The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


October 19, 2013

Opponents battle over blight fight

Bartello: Snacks costly at auctions that net $27G

— SUNBURY — Mayoral candidate Joe Bartello is questioning efforts to reduce the number of blighted properties in the city, a program created by current Mayor David Persing.

The city has seized more than 25 properties in the two years since Persing announced his initiative, one which re-instated the Sunbury Development Authority, which with code officers forced many property owners to bring their properties to code.

Other property owners could never be reached.

Demolition costs for each of the vacant properties seized are $25,000 and are covered through block grants.

“It all looks good for the Redevelopment Authority, but the cost of acquiring these properties, having the coffee and doughnuts at the sale all cost the city money,” said Bartello, a councilman. “I don’t like taking the properties from people.”

Retorted Persing: “I want people to know these are homes that people have abandoned or just left go. We are not trying to throw anyone out of their houses.”

Every one of the properties taken over by the city were vacant and abandoned, said Brianna Apfelbaum Kula, who is associated with the Sunbury Redevelopment Authority and daughter of city solicitor Mike Apfelbaum.

“These are homes that present safety or health hazards,” she said. “In most of them, the occupants have walked away.”

Most of the seized properties, she said, have been demolished.

With fines following code office violations that would be never collected, Mike Apfelbaum and Persing in 2011 began to discuss the city’s options in helping residents clean their neighborhoods.

The Sunbury Redevelopment Authority and code officers determined which properties were in the worst shape. Those homes were put on a list and City Council voted to identify them as nuisance properties.

Mike Apfelbaum notified home owners by letter that they had 10 days to respond to the code violations or the city would begin taking legal action to acquire the properties.

Some owners addressed the issues and some did not. Some owners were nowhere to be found, so Persing and City Council requested the help of Northumberland County Court to seize the properties.

In the case of a home on Washington Avenue, the city razed the vacated house and built one of the first new homes in the city in more than a decade.

The new home sat vacant for a few months, but was then purchased by a city resident. Any profits were paid to the Sunbury Redevelopment Authority to start the process over.

Since that time the city has held at least five public auctions, including three this summer, when $27,000 was made, funds which are returned to the Redevelopment Authority.

Persing and Mike Apfelbaum on Monday identified 10 additional homes now on their radar.

“We are going to keep going with full steam ahead,” Persing said.

Persing was also backed by the SEDA-Council of Governments, of Lewisburg.

The cost of demolition is about $25,000 per home, and even though the city has $300,000 set aside for redevelopment, it can use only 30 percent a year, or $90,000, for demolition, said Jamie Shrawder, a block grant specialist at SEDA-COG.

“These are houses that have been vacant for years and they are not producing any tax dollars for the city,” Persing said. “It’s time we go after them and clean them up.”

Many of the properties were abandoned, had huge mortgages and have been vacant for years, Mike Apfelbaum said.

Persing and Councilmen Jim Eister, Kevin Troup and Todd Snyder voted in favor of the take over, while Bartello voted against the move.

“We should be doing more to help them clean them up because the people didn’t make the bad loan. The bank did. The city can do what they can to fix these up.”


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