New York Land Bank Act, did you notice it?

In other news that you might have missed there was the “Land Bank Act” that was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on July 29th. You may have missed all the talk on this issue, especially since in New York State there was little arguement among the State Assembly or State Senate members.

The legislation, A.373-A [State Asembly version], was created for a singular purpose – to enable local government to absorb and repurpose vacant, abandoned or tax-delinquent properties. A much needed issue in the City of Binghamton, as one example, and a growing concern across the State as residents flee the lack of jobs and high taxes.

The issue of abandonded and vacant buildings is rampant in Binghamton. Not only is this an economic issue, but one of public safety (Downtown Binghamton fire – 0 casualties and Blight indeed). If Binghamton is an example of the mass urban decay expanding across the State, such a law is needed. In fact long overdue.

It was passed by the Asembly on June 17, 2011 with a vote of 130 Yea to 11 Nay. There were 17 co-sponsors for the Bill in the Assembly, including Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo who represents the 126th district which includes Binghamton. It passed the State Senate on June 20, 2011 with 62 votes Aye, including State Senator Tom Libous of District 52 which includes Binghamton.

It is a good law. It is needed. And it does raise questions.

The Land Bank Act says that a county and a city may act together to create a land bank. It does not require this, nor does it state who gets to control the aquired land. Thus there is the potential for significant dispute if a county and a municipality disagree on how to use land aquired in this manner, or how to disperese funds if in dispute.

The Land Bank Act also limits the number of existing land banks to 10 across the entire State. Since there is no time limit on the duration of the land banks created, it is quite possible that larger cities and counties may take up all the possible slots, leaving smaller cities and counties in the same boat they currently exist in. That seems to be a large oversight. This is further complicated by the fact that only the Urban Development Corporation can approve a Land Bank, which may have priorities that differ from the needs of any particular community.

The Land Banks will have the power to borrow money, make contracts, and incur liabilities, but it is not stated who will provide oversight to ensure that sweetheart deals and other financial skullduggery is not taking place. Given it will have documents for public review, but it does not state who will review, or how often. Which could be important. Especially since they can issue bonds.

The last thing that concerns us is the issue of tax-delinquent properties. While the Land Act does state that land owners will be given every chance to make good, it does not state what amount is a threshold amount. Is it $1000, $10000, $50000? Is it arbitrary? If the amount can vary does that mean that favoritism can be show by focusing on certain housing as opposed to say land owned by a large local business owner that could be described as a slumlord as well?

Given this, we believe that this is a law that is needed. It is also a law that requires constant attention. As much as there is the potential to do good for communities across the State, there is also the potential to abuse the power this law provides.

If you missed it in all the debt ceiling debate coverage, now you know.

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