Owners of deteriorated buildings in Coaldale had better fix them up or tear them down. The borough is cracking down.

After hearing from a Greenwood Street man who lives near a house that burned about four years ago, council at a public meeting Tuesday agreed to ask code enforcement officer Mark Richards to get aggressive in citing the owners of trashed properties, to cite them repeatedly if they remain noncompliant. The cases would eventually be heard by District Judge Stephen Bayer of Tamaqua, and the errant owners could end up facing hefty fines and/or jail time.

The matter was raised by Jamie Nicholas of 113 Greenwood St., in the Seek section of the borough. He said that the burned out house, at 119-121 Greenwood, was boarded up, but that someone has ripped off the plywood covering the back door and dumped trash on the property. Nicholas said he and his wife gather up some of the debris each trash day, but cannot, and should not, be expected to clean it all up.

Councilman Thomas Keerans advised Nicholas to call police if he sees anyone trespassing on the property of scattering rubbish there. Councilman Andrew Girard gave Nicholas the same advice.

But the frustrated home owner was reluctant to make waves.

"I don't want to be the bad neighbor," Nicholas said. Council assured him he is most certainly not a bad neighbor.

The borough wants to tear down the burned out house, but lacks the money to do that. Councilman David Yelito said he would contact Schuylkill County grant writer Gary Bender to explore ways of obtaining money to get rid of the eyesores, including a dilapidated building known locally as the "princess house" at 257 W. High St.

Solicitor Michael Greek advised council to have Richards cite the absentee owners again and again, keeping on top of the matter so that they face the consequences of their neglect.

That led to a discussion of the need to hire Richards full-time. Keerans said the borough pays Richards "next to nothing" and that the borough needs a full-time code enforcement officer. "I think that with what we're paying him, he's doing an outstanding job," Keerans said.

Greek agreed that Richards "has a lot on his plate" with all that he does for the borough.

Mayor Richard Corkery said that hiring Richards full-time so he can stay on top of the blighted property cases would be the "cheapest way" to resolve the issue.

Council had hoped legislation that goes into effect April 25 would arm them in the fight against blight. But under Act 90, the owners of deteriorated buildings must be found criminally liable in order for the borough to be able to seize their assets, Corkery said.

County District Attorney James Goodman has bigger fish to fry than negligent property owners, he said. Corkery said Goodman is busy prosecuting murderers, rapists and drug dealers.

In other property matters, Yelito said he would get together with borough engineers Alfred Benesch & Co. and Pathstone Pennsylvania Senior Executive Director Kay Washington to seek grants to repair the exterior of the Coaldale Complex, where the Carbon County Head Start program is housed. Pathstone operates the Carbon County Head Start program.

Benesch engineers figure the massive, 87-year-old former Coaldale High School, at Sixth and Phillips streets, would need $590,000 worth of work to bring it up to speed. On Tuesday, Head Start grandparent Paul Coppie asked council to fix the exterior wall facing the playground, so the children would be able to use it. The playground, on the south side of the building, has been closed and fenced off since engineers discovered cracks in the exterior wall.

Engineers from Alfred Benesch & Co. inspected the building for safety on July 27. They found the building was safe, but the second floor has been substantially damaged by earlier roof leaks. The engineers in an Aug. 25 letter to council urged immediate action on four temporary safety measures: placing support scaffolding under two weakened second-floor roof arches to keep them stable and over exits to protect people from falling brick or stone, and removing stored items from a second-floor room.

The borough has followed those recommendations.

Pathstone has spent at least $175,000 refurbishing the first floor of the building to accommodate a new program. Bernetta Frantz, director of Children and Family Development Services for Pathstone, attended the meeting Tuesday, but did not address council.