Blight issues fuel citizens' complaints at Shamokin meeting
SHAMOKIN - A group of citizens attended Monday's council meeting to address blighted properties and other issues affecting their neighborhoods.
Eugene Bellis, of North Seventh Street, said many in the crowd of about 20 were from his neighborhood.
"We're tired of the slumlords coming in and putting their people in and they just cause trouble for everybody," he said.
Rick Bozza, code officer, and city police officers make frequent visits to the area of North Seventh Street between North Chestnut and Arch streets, he said. But the issues persist - violence, garbage, dilapidated vacant properties, vermin.
He expressed interest in starting a crime watch and was directed by Councilman William Strausser, interim mayor, to discuss the idea with Police Chief Ed Griffiths.
"It can start on our street and hopefully we can get the city back to what it used to be," he said.
Bellis recommended raising fines for code violations. Strausser said council would discuss the suggestion with solicitor H. Robert Mattis.
"But if they don't pay them, we're right back to where we were," Strausser said of the fines.
Mary Glazik, of 204 S. Shamokin St., asked about two properties on her block and said raccoons are crawling on roofs and patios and roaming about backyards. She said weeds have grown above her head.
Bozza said he'd speak with her after the meeting about tactics the city is pursuing regarding the properties Glazik asked about as well as 14 others with similar issues. As to the raccoons, he said he doesn't mind helping city residents but he doesn't have knowledge on proper disposal of them.
"We have a raccoon problem across the city and I do have some calls in about some type of animal control being created, for the city or the whole county," Bozza said.
Marcus McDowell, of 8 N. Seventh St., said that in his 15 years as a city resident nothing changes.
"I've been here 15 years and I ain't seen no change yet," he said.
He asked about why the city isn't enforcing ordinance requiring inspections of rental properties. Bozza said that ordinance doesn't exist.
City council voted unanimously in January to pass the first reading of city ordinance that would require such inspections. It takes the adoption of a second and final reading to make ordinance official.
The initiative was met with opposition from some city landlords, and the ordinance was tabled in February. It hasn't resurfaced in public meetings since.
"It seems like everything stays the same and it seems like the neighbors have to do everything themselves," McDowell said. "If something don't happen soon the people will start doing it and it's going to get worse than it is right now."
Strausser said he understood the complaint. However, in many cases the city has limited power to act, he said.
"We will try to help but I can't make any promises," Strausser said.
Rich Bruger, of 16 N. Seventh St., complained of people riding dirt bikes and four-wheelers up and down city streets. The Rev. David Wildoner, pastor of Seventh Street Primitive Methodist Church, made the same complaint. They both also spoke of a dilapidated property in the neighborhood.
Griffiths said the offender who Bruger and Wildoner were referencing has been cited. They can't do anything more.
"Take the bike," Wildoner said.
"I wish I could," Griffiths said. "If I could do that we could clean up the town like that."
"It's not that easy. We can't do that. The laws protect them," Strausser said.
"More than us I believe," Wildoner said.
"I sympathize with you. You can laugh all you want but our hands are tied most of the time," Strausser said.
Janet Willis, of 221 S. Diamond St., said her home and vehicle has been damaged by stray cats in the neighborhood, and that her home is also being damaged by vacant properties that are not being cared for.
Bozza told her that she could set traps for cats in her backyard and have them released on a farm or to the SPCA. If she were to catch a cat with a collar that is someone's pet, Bozza said she must release it back into the neighborhood.
Larry Burda, of North Marshall Street, asked for the city's permission to cross into a now-vacant lot in the 700 block of North Shamokin Street in order to demolish and haul away debris from the rear of a dilapidated property he owns on that block. He said he already has a demolition permit from the city.
Mattis said the vacant lot is not owned by the city; rather, it's in the steward of Northumberland County Tax Claims. He said he would look into the matter of access. Strausser asked Bozza to do the same.
Garth Hall, former councilman, presented council with what he deemed a viable alternative to a proposed $2.8 million loan being considered for the American Legion Building.
The terms of that loan would require $133,482 repaid annually, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is offering the loan at 3.5 percent interest. City council has adjusted the city's recreation tax to 7.208 mills to cover the loan payments if it were to take on the debt.
Instead of taking the loan and repaying $5.3 million over 40 years, Hall suggested the city put the tax money tabbed for repayment in savings over 8 1/2 years. Combine that with $200,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding the city could set aside annually over that same time frame and Shamokin would have an estimated $2.8 million of its own capital to reinvest into the building, Hall said.
Strausser said CDBG may not be around for that long as it has been cut at the federal level over the past several years. City Clerk Steve Bartos added that there are some existing obligations for the funding that would have to be considered.
Strausser said city council would take Hall's proposal into consideration.
In other business, city council voted to approve Citizens for a Better Community's 1st Octoberfest to be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at Claude Kehler Community Park, Third and Arch streets.
Coal City Revitalization was approved to host a "Zombie Run" from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 26. It's request to be provided an insurance rider for the event through the city is pending.
Trick or Treat was set for 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 31.
Three bids received for the demolition of 244 S. Franklin St. and 137 S. Seventh St. were rejected as the city's CDBG solicitor Frank Garrigan said all three had errors. The project will be re-advertised and contractors will be asked to submit, or resubmit bids.