SCRANTON—Amy Miner, Scranton city council member, reopened discussion of a continuing problem of derelict and dilapidated property during the Aug. 18 council meeting.
“We need to have a plan of action,” said Miner. “We need to figure out what we can legally do to get rid of these houses that are vacant and taking up space, and decaying and causing problems.”
Scranton Resident Rella Morgan joined discussion, expressing concern about property.
“Its right next to the school, right south of the playground,” said Morgan. “The school grounds are mowed, look good. The thing that comes to my mind is the kids. They may go down the street and see the rest of the mess.”
The council discussed frustration associated with weed and grass growth and efforts to locate or identify the property owner or manager of 208 S. Burlingame St.
Resident David Miller addressed the council.
“I’m here on the same thing,” said Miller.
Miller presented eight complaints involving five locations, all signed by residents.
“The only ones I’ve done are on Burlingame Avenue: 304, owned by Lola Lester, and she is seven years behind on taxes; 308, not mowed or maintained; 312 and 316, Phil Parsons. Both of his houses have unsafe structures. One is caved in. It’s time, the house burned down about four years ago, and the caution tape is still there. You guys told him 14 months ago, he needed to clean up his property,” said Miller.
Miller’s fifth complaint cited property described by Morgan.
One property that you were talking about, doesn’t it still have an open cistern?” asked Tom Carnes, citizen.
During discussion of tax sale procedures, Tim Nedeau, council member, summarized recent discussion with Osage County tax officials.
“They were going to have their tax sales this fall,” said Nedeau.
“Some of the houses that are vacant are supposedly foreclosed upon,” said Miner. “The bank is saying the people still own it, while people are saying the bank owns it. If the bank owns it, and they don’t want to take care of it, then don’t we have some legal recourse for them to take care of their property?”
“Other than nuisance (ordinance), no,” said Todd Luckman, city attorney. “You can’t make them do it. It’s no different than with an owner. You (the city) can tear it down, but (the city’s) cost will probably wind up on the tax rolls. If the bank owns it, or the people own it, the process is the same, and results are generally the same.”
“It’s the money,” said Jennifer Burkdoll, council member. “Where do we get the money?”
“To demo a house, how much is that going to cost?” asked Gary Burkdoll, council member.
“Probably $10,000,” said Luckman.
He commented that factors such as testing for and disposal of asbestos and black mold could significantly add to cost.
“If you guys follow up with the compliance, you can take that lot from them because they haven’t stepped up and taken care of it themselves,” said Miller, describing plans for use of neighboring property.
“I don’t want to live in a country where the government can walk in and take property just because they want it,” said Randy Ming, council member. “That can go the wrong way, as well. So, I get your pain, and I feel it, but the same time, there’s a process here, as irritating as it is, in some ways, I’m glad its there, too.”
“Some of these properties fall under city ordinances. Why don’t you bring them in court and fine them?” asked Carnes. “When people start to having to pay, they’re going to make some decisions.”
Luckman commented that fines could not be added to property tax.
“It would be assessed against the individual,” he said.