Official: Herkimer's exit won't hurt Mohawk Valley Land Bank

Greg Klein | The Daily StarThe Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank has been buying and rehabilitating blighted properties in Otsego County and the region since 2016.

Otsego County will continue to be a member of the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank, despite Herkimer County leaving the partnership, a county official said last week.

Otsego County Vice Chair Meg Kennedy, C-Hartwick, Milford, New Lisbon, told the Board of Representatives on Wednesday, July 1, that the unanimous decision Wednesday, June 10, by the Herkimer County Legislature to withdraw from the nonprofit organization would only hurt Herkimer, and might end up helping the group’s other members.

“It will be a blow to those communities in Herkimer County that had projects, which will not go forward now,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy is also the board vice chair for the land bank, which buys blighted or abandoned properties and rehabilitates them to get them back on municipal tax rolls. Since Otsego County joined the partnership in 2016, the land bank has bought and worked on properties in Cherry Valley, Oneonta and Richfield Springs, as well as other locations.

The land bank’s office is in Herkimer County, in Little Falls, where the group will have to disengage from several projects. Kennedy censored herself at one point when asked by a fellow representative what the Herkimer legislature was thinking when they withdrew.

Later, she reiterated her belief that the move would hurt Herkimer County and help the rest of the land bank’s areas.

“The optics of it are not good,” she said, but, “what it will do is open up funding for the other partners.”

Otsego County is not alone in reaffirming its support for the group. According to The Times Telegram in Little Falls, Montgomery County and the city of Rome have also recommitted to the nonprofit and its mission.

Schoharie and Fulton counties are also partners in the land bank, as is the city of Utica.

Kennedy said most of the partners were blindsided by Herkimer’s decision, including several municipalities in that county. She said six Herkimer mayors or town supervisors wrote letters of support for Herkimer to stay in the partnership. She also said the land bank has invested more than $300,000 in Herkimer County and would have to abandon several upcoming projects.

Furthermore, Kennedy said the rules of the land bank require a six-month notice of separation that the Herkimer decision seemed to forgo. She said she and GMVLB Executive Director Tolga Morawski were willing to speak to the Herkimer legislators, but were not contacted before the decision was made.

“I am very disappointed that happened,” she said, “especially without Tolga or myself, as a board member, to have a chance to speak with (the legislature.)”

According to The Times Telegraph, Herkimer County will instead look to its county Industrial Development Agency as a way of rehabilitating blighted properties. Herkimer County Legislature Chairman Vincent Bono told that paper that the decision will give the county more control over how blighted properties are handled.

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at gklein@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7218.

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