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York County approves real estate fee to demolish blighted properties
West York Borough Mayor Shawn Mauck talks about the borough's response to growing blight issues.
York County will begin targeting and razing blighted properties — but how many will depend on the number of mortgages and deeds recorded in the coming year.
At a meeting Wednesday, April 4, county commissioners approved ordinances to create a land bank authority to demolish blighted properties throughout the county and a Blighted Property Review Committee to assist in identifying the properties.
The county also passed a resolution to fund the authority by instituting a $15 fee on any notes or mortgages recorded in the county, effective May 1, county solicitor Glenn J. Smith said.
Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, proposed the fee at a commissioners meeting back in November.
He said then that though he understands additional fees are unpopular, if the land bank authority is successful in its mission, property values will go up, the tax base will be expanded and all county residents will benefit.
Smith noted Wednesday that blight is a problem throughout York County, not just in York City.
"The actions taken by the commissioners today are designed to reduce blight and also deter blight as well," he said.
One of the intentions behind making it a countywide effort is to account for smaller municipalities that do not have the economic resources or manpower to address such properties, he said.
"It's important to understand that these tools are not designed to take properties away from people," Smith said. "If there's the ability for property owners to rehabilitate, we will work with them to do so.
"These tools are there to return these properties to a productive status in our community, which will benefit all of York County," he continued.
Realtors join efforts: The review committee will serve to identify properties that meet the legal definition of blight.
Membership of the committee was originally to include eight people but has been expanded to incorporate the executive officer of the Realtors Association of York and Adams Counties — currently, Shanna Terroso.
She spoke at the Dec. 6 commissioner's meeting in opposition to the funding fee, which was enabled by Act 152, signed by Gov. Tom Wolf last year. The money can only be used for demolition of blighted property.
Citing the fact that down payments and closing costs are one of the biggest barriers to most homebuyers, Terroso said at that time the money to fund the authority should come from state or local taxes rather than individuals.
Still opposed: When reached by phone Wednesday afternoon after the meeting, Terroso echoed her earlier sentiments, saying that though she is still opposed to the funding source, she is "happy to serve on the committee to make sure the funds that are collected be put to the best use possible."
She said she will continue to encourage commissioners to explore additional funding options, such as a broad-based local tax or state and federal grant opportunities.
Her reasoning, provided in a statement to commissioners in December, lies in the fact that homeowners already pay their fair share to their municipalities through realty transfer taxes and fees.
Whenever a property is purchased — aside from limited exceptions, Terroso stated — half of the 2 percent transfer tax paid by homebuyers and sellers is split equally between the school district and the municipality in which the property is located.
For example, she stated that the median home sale price in York County at the time was $166,000, meaning a $3,320 transfer tax would provide $830 to the municipality.
In addition to those costs, the current base filing fees for recording a deed and purchasing a home with a mortgage collectively amount to $140.50, she stated.
Recording fees increased by $4.75 in November to fund the Judicial Computer System, Access to Justice and Criminal Justice Enhancement Account.
"With each fee piled onto the real estate transaction, we risk losing more first-time homebuyers," Terroso stated. "With unimaginable student debt and ever-increasing rental prices, it has become more difficult for these buyers to save to purchase a home."
Smith said, for instance, the fee would affect those taking out a mortgage, refinancing a home or taking out a loan that requires a note to be placed on the property.
Community benefit: Terroso opposes taxing a few for something that affects the entire community.
"With costs of $10,000 to $50,000 to demolish a blighted building, and even more for larger properties, this is also probably not a reliable funding source," she added in the statement.
However, county records show nearly 29,500 deeds and mortgages were recorded in 2016, which would amount to more than $440,000 annually for a countywide demolition fund.
"It's our opinion that the economic benefit for all property owners will far exceed the new fee that's being assessed," Smith said.
He said the county will start looking at blighted properties by the year's end, but that does not mean they will be demolished then. It will take some time to build up a fund to work with, he added.