli
The Syracuse Common Council.

The Syracuse Land Bank has been operating for about four months without a contract with the city. The result is the Land Bank has had to slow down acquiring foreclosed properties.

Past contracts between the city of Syracuse and the Land Bank had a clause saying if the city did not collect as much as expected in delinquent taxes, it could pull or recapture some of the Land Bank’s funding. As the Land Bank took off acquiring tax delinquent properties, there was a one-time spike in the amount of delinquent taxes paid. But now that spike is dropping off as properties get moved back onto the tax rolls. Executive director of the Syracuse Land Bank, Katelyn Wright, said what is tying up the current contract is the question over what to do with what is called a recapture clause.

“We’d much rather see any recapture that could happen, tied to our performance," Wright said. "Just like any fee for services contract, we’re agreeing to take a certain number of properties, to demolish a certain number of properties, to mow lawns, to shovel sidewalks. If we perform those services we don’t want any possible recapture funds based on something outside of our control.”

Wright said the Land Bank has been taking in about 40 foreclosed properties every month. It has sold about 350 properties in three years and has leveraged $15 million in private investment.

"We can’t keep up that good pace if we don’t have more properties coming into our inventory," Wright said. "We’ve had to pump the brakes and say we can’t take anymore properties, if we don’t know whether we’re going to have the money to pay for them, to properly maintain them and insure them."

Syracuse Common Councilor Jean Kessner said the clause is important because it holds the Land Bank accountable. Kessner said funding the Land Bank should be tied to the overall property tax collection in Syracuse.

“It’s the one thing that gives me comfort that I can promise to taxpayers, we’re not wasting your money at all, we’re putting it to a good cause and we’re getting enough money to cover it,” Kessner said.

The contract would require $1 million be spent on demolitions plus an additional $500,000 that could be recaptured.

"The $500,000 doesn’t have a string attached to it, other than if we don’t bring in enough money to cover that gift to the Land Bank, that we would be able to recapture some funds, just in terms of the property taxes that people of the city of Syracuse pay,” Kessner said. 

Kessner said the final contract just has to be written up and it can go to vote.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.