MOUNT VERNON — The Knox County Land Bank (Land Reutilization Corp.) accepted the resignation of now-former President Jeff Harris on Friday to avoid any appearance of impropriety, while also accepting $88,825 as its share of fees assessed by the county for late property tax payments.
Harris still serves as president of the Area Development Foundation (ADF), which runs the daily operations of the Land Bank under a contract. Harris said he will still be involved in Land Bank operations to advise Gottke on legal matters. Harris, who is an attorney, will be helping the Land Bank expedite foreclosures with a newer, more refined process that involves work as a special prosecutor. His resignation was accepted, effective immediately, by the Land Bank board.
“As I take on a more active role in prosecuting tax foreclosure cases on behalf of (county) Treasurer Shelley Coon, I am aware of the need to remove any perception for potential conflicts of interest,” Harris wrote to Land Bank board members. “As both the president of the Land Bank and the special prosecutor for Shelley Coon, the extent of my duties may be confusing, at times, to observers or local stakeholders.”
Harris continued: “With this written resignation, please know that I intend to remain fully vested in the daily operations of the Knox County Land Bank, albeit from the point of view of president of the ADF. As you are well aware, the ADF contractually manages the Land Bank. And from this role, I will direct and guide the work of Jeffrey Gottke for the Land Bank. Further, I am the ADF’s lawyer, which involves performing legal work from time to time in order for the Land Bank to acquire and dispose (of) property.”
In his letter, Harris recommended Gottke, who also runs the daily operations of the Land Bank, to the board for the president position. The choice for Gottke was unanimous.
“Jeff (Gottke) is really the one who has been hands-on for the Land Bank,” board President Teresa Bemiller said.
The Land Bank receives a 5 percent share of fees collected for late property tax payments, known as DTAC (Delinquent Tax and Assessment Collection). Its share comes in October and now April, with last fall’s share being just over $12,000. The Land Bank, which formed in January of last year, had never received its April DTAC disbursement before, and Land Bank board members expressed that the amount was better than anticipated.
Gottke, who was been elevated from Land Bank vice president to president with Harris’ resignation, provided a “Profit and Loss” report from March 8 through April 11. Combined with $8,900 in income from five Rich Hill lots sold, and three of five Brinkhaven lots sold, while also taking in account some expenses, the Land Bank’s net income for the past month was $78,371. Gottke cautioned that the on-hand cash gain was an “unusual” month in that regard. The money can be used for property acquisitions, title work fees that will arise as more properties are acquired, and for demolition purposes in some cases.
The largest expense for the month was $3,884 paid to the Area Development Foundation (ADF).
In other Land Bank matters, Gottke announced that the former Ames Street fire station, under new ownership, should involve a completed contract by May 9. The buyer is in the process of turning the property over to a single family for residential occupation, but Gottke assured Bemiller that even if that doesn’t happen by May 9, the contract is still scheduled for completion.
Gottke also said Knox County Habitat for Humanity is nearing final purchase of a lot on Apple Valley Drive, which will be used to construct a new Habitat home. A check that Gottke said involves an amount under $2,000 has been issued to the Land Bank. First, however, the Land Bank must offer the property to Howard Township trustees. If they decline the property, it will become Habitat for Humanity’s.