Fines, costs top $91,000 in Kulpmont debris case
MOUNT CARMEL - The amount of fines David Dubbs owes for failing to clean up his fire-damaged property doubled Tuesday.
After being found guilty of 42 more citations before Magisterial District Judge Hugh Jones, Dubbs, owner of 916 Chestnut St. (Route 61), Kulpmont, now owes $85,608.50 in fines and costs.
A charred pile of rubble that was once Dubbs' house has gone untouched since Jan. 23, when a fire destroyed four homes and damaged two others in the 900 block.
"This is ridiculous," Dubbs said outside Jones' office. "I don't know what they are trying to prove with all these fines. If I had the money to pay the fines, it would have been cleaned up by now."
Tuesday's summary trial was originally scheduled on 21 citations filed by Kulpmont Code Enforcement Officer Russ Moroz from July 23 to Aug. 12.
While Dubbs waited for the hearing to start, he was presented by court staff with another 21 citations, also filed by Moroz, for Aug. 13 to Sept. 2. The borough is citing him daily for "having a dangerous structure."
The hearing was changed to include all 42 citations, and Dubbs immediately pleaded not guilty. He's done the same in two prior court appearances involving the first 49 citations.
Tuesday's hearing went much like the other two. Moroz represented the borough, presenting pictures of debris on various dates and showing that nothing has changed. One set of pictures was taken Tuesday morning before the 11 a.m. hearing.
Moroz also presented pictures of adjacent properties, also destroyed by the fire but since cleaned up.
"We have people who want to put topsoil in to plant grass, but they don't want to do it if there is going to be heavy equipment going through to get rid of his mess," Moroz said.
Jones said mandating the cleanup is beyond the realm of this court.
After Moroz rested his case on behalf of the borough, Dubbs was asked if he was going to testify.
"I'm going to say the same thing I've said before," he told the judge. "The borough doesn't have the funding to do this, and neither do I. If they would have helped me in the beginning and let me make payment, we would be seven months into payments."
Borough councilman Clarence Deitrick, an observer of the proceedings, took exception to Dubbs' comments following the hearing.
"We have talked to the county and there is money for the cleanup," Deitrick said. "The problem is, they will only give us the money if the property is deeded over to us, and he won't do that."
During the hearing, Dubbs accused borough solicitor William Cole of wanting to "make an example of me." Jones stopped Dubbs mid-sentence.
"You are making more of a political statement, not giving testimony," he said.
When Jones asked if he had any contact with anyone that could help him, Dubbs said that he thought there was someone attempting to get a hold of him to help.
Since no work had been done, Jones found Dubbs guilty on all 42 citations, fining him the maximum amount, $1,000 on each, for a total of $42,000.
"It's almost like a conspiracy," Dubbs said afterward. "They want to give my property to someone for a $1, someone who has a number of properties in Kulpmont already. I'm not giving it up, though."
"We don't even want the property," Kulpmont Mayor Myron Turlis replied later Tuesday when asked about the accusation. "The only reason that we would want it deeded it to the borough is to get funds to clean it up for the community and neighbors."
Turlis said the lot measures 15 by 150 feet. Considering a borough ordinance calls for a 3-foot buffer between structures, there's 9 feet to work with.
"What in the world can you put on a 9-by-150-foot lot?" he said. "We have tried to help him in the beginning, and I understand that it is all he has left, but the law is the law."
People have offered to take over the liability of cleaning it up if Dubbs signs over the property, Turlis said.
"But he wants the best of both worlds. He wants someone to clean it up and to be paid for it, and that's not going to happen."
In addition to the $83,300 in fines and $2,308.50 in court costs for the 91 citations, there is a lien by the borough for $3,900 on the property for demolition expenses.
The case moves to Northumberland County Court Monday for a summary appeal hearing before Judge William Wiest on the first 28 citations.
"I don't know how that's going to go," Dubbs said. "I can't get any representation here at this level, so what am I going to do at county court? I'll keep trying, though; someone has to have compassion."