Parrish and county board stay the course

August 27, 2012
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“Criticism that the county’s sale of 43 tax-foreclosed properties to the Kent County Land Bank Authority prior to the public auction would frustrate private investors and limit the annual sale’s receipts proved to be unwarranted.” The lead of the story on page 1 this week is a perfect summation of what became a critical issue in the eleventh hour preceding one of the county’s most successful tax-foreclosed auction sales.

What is not stated in the reporting is the leadership exhibited by Kent County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Sandi Frost Parrish in what resulted in a significant accomplishment on more than one issue. The continued effort to cast aspersion on Parrish or the process also is unwarranted as proven by her actions and results.

This is not the first time Parrish has stepped up to controversy or community scrutiny. She answers those challenges by including the questioners or petitioners in the process — and seeks their input for a final decision. That inclusion was particularly impactful in regard to One Kent Coalition’s desire to see the county and city merge into one regional governmental authority.

As fellow commission members and community representatives “demanded” additional accounting in regard to the Kent County Land Bank Authority’s participation in bidding on tax-foreclosed properties, Parrish named county board dissenter Michael Wawee to chair a subcommittee to look into the county’s role. (It should be noted that the Land Bank is not a county-run agency and pays the county rent for its offices.)

In regard to the foreclosed properties listed for the auction, the complaint specifically called into question whether the Land Bank was “cherry picking properties” and/or blocking “free enterprise and the private sector’s opportunity to purchase the properties.” These are legitimate questions, but they were motivated by matters unrelated to the Land Bank’s ability to bid, not the facts of the matter.

Some county commissioners commented in the public meeting they had “driven by” some of the properties set for tax auction and considered them “viable.” But none had kicked open the front doors to reveal the true condition of the houses, which have been vacant and neglected for no less than three years prior to the sale and available to buyers throughout that period.

The complainers also failed to note the statistical information from the Grand Rapids Association of Realtors and peer groups in Kent County showing one of every three home sales is a “distressed sale.” The county is only beginning to see some recovery from the housing market crash and its ripple effect most painfully apparent in reduced revenues to governing agencies. The Business Journal reported July 23 the county has seen 10 times the number of tax-foreclosed properties it recorded in 2007, and county Treasurer Ken Parrish showed a similar number will continue through the process into 2013. One could say there is a continued “market glut” of opportunity to the private sector willing to spend private dollars to rehabilitate these properties for useful purpose.

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