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Why is a land bank important to Marshalltown?

At the time of writing this, the legislative session has not yet adjourned, leaving a very small hope that a much-desired piece of legislation could still come forward. The reality is this is not likely to happen this year. The legislation I am referring to is Senate File 590 — an act relating to the creation of land banks. This legislation could create a new tool for Marshalltown and many other cities and counties to combat blighted properties and be proactive in redeveloping our communities.

The first question that probably comes to mind is what is a land bank. As defined in Senate File 590, it would be a governmental organization, created by a city or county, with the purpose of facilitating “the return of dilapidated, abandoned, blighted, and tax delinquent properties to public use.” Senate File 590 goes on to lay out some very specific things that make land banks different from other entities.

Below are a few of those distinct differences from the legislation. A land bank:

• Can pursue abandoned properties under Iowa Code 657A and seek title to properties through the judicial system;

• Can claim a portion of property taxes for a five-year period after the sale or lease of a property;

• Can request the city council waive city liens on a property

• Is tax-exempt

• Is a public entity subject to open meeting and open records laws

• Is subject to periodic examination by the state auditor

• Can identify and purchase tax sale certificates for a special land bank tax sale as part of the county treasurer’s annual tax sale

• Can receive property directly from the city

While there is a lot more to dive into behind many of these points, the overall function of a land bank is as a partner of the city. The recommendation to pursue some sort of land bank or community development corporation (CDC) came from the 2018 Highway 14 Corridor Study, as a way to have an organization other than the City be prepared to proactively participate in the redevelopment of the Highway 14 Corridor. I actually recall having a meeting with other community organizations on the day of the tornado in 2018, as we talked about what roles each organization played to ensure no conflicts if a CDC/land bank were to be formed. While the tornado delayed conversations, it surely demonstrated the need to keep working on the formation of a CDC/land bank.

For the past few years, local governments in eastern Iowa have worked with legislators on legislation to create land banks in Iowa. Unfortunately, these efforts have not met with success at the state level. After much discussion over the years with the CDC/land bank work group, the consensus was Marshalltown cannot wait for the legislature to act. In late 2020, a group formed as the Marshalltown Community Development Corporation, filing articles of incorporation and for non-profit status with the IRS. While this group will not have the benefits listed above until land banks are created by law, this is a group with a purpose and function to address blighted, abandoned properties in Marshalltown.

I hope that the 2022 legislative session can bring about the creation of land banks in Iowa. But in the meantime, we should be proud that we are not a community to sit idle and wait for something to happen. Taking the initiative to improve Marshalltown is up to all of us, and while there might be multiple ways to do so, the Marshalltown Community Development Corporation is another tool in our toolbox to help improve neighborhoods and quality of life.

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Jessica Kinser is the Marshalltown city administrator.

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