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York County residents buying property may soon be helping fund the demolition of blighted properties throughout the county.

York County commissioners are considering a proposal to add a $15 fee for each deed and mortgage recorded by the county recorder of deeds.

The fee was proposed during a presentation by Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, at the commissioners meeting Wednesday, Nov. 15.

The economic alliance and other local entities are working to create a countywide land bank authority, which would exist to identify, acquire and rehabilitate blighted, tax-delinquent properties in order to get them back on the mainstream market.

Act 152, signed by Gov. Tom Wolf last year, allowed local governments to authorize  recorders of deeds to collect a fee of up to $15 for each deed or mortgage recorded, with the money collected used exclusively for demolition of blighted property.

The base fee for deed and mortgage recording in York County is currently $65.50, and that fee is already set to rise to $70.25 at the end of November because of two bills signed into law this year to fund the Judicial Computer System, Access to Justice and Criminal Justice Enhancement Account.

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According to county records, nearly 29,500 deeds and mortgages were recorded in 2016, which would amount to more than $440,000 annually for a countywide demolition fund.

County solicitor Glenn Smith clarified that the law allows counties to authorize a fee up to $15, meaning commissioners could decide to create a demolition fund with a lower fee.

Land bank authority: Schreiber said he understands additional fees are unpopular, but 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.

Schreiber, a former state representative, said local governments across the state have been excited about the prospect of creating land bank authorities since a package of bills authorizing their creation passed in 2012 and 2013, but without financial resources, not many counties rushed to create them.

The new law authorizing the deed-and-mortgage recording fee has created renewed interest, and Schreiber said there are currently 17 land bank authorities statewide, including one in Dauphin County.

Schreiber suggested to commissioners that the authority be comprised of members from the Redevelopment Authority of the County of York, the Redevelopment Authority of the City of York and a commissioner-appointed representative.

The authority also must be accompanied by the creation of a Blighted Property Review Committee to ensure the properties being pursued meet the legal definition of blight.

Demolition: Schreiber said the authority would initially focus on properties on the county's repository list, which are properties with delinquent taxes or liens that are not sold during tax sales.

Its members would solicit feedback from municipal governments, he said, because they know which properties are the biggest issues in their communities.

"There will be no shortage of work," he said.

The authority would not have the power of eminent domain, but it could take control of properties that have been effectively abandoned, demolish any dangerous, unsightly buildings and sell that land as quickly as possible, Schreiber explained.

Any money made off property sales, which Schreiber said would likely be minimal, could go toward reimbursement of demolition costs. The point isn't to make money, though, as much as it is to eliminate blight and raise surrounding property values, he said.

The county has about $14.5 million in outstanding property taxes and fees, according to the economic alliance.

President Commissioner Susan Byrnes noted after Schreiber's presentation that it all sounded like a good idea.

Commissioner Doug Hoke said they wanted to make sure to give the public time to comment on the proposal before voting on it.

The commissioners meetings remaining this year are scheduled for Nov. 22, Dec. 6 and Dec. 20. All are scheduled at 10 a.m. on the second floor of the county administrative building, 28 W. Market St. in York City.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.

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