New Castle News

Closer Look

December 6, 2013

Our Opinion: Purchase of city house raises policy issues

NEW CASTLE — Having the city buy a house on East Hillcrest Avenue because of neighbor complaints is bad public policy.

The house in question was the scene of a shooting in October, in which three people were injured. Comments from the neighborhood suggest the house, used as a rental unit, has been a problem for some time.

At the request of some of those neighbors, New Castle officials have been looking at the idea of acquiring the house, which was given up for taxes and is in the county’s repository. That means no private entities wanted to buy it at the cost of taxes owed.

Under this plan, the city would take ownership of the property, have it renovated, then sell it.

We can understand why residents in that neighborhood would seek city assistance to deal with a nuisance. That’s human nature.

But from the position of city government, things are not so simple. Government needs to consider the full consequences of such an action.

Unfortunately, New Castle Mayor Anthony Mastrangelo did no such thing when he used city funds to acquire the house from the county. And he did so without the approval of city council. Now, council members are up in arms about the move, and rightly so.

Councilman Ed Yerage got to the heart of the matter when he questioned the precedent such a purchase was setting. He wondered aloud about people in other neighborhoods who have similar complaints about a property and want city government to act: “How could we tell them no?”

That’s the real problem here. Basically the mayor is sending a message: Complain loud enough and long enough and you’ll get action. Even if that action is of dubious benefit.

The city has no policies, procedures or guidelines for buying and rehabilitating houses in neighborhoods in order to sell them. What the mayor did was a whim, and he should be prepared for similar pressures from other city residents as a result.

Buying the house may have been well intentioned, but that doesn’t necessarily produce good results.

In this instance, questions have arisen about federal tax liens on the property. If they are still in force, purchasing the house and land from the county repository isn’t enough to claim ownership.

And then there is the legal issue of the mayor going off on his own without authority from council to purchase the property. That just ruffles feathers with no constructive outcome.

Perhaps the problems with the Hillcrest house warrant action from the city in terms of dealing more effectively with nuisance properties. But if so, such a policy must cover all of New Castle, not just one neighborhood.

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