Blight has come to South New Castle Borough.
Long a problem in neighboring New Castle, concern about dilapidated property has expanded into the borough as well, capturing the attention of both police and council members.
The bellwether is a Prospect Street street house with broken windows, unsecured doorways and debris scattered about the exterior. Neighbors say it’s been an eyesore for at least three years.
Now, it’s believed to pose a danger as well.
“I was contacted by Sergeant (Darrin) Cwynar, Shenango Township police (which provides coverage to the borough), about the house,” South New Castle Borough Mayor Adam Reiter said at Thursday’s council meeting. “The police want the house boarded up. There were kids getting in the building. Police cleared the building that day, John (Council President John Wilmes) and I went and looked at it that evening.
“John and I walked around the property. All the windows are broken out, they can get in right through basement windows, they can get in through the back door, the basement door, and the front door is wide open.”
“And whatever was boarded up before,” Wilmes added, “has been ripped off.”
Reiter said the borough had not yet acted on the police department’s request because he was unsure of the municipality’s liability.
“What are our liabilities if we don’t (take action), and what are our liabilities if we do?” he said. “Can the homeowner come and say we are liable because we nailed boards all over their house? And if we don’t do it, are we liable because the police asked us to do it?”
Moreover, he believes that if the borough spends taxpayers’ dollars to secure the house, it is money not likely to be recouped. Wilmes said it would cost the borough over $500 to board up the home.
“If the homeowner doesn’t care enough to take care of it,” Reiter said. “They’re not going to care about paying us to board it up or doing it themselves.”
Councilwoman Shirley Nocera said the property owner has been identified, and that although she agrees the house should be boarded up, she believes the owner should be given the opportunity first.
“If he gets so many days to do it and doesn’t do it, then I’m in favor of us boarding it up,” she said. “I’ve heard there are a lot of little kids down there and they’ve been going in and out, that’s why I brought it up a few months ago. But my thing is he has to have a chance to do it first.”
Reiter called the home “one of the biggest problems we’re facing right now,” with councilman Greg Szklinski adding “and that’s just one house. There are others in the borough.”
Reiter agreed, but believes the Prospect Street home is the most immediate concern.
“I think once we get advice on this,” he said, “it can be used as a learning experience for us as well for other houses.”
That advice came from solicitor Lou Perrotta, whom Reiter had tasked with examining borough ordinances and liability.
Perrotta said that the borough does have a dangerous house ordinance that he recalls have been used a time or two.
“There’s a progression we have to follow with it,” he said. “We may have to get the building code inspector to do a review, and write up a report. That’s not anything out of the ordinary.
“Where it gets a little complicated is, after you go through the process, do we have a local agency here to make a decision to condemn these types of properties, and if we do condemn them, are we going to go through with the demolition? In my experience, it could be as little as $3,000 to $5,000 or sometimes as much as 10.”
As far as borough liability, he told council, “You’re responsible for the enforcement of some of these ordinances and I think the initial salvo to get some of these moving is the letter (to the homeowner).
“If council wants to cover itself and authorize the mayor to take any necessary action with the preparation of any notices and also the engagement of any experts, that would be something I recommend.”
Council took his advice and unanimously approved a motion to do just that.
Nocera then took the opportunity to address another unsightly issue.
“We were supposed to review the garbage ordinance and grass and junk,” she said. “I think we need to do it by our next meeting. This garbage in this borough is ridiculous, the way they put it out and don’t have it in bags. I’m tired of picking up garbage all over our street.
“Nobody will go pick up their garbage, so I think we really need to get into this, and grass cutting season is here. I think next month we really need to start reviewing these.”