City officials want Sunbury to thrive as much as possible. They see the vacant storefronts and some crumbling homes and want them rehabilitated as quickly as possible as a way to boost the tax base, attract business and create a vibrant community.

We wonder if their hands are tied too tightly when it comes to battling blight. Perhaps it’s time for city officials to be more aggressive in taking over properties that aren’t only vacant but deteriorating.

Sunbury has done and continues to do an admirable job combatting blight. Dozens of properties have come off the city’s nuisance list over the years. They have improved neighborhoods and increased the tax revenue.

City officials wish they could do more. So do we.

We understand there is — as there should be — considerable weight given to property owners’ rights. In some cases, however, it’s been years since the city has had any sort of contact with owners whose properties continue to deteriorate. In other cases, names listed with the city no longer own the property.

Eric Long, the city’s property maintenance officer, said the even the first step — contacting the owner — leads to a dead end.

“Sometimes they respond and sometimes they do not,” he said. “It is a very frustrating process at times but we do what we can and give owners chances to fix up the properties.”

It is also time to revisit a proposal made soon after Mayor Kurt Karlovich joined council: Levying fees and fines to owners whose properties have become blighted. This doesn’t mean properties like the former jail on Second Street or the former county building at the corner of Fourth and Market streets that are vacant but maintained. Instead, properties like Varias Restaurant. That Market Street eatery has been closed for years and is the only building in the city with a “condemned” placard on it. At auction, no one bid on the property.

Little can be done to salvage the property it, but there it is, right next to the police headquarters, deteriorating by the day.

The city should be more aggressive in taking measures. These properties can present a danger to the public, but also decrease the value of neighboring addresses.

In Montour County, a judge ruled a property condemned in in 2016 must be torn down with 20 days or the owner pay a $63,000 fine —$300 per day for each part of the duplex after notice was sent in the fall.

This isn’t just about getting rid of blight. It’s about rebuilding the city with an eye toward the future.

This problem did not originate overnight and it won’t be a quick fix. But a more aggressive approach might work and push the city forward in a way we all want to see.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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