Property owner found guilty on rubble cleanup citations
MOUNT CARMEL - At his summary trial Tuesday, David Dubbs was asked by Magisterial District Judge Hugh Jones if he had anything to say in disputing 21 code violations for a pile of charred rubble he has not removed from his property in Kulpmont.
"The only thing I'm guilty of is being poor," Dubbs responded.
Jones thought differently. "No, the only thing you are guilty of is not maintaining the property you own," he said.
Dubbs, 60, the owner of 916 Chestnut St., was found guilty of the citations, filed every day from July 2 to 22. He was sentenced to pay the maximum fine, $1,000 for each count, plus court costs, for a total of more than $21,000.
He was previously found guilty of 27 counts of the same offense. While he was fined $300 and $500 for some of the earlier offenses, the total he now owes is more than $44,000, and each violation from here out will include a fine of $1,000.
The citations continue to be filed by Kulpmont Borough Code Enforcement Officer Russ Moroz every day until the rubble is cleaned up. On Aug. 13, another 21 citations were filed - bringing the total to 69 - and Dubbs is expected to plead not guilty to those, too.
"I don't know what to do," Dubbs said as he left Jones' courtroom Tuesday. "No one is willing to help me. No lawyer, no one willing to let me make payments on the work, no one."
He had said previously he did not have insurance on his home or contents, and doesn't have the money to have the debris removed.
"It's terrible," he continued Tuesday. "I have no idea what they are trying to prove with this."
The hearing on the citations against Dubbs lasted approximately 10 minutes, with Dubbs and Moroz representing themselves.
Moroz's testimony was simple: he presented date-stamped photographs of the property showing nothing had been done to remove the rubble.
"The only thing done to the property is that the borough has put up a fence and no trespassing signs," Moroz said.
Dubbs, currently residing at his sister's residence in Shamokin, asked to see the photos and paged through them, noting a small swimming pool was part of the rubble.
"Your honor, I never owned a swimming pool like that," he said, suggesting someone is adding to the pile and the borough isn't doing anything about it.
Moroz didn't have an answer about the swimming pool or how it got there, saying only that he did not see anyone put it there.
Dubbs, who has been on disability since 1979, did not testify, offering his only comments when prodded by Jones.
Kulpmont Mayor Myron Turlis was in attendance, available if necessary for testimony, but he wasn't called upon.
Dubbs said he'll appeal all the fines to Northumberland County Court. In fact, an appeal hearing on the first citation was scheduled for Aug. 12 but continued until Oct. 10.
Jan. 25 fire
The rubble has been present since Jan. 25, when a fire destroyed four homes and damaged two others in the 900 block. The other properties have been cleaned up.
"I have a shed in the back, maybe I could live back there, like camping out. It's all I have left," Dubbs said after Tuesday's nearing.
Other property owners and the borough have reportedly suggested Dubbs make arrangements to clean up the property in exchange for the deed, but Dubbs has refused, suggesting that's extortion, and saying previously he will not "give up what's left of my life for $1."
Borough officials have said they risk trespassing charges or worse if they enter the property, and don't want to foot the bill for the cleanup. Beyond it being an eyesore, the rubble is a health and safety concern, they have said.
No cause was ever determined for the fire due to the amount of damage.
For Dubbs, he said every registered letter from the borough informing him of another citation stirs painful memories.
"It reminds me of the night of the fire, when I lost everything," he said. "That property is all I have left, and they want to take that from me."