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Governor signs law improving Erie County land bank

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday signed a new law that removes barriers for Erie County in its quest to take control of foreclosed, vacant properties and get them back on the tax roll.

Two years ago, the state passed legislation that allows Erie County and nine other local governments to create nonprofit land banks that purchase and collect vacant properties either for sale or redevelopment.

But the land banks were restricted to the kinds of tax foreclosure auctions they could participate in. The legislation has now been amended to remedy that problem.

“This power was previously limited to land banks which bid at judicially ordered tax sales pursuant to New York Real Property Tax Law,” said Peter Anderson, a spokesman for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.

Unlike tax foreclosure sales covered under New York Real Property Tax Law, Erie County conducts its tax foreclosure auctions under the authority of the Erie County Tax Act, which does not require the involvement of a judge.

As a result of the new legislation signed by the governor Monday, the county’s land-banking entity is now authorized to participate in nonjudicially ordered tax sales. It comes at just the right time for the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corp., which will now be able to exercise its pre-emptive bid powers at the county’s tax foreclosure auction set for Wednesday in the Mason O. Damon Auditorium at the Central Library.

Had the legislation not been passed, the Land Improvement Corp. would have been severely limited in its ability to acquire vacant, distressed or tax delinquent properties, Anderson said.

Since January 2012, the administration has held two foreclosure sales that have yielded more than $14 million in delinquent property taxes while returning more than 125 homes and businesses to the tax rolls.

The new legislation also allows for the expansion of the corporation to a 15-member board. Anderson said that will allow Erie County’s land bank to, conceivably, expand its reach into partnerships with other foreclosing governmental units, such as the City of Niagara Falls.

The new legislation – sponsored in the Senate by Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican, and in the Assembly by Democrat Sean Ryan of Buffalo – corrects an oversight in the original law by allowing the county land bank to significantly increase its activity and get vacant homes back on the tax rolls.

“The current land bank law has proven to be extremely successful for Erie County and the City of Buffalo,” said Grisanti, in a news release announcing Monday’s action. “These improvements to the land bank law will allow municipalities to have even greater abilities to combat and improve blight.”

The original land-banking legislation was aimed at combatting the problem of foreclosed, vacant properties that promote neighborhood blight, drive down property values and attract criminal activity.

Ultimately, the aim is to have those properties become occupied by owners who will keep them properly maintained.

The state has authorized land banks in Chautauqua County, Rochester, Syracuse and Onondaga County.