The Evansville Brownfields Corporation (EBC) currently has no paid staff and a Board of Directors that consists of seven members. The City of Evansville has historically funded the EBC to the tune of $50,000 to $100,000 annually with the occasional contribution that has been significantly more.The EBC buys, or accepts as gifts, primarily vacant lots within the City of Evansville. The nonprofit maintains the lots with the goal of ultimately selling the properties for development. In addition to direct funding from the City, the EBC receives periodic infusions of cash from the Department of Metropolitan Development (DMD) with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) dollars. The annual revenue of EBC is typically in the $200,000 to $400,000 range.As the City Council considers an annual contribution to the EBC that could top $2 million dollars for the foreseeable future, there are changes that must occur within the EBC to gain the trust of elected officials and the public.The current EBC Board, by its bylaws, consists of the Director of the DMD, two appointments by the Mayor with one being a City Council member, an appointment by the Growth Alliance of Greater Evansville, an appointment by the Evansville Chamber of Commerce, and two appointments that are made by the other five members. The bylaws do not require regular meetings outside of the annual meeting each March or that the meeting date, location and time be made public.As the City moves forward with a blight elimination plan, it is important that the public buy into the process and trust that public funds are being managed appropriately. Almost as bad as impropriety, is the appearance of impropriety. The EBC must avoid this appearance. The EBC can avoid the appearance of impropriety and gain technical knowledge from relevant practitioners in the community by expanding its Board of Directors, creating committees that advise the Board of Directors and setting a regular monthly meeting that is publicized.The current bylaws should be changed, and the Board of Directors should be expanded to thirteen members appointed to three year terms as follows:The Mayor appoints one at their discretion;City Council appoints one of its members;County Council appoints one of its members;County Commissioners appoints one of its members;The County Auditor or their designee;The County Treasurer or their designee;The County Assessor or their designee;The Building Commissioner or their designee;A representative from Community One/Habitat for Humanity or Echo Housing;A representative from Memorial CDC or CAPE;A representative from the Southern Indiana Builders Association;A representative from the Board of Realtors or the Evansville Association of Area Realtors; andA representative from HOPE;The Auditor determines when properties are tax delinquent, the Assessor determines property values and has significant mapping capabilities, the Treasurer will oversee the sale of vacant and abandoned properties under the new statute (SB 415), the County and City representatives determine funding, the Building Commission inspects properties and determines what must be razed and what can be rehabbed, and the practitioners listed are involved in every aspect of either building, selling, marketing, or rehabilitating residential structures. All are critical to the mission to eliminate blight.Although it has been stated that blight is finite that is not necessarily true. As we eliminate existing blighted structures over the next five years, more properties are at risk of becoming blighted. Without citizens involved on the ground to monitor structures in their neighborhood and strategic code enforcement, we could end up with a never ending supply of blight. It’s critical that committees exist to identify blight, neighborhoods that are trending to blight and the causes of blight, which typically starts with vacancy. There should initially be at least one committee of citizen advisors representing the different areas of the City and County to coordinate with neighborhood associations and monitor properties in their area.The funds contemplated for EBC for 2016 as provided by the DMD are as follows:Acquisition Costs with taxes 210,000Title services 100,000 (closing costs, title searches, etc.)Demolition/Boarding 1,000,000Trash removal/Mowing 250,000Legal Costs 275,000 (quiet title actions, contracts, etc.)Miscellaneous 25,000Salaries with payroll taxes 200,000 (3 full time employees)Benefits 30,000Utilities 20,000 (% of DMD expenses)Vehicle/Gas/Insurance/Maint30,000Training/Education/Travel 5,000Office Supplies 5,000Contractual services 120,000 (web development, inspections, surveying,appraisals, accounting services, etc.)In looking at the causes of vacancy and blight and the coordination of strategic code enforcement to protect stable neighborhoods and rebuild declining neighborhoods, it is hoped that true practitioners with experience in land banking will be hired and able to look at preventing blight while coordinate the work of the EBC with the City and County.It is critical that these final pieces of infrastructure be put in place before the City and County are asked to fund the EBC’s new budget. We cannot and should not have to live with the fear, reasonable or not, that these resources could be squandered. These changes would build public trust and avoid the appearance of impropriety while making the EBC accessible to everyone and giving it a wealth of practitioner knowledge to achieve our common goal of healthier, safer and more stable neighborhoods.FacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmail
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