Today, West Virginia State Auditor JB McCuskey joined mayors with the West Virginia Municipal League along with county and state leaders to discuss one of the largest issues standing in the way of economic development: dilapidated buildings. The Auditor’s Office is excited to work with local governments to help take on this challenge in a variety of ways.

Senate Bill 552, a bill introduced at the request of the Auditor and signed into law by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, is a big step to help address the issue.

Prior to introducing SB 552, Auditor McCuskey traveled the state to get a better understanding of the issue, to best propose a solution. WVU LEAP estimates as many as 1 in 16 properties in West Virginia are vacant or abandoned.  It is a problem that impacts every corner of the state, posing a danger to our neighbors and first responders, causing a blight on once thriving communities, and stands in the way of economic development.

SB 552 is the first major revamping of the tax sale statute since 1994. The changes will speed up the tax sale process, cutting the time it takes for properties to be transferred by tax deeds by as much as 6 months. This will allow cleanup to begin much sooner. It will also prevent properties from becoming further dilapidated while they are stuck in the tax sale process.

Along with SB 552, Auditor McCuskey requested funding to tear down dilapidated properties. The Governor and Lawmakers agreed to provide $10 million through SB 722, which will allow the state to enter statewide demolition contracts to drive down the cost and streamline the demolition process.

“I want to thank Governor Justice for understanding the importance of this problem and allocating enough funding to begin the lengthy process of cleaning up West Virginia’s neighborhoods,” Auditor JB McCuskey said. “While this is a state program with state funding, it’s intent is to empower local governments. This program will only work if our incredible local leaders are in charge of its implementation because they have firsthand knowledge of the specific needs of their communities.”

SB 552 provides the opportunity for municipalities and counties to buy properties that are not sold at the Auditor’s tax sale.

“The efforts to cut red tape by Auditor McCuskey, which will help streamline the process to bring additional blighted structures down and allow us the ability to return those properties to productive use, can’t be underestimated” Barboursville Mayor and President of the West Virginia Municipal League Chris Tatum said.

Currently, the Auditor’s office has thousands of tax delinquent properties statewide that have received no bids. To help municipalities and counties navigate that process, Auditor McCuskey tapped Christal Perry as Deputy Land Commission Director Dilapidated Buildings Initiative. Perry will be the bridge between the Auditor’s Land Division and local governments.

Perry brings with her a wealth of knowledge and will be a vital asset in helping to address dilapidated structures statewide. Since 2004, Perry has been with the Office of Planning and Development with the City of Huntington.  In 2009, she began coordinating the first Land Bank in the State of West Virginia, followed by aiding in the creation of the Abandoned Properties Coalition where she works with others in the state of West Virginia to combat the issues surrounding vacant, abandoned and tax delinquent property. In 2014, Perry assisted in crafting the first Land Bank legislation to allow the creation of Land Reuse Agencies in the state. In 2016, Christal became the Demolition Specialist for the City of Huntington and along with the Land Reuse Agency manages over 400 blighted properties.

“I am very excited to work with the Auditor’s office in addressing issues of slum and blight around our beautiful state. The passage of Senate Bills 552 and 722 are major steps in the right direction,” Perry said. “Vacant and abandoned properties were once thought to exist only in larger urban areas however, the tentacles of this long-term problem have found a way into rural areas as well. This problem is statewide, this problem is nationwide. I look forward to creating partnerships and long-lasting initiatives with cities and towns across our state to tackle these issues.”

SB 552 passed the Senate and House nearly unanimously. Auditor McCuskey would like to especially thank Senators Chandler Swope, Charles Trump, Ryan Weld and Delegate Moore Capito for their efforts to get the bill passed.