Compilation of Luzerne County blighted property database may proceed

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Haas -

A Luzerne County committee may obtain clearance to continue its official catalogue of abandoned, eyesore properties.

Spearheaded by Councilman Harry Haas, the blighted property review committee has been in limbo for months because the 2016 ordinance creating the group required the county Redevelopment Authority to provide administrative and legal help.

Instead, the authority agreed to reimburse the county $15,000 for the services of the county council clerk and an assistant county solicitor and other committee expenses in 2018. The authority cited its insufficient administrative and legal staffing.

A council majority refused both the $15,000 and an ordinance amendment in December, with some members citing concerns the county would be stuck with additional expenses or liability.

A proposed new version of the ordinance scheduled for possible introduction at Tuesday’s 6 p.m. council voting meeting keeps the original requirements but allows the option for the authority to reimburse the county for services “upon mutual agreement.”

Under a tentative agreement up for discussion at the work session following the voting meeting, the authority would reimburse the county up to $15,000 this year for furnishing legal and administrative services to the committee.

The county would bill the authority monthly.

This arrangement would not set a binding precedence on either entity in future years.

If both the ordinance and agreement proceed, council must hold a public hearing and ordinance vote to amend the 2018 budget adding the $15,000.

Committee representatives made a presentation about the blight problem at a council work session last month intended to spark reconsideration.

Approximately 19,749 dwellings are vacant in the county, and an estimated 3,840 are blighted, they said. Eyesore properties devalue neighboring structures and cause taxing bodies to miss out on real estate tax revenue, they said.

The committee will focus solely on compiling a database following protocol that allows owners to contest inclusion of their structures or address deficiencies.

Once the database is completed, it would be up to the redevelopment authority to pursue and find funding for demolition or other remediation.

Vacant properties could be declared blighted and placed in the database for numerous reasons, including public nuisance code violations, safety problems that may attract and endanger children, unaddressed vermin infestations or broken or disconnected utilities, plumbing, heating or sewage systems.

Officials in the county’s 72 boroughs and townships must nominate properties and provide documentation on a structure’s last known date of occupancy, blight conditions and citations and other efforts to try to force the owners to address deficiencies. The county’s four cities — Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Nanticoke and Pittston — can’t participate in the program by law because they have their own redevelopment authorities to address blight, officials said.

In addition to Haas, Edmund O’Neill, Scott Linde, George Prehatin and Andrew Holter serve on the committee.

Haas said the database compilation won’t require tax dollars.

“We have to support our municipalities that are really struggling with blight,” Haas said.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.