Coaldale council will seek bids to tear down two dilapidated, burned-out houses in the Seek section of the borough, pending their acquisition at a Schuylkill County tax sale. A 75-25 grant program will help pay for the demolition of the homes, at 119-121 and 127 Greenwood St.
In a related move, council also accepted the resignation of part-time code enforcement officer Mark Richards and hired resident Debbie Hatmaker in his place.
Solicitor Michael Greek told council at a public meeting Tuesday that the borough must have everything in place, including contractors, in order to have the buildings demolished as soon as possible after the town acquires the properties. The houses are to be sold at repository sale because of long-unpaid taxes.
According to Schuylkill County property records, 121 Greenwood St. is owned by a Michael Swaen, who bought it from Wachovia Bank for $18,000 in February 2005. The house burned at least four years ago, but nothing has been done to clean up the debris. The house at 119 Greenwood is owned by Jean D. Pillion, who bought it from Swaen for $1 in December 2005. Neighboring 127 Greenwood is owned by Christopher and Eleanor Gallagher, who bought it from Mary, James and Carl Davison for $25,000 in April 2007.
The borough is doing its best to deal with vacant, dilapidated properties, but it's an uphill battle.
Residents Ron and Ruthanne Kehl of 134 W. Ridge St. pleaded with council on Tuesday to do something about the vacant home attached to theirs. The abandoned home, at 132 W. Ridge, is so infested with mold and littered with dead rats that the stench and spores are encroaching into the Kehl's home. It's roof, damaged by a severe hail storm in May, leaks so badly that firefighters placed a tarp over it in an effort to stop the water from running down inside the shared wall between the homes to prevent further mold growth.
The Kehl's have sought help from the state Department of Environmental Protection, and say the borough has not done enough to correct the situation.
The owner was not cited enough, according to the Kehl's.
"She was cited once when she was put out of her house, and once a pink slip was hung up. There was nothing followed," she said. "I shouldn't have to live like this.
"This has been going on since 2010," Mrs. Kehl said. She said the borough did come in and cleaned off the back patio of dead rats, food and debris. The ceiling of the second floor has since collapsed from heavy rains.
"I had water running between my walls, I had water running in my light fixtures," she said. That's when firefighters tarped the roof.
The Kehls said mold is growing on the walls of their basement and in the joists, and the odor is awful. The fungus has triggered lung problems for Mr. Kehl.
"This is a health issue," he said.
"The place is completely engulfed in mold," Mr. Kehl said. "You can see it through the front window."
Borough Fire Chief Richard Marek said he ordered his crew to wear air packs to avoid inhaling possibly toxic mold spores. The situation was so bad, he told council, that people standing on the sidewalk could smell the mold. The problem, he said, stemmed from a malfunctioning French drain on a frequently flooded adjacent lot.
Greek advised Hatmaker to contact the owner and set a date for inspection. If the owner fails to show up, Hatmaker can go ahead with the inspection, he said. He also said that the Kehls could file a civil suit against the owner.
According to county property records, the house is owned by a Lisa M. O'Brien of 101 E. Ridge St., who bought it for $12,000 in October 2003.
Mrs. Kehl's uncle, Bill Steiner of Tamaqua, told council the condition of the adjoining house prevented the Kehl's grandchildren from visiting. The Kehl's, he said, have put on a new roof, renovated their kitchen and bathroom and installed new carpet.
In addition to the Kehl's, council also heard from Jamie Nicholas and another resident of Seek about the deteriorated properties there.
Council President Susan Solt said she had a "heavy heart" from listening to their struggles, but "it's a problem everywhere, from here to Hazleton to Allentown."
At Greek's suggestion, Councilman Tom Keerans moved to put together a committee to address deteriorated properties on a case-by-case basis. That committee would include Ruthanne Kehl, Councilman Andrew Girard, Solt, Councilman David Yelito and another resident.
In other matters Tuesday, Yelito lambasted a TIMES NEWS reporter for mentioning in an Aug. 10 story that he was absent from a meeting that Mayor Richard Corkery, Yelito's friend, also did not attend. Corkery, who faces 28 charges of downloading child pornography on his work computer, wrote to council explaining that he would not be attending public meetings "until this matter has been put to bed."
Yelito interpreted the sentence in the story, "Corkery, along with friend and ally Councilman David Yelito, was absent," as an implication that he was with Corkery. Yelito said he was absent due to illness.