Resident pleads for more city action on blighted properties
SHAMOKIN - The woman whose home neighbors the site of a novice demolition project is begging city council to eradicate the blight surrounding her home.
Rose Bridgeford, of 109 W. Montgomery St., has regularly attended city council meetings since the October demolition of 101-103 W. Montgomery St. by friends and family of owner Brenda Keller. It was pulled apart with hand tools and chains hooked to the back of a sport utility vehicle.
On Monday, Bridgeford's voice trembled and her eyes flashed anger when she spoke about four properties she said are falling apart, passing around photographs to city officials as evidence.
A property on Willow Street to the rear of her backyard has grass nearly as tall as her 6-foot fence. It's on the verge of making the Northumberland County Tax Claims Repository List, code officer Rick Bozza said. The county would be responsible for cutting the grass, he said, but he estimated there are 120 such properties in Shamokin alone and it's impossible to keep up.
High weeds are a problem at the property on the west of Bridgeford's, where she said conditions have been ignored by the tenants and owner. An eviction notice is on the door, she said. Across Montgomery Street is another blighted home.
On the east is the property that upsets her most - the Keller's. It's been considered for purchase by at least two people but nothing has materialized. Rubble remains on the site, with pieces of the foundation pushing at Bridgeford's fence and beginning to spill into the yard, threatening to destroy flowers and bushes she's planted. A decrepit garage still stands above her swimming pool, which she believes is at risk of collapse.
The properties have attracted rats and raccoons and snakes, she said. She's afraid her grandchildren could be harmed.
"I think it's time the city steps in and does something about this," Bridgeford said.
Bozza said his hands are tied. He's issued code tickets to the properties at the rear and west of Bridgeford's home, and did the same for Keller's as he pushed to have it demolished and cleared. He said tickets he's posted on the front door of the Willow Street property have gone unanswered. They remain on the door, he said.
After three code tickets are issued, the case is passed to Cpl. Bryan Primerano of the city police. He's worked to have property owners cited with misdemeanor violations.
Bozza expressed frustration with the owners of blighted properties, saying "I can't literally grab someone by the hand and make them cut the grass."
Councilwoman Barbara Moyer said council should review its blight ordinance, with Bozza suggesting an increase in fines could help push code violators to address issues with their properties. Councilman David Kinder said it may take the state legislature to adopt stricter laws. Kinder sympathized with Bridgeford, saying his mother has two blighted properties next to hers and that he also has a vacant property next to his home.
Mayor William D. Milbrand said the city will again assess the situation and do what it can to help Bridgeford.
Treasurer Brenda Scandle rushed out of Monday's council meeting following a closed door executive session that lasted less than three minutes. She blamed the mayor, using choice language in the process and without expanding any further. Milbrand said after the meeting that Scandle had involved herself in city business that didn't involve the treasurer's office.
City hall won't be doing the payroll any longer. Jet Pay of Allentown will be paid $83 a week to handle the city's payroll, quarterly reports, employee taxes and W2s. The city is required to report employee hours. The move was recommended in the city's Early Intervention Plan, according to Clerk Robert M. Slaby, who said the firm is also used by Coal Township and the Shamokin-Coal Township Joint Sewer Authority.
Payroll is weekly in Shamokin, dictated by the terms of collective bargaining agreements with the city's two unions. The police contract expired Jan. 1, 2014, and the AFSCME contract will expire at year's end.
Stephen Jeffery, of Shamokin, Northumberland County Emergency Management Agency director, was named battalion chief of the Shamokin Fire Bureau beginning Jan. 1, 2015.
David Kopitsky Jr. was reappointed to the joint sewer authority board.
Increased fines for parking meter violations were finalized. The fine is now $10, or $12 if not paid within 48 hours. It had been $5 and $10. All tickets unpaid after 10 days are filed as a citation with the district magistrate.
A revised ordinance was finalized restricting parking on the west side of Eighth Street, from Montgomery to Adams streets.
The Claude Kehler Community Park, Third and Arch streets, will be posted for trespassing and loitering. Moyer said it's a move to preserve the park. She said anyone interested in using the facility should call the code office.
Robert L. Knoepell LLC Affordable Construction and Demolition will be paid $10,400 to demolish 14-16 E. Willow St. The funding comes from state grant money.
Shamokin police will host its National Night Out event from 6 to 9 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Claude Kehler Community Park.
Scandle was approved to attend a tax collection training conference at a cost of $230.