LINCOLN (AP) — Lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a measure that would let cities in Nebraska's largest metro area create a public authority or land bank to bid on tax-delinquent properties.
The bill is intended to help Omaha and Sarpy County acquire tax-delinquent properties so they can be redeveloped.
State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha said he introduced the bill because Omaha needs a way to fix an increasing vacant property problem. Lawmakers voted 32-0 to move the bill to the next round of debate.
A legislative study done last year found that Omaha has more than 15,000 vacant or abandoned properties. Most of those lots are east of Interstate 680. Mello wants to redevelop these properties so they could be sold to create parks, new houses or businesses.
Mello said Nebraska law allows some political subdivisions to buy tax sales certificates, which allows the subdivisions to acquire properties that owners fail to pay taxes on.
“If this exists in statutory authority, there is no reason not to give land banks the same authority as long as the full amount of taxes, interest and costs owed are paid,” he said.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha had previously said he wanted the Legislature to establish who may sit on a land bank board. He wanted to make sure inner-city Omaha residents would not be excluded. Mello offered an amendment to address concerns by Chambers and other state senators.
Mello's amendment said a public authority would be required to have a seven-member board, with a representative from each City Council district to ensure that residents of north and South Omaha would be included on the board.
“This land bank is a very ambitious undertaking,” Chambers said. “Everybody, based on the way Sen. Mello has presented it, has an opportunity and an invitation to participate in producing a final product.”
The amendment also put in a provision that would make sure the land bank can't buy up all of the vacant properties and push private entities out of the market.
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