Senator Dave Argall (R-29) held a Community Revitalization Summit Meeting Tuesday evening at the Tamaqua Community Center. The meeting addressed specific areas, such as fighting blight, municipal and regional planning, tax incentive programs, Main Street and Elm Street programs, Trail Town Program and sustainable community initiatives. Initial discussions during the summit revolved around statutes and benefits of the Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act, also known as the "Blight Bill" or Senate Bill 900, which is sponsored by Argall and is currently with the Senate Appropriations Committee for further review.
Argall, who serves as Vice Chairman of the Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee, addressed the gathering to discuss his legislation to eliminate blighted and abandoned properties throughout the Commonwealth. Argall stated previously, "Growing up in a small community in the Anthracite region of Pennsylvania, I have witnessed firsthand the problems that occur when properties sit empty. The state needs to get more aggressive in giving local municipalities effective tools to address abandoned and blighted properties," Argall said. "That is why I have sponsored the Senate Bill 900."
Senate Bill 900, known as the Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act, would require property owners to bring any property that has serious code violations which threaten the public's health and safety into code compliance before they could obtain any municipal permits or approvals for any other property they own in the Commonwealth. It would also require property owners that created the blighted conditions to pay the local costs of demolition, or to secure a blighted property.
Housing and community development leaders and representatives from various local and county-wide municipalities, organizations, and offices asked questions, provided comments, and stated ways of improving issues related to blight and community improvements. Christine Verdier, Argall's staff member, started the meeting off with a brief introduction. John Trudich, Tamaqua Borough Councilman, pointed out key factors involving judicial sales and the township first priority on abandoned property over mortgage companies and banks. Dave Norris, Schuylkill Haven Borough representative, discussed the wishful challenges on many fronts to get guidance they need to see what the next step is. Denna Kershner, Hamburg Main Street manager, pointed out local funding concerns, as well as Elm Street, Main Street, and Trail Town Program possibilities. Scott Graver, Schuylkill Haven Borough Councilman pointed out factors concerning viable avenues of demolition and rehab. Mary Beth Dougherty, Senator Argall staff member and Girardville Borough Council, spent time talking about the Upper Schuylkill, its improvements, and the detailed benefits of the Blight Bill. Roland Price, St Clair Borough secretary, talked about his borough's prospective uses of conservatorship as a way to deal with property abandonment and blight.
Kathy Kunkel, Tamaqua South Ward Neighborhood Committee and Elm Street Program member, brought up concerns about bringing up properties for bid, borough costs, and ways community programs are helping with blight in the Tamaqua South Ward, in addition to the advancements of LCCC. Andrew Leibenguth, Tamaqua Citizens Advisory Committee member, pointed out the Tamaqua Rehab Program, which began in 1975, as well as it's benefit of providing low interest loans to Tamaqua Area home owners to provide repairs and improvements to homes and sidewalks, in which the government would "seed" money for a low-interest loan program to help low income property owners bring their home up to certain standards or reasonable improvements. Hon. Stephen Bayer, Tamaqua Magisterial District Judge, remarked about methods and stipulations concerning control of properties for the borough, legal avenues of approach, and viable strengths of related magisterial duties.
Other community and county leaders involved in the discussion were state representative Jerry Knowles (R-124 Berks/Schuylkill), Tamaqua Borough Councilmen Tom Cara and David Mace; Bill Richards, director of field support to house speaker and 122nd Legislative district Keith McCall; Bradley Gotshall, Frackville Borough Councilman; Paul Klevis, Frackville Downtown Revitalization; Jerry Bowman, Schuylkill Haven Borough Councilman; Gary Hess, Schuylkill Haven Borough Mayor; Mike Devlin, Schuylkill Haven Borough Councilman; and John Wallace, South Centre township supervisor.
Mary Beth Dougherty stated some of the things in the bill that will help provide municipalities with stronger methods of dealing the problems of blight as well as other community revitalization concerns. Mary Beth stated, "It would go after problem property owners. Not just landlords. Property owners." She also pointed out the biggest thing Argall's staff worked hard to keep and maintain, as it started out in the bill, is asset attachment or "in persona", as it will be addition to lien attachments. The new bill will also give municipalities the right to have property owners extradited from another state, as the current bill doesn't allow this. Improvements in communicating with corporate property owners and municipal permit denial handling and legal means will also be improved upon in the new bill. Other benefits consist of providing further education and training for judges and district magistrates, and further county authority for self-defined establishment of accounting housing cords. The biggest opposition to the "Blight Bill" are the new revised communication and handling methods required between mortgage companies and banks and how they deal with foreclosed properties.
Argall pointed out the goal of getting this new bill passed and into the hands of state legislatures and local municipalities. "It takes time and this is the farthest this bill has ever reached." Previously noted, Argall stated, "We have incorporated many of the suggestions offered by organizations, like the Housing Alliance, into this legislation, and I am pleased that all of this hard work has culminated in a bill that will fight blight in our neighborhoods." Argall stressed at the end of the meeting that most towns and municipalities have avenues or methods of approach for home and business owners to pursue to repair or improve-on their properties. He stated, "You don't know if you don't ask."