Pa. praises fight against blight in Northumberland County
SUNBURY — Northumberland County is the poster child for the state Department of Community and Economic Development when it comes to fighting blight in the state.
At the Northumberland County Blight Summit on Thursday morning at the county administration building, DCED officials praised the county and the municipalities that have been working together in an effort to combat blight.
“I feel like a proud parent,” said Beverly Hutzel, manager for the Keystone Communities Program at DCED’s Center For Community Enhancement. “I commend everyone involved. There’s been a great effort and a great success.”
DCED’s Keystone Communities was a pilot program, and Hutzel said she is “anxious and eager” to take Northumberland County’s example across the state.
Kerry Kirkland, central region director, said the “cooperation and effectiveness” the county and municipalities have is not something often seen in state programs.
“It’s remarkable,” Kirkland said. “My only desire is how we can strategize to get you more funding.”
The first county blight summit was held in 2011, and the Blighted Property Task Force was formed by the county commissioners in early 2012. To date, nearly $1.8 million from the Neighborhood Assistance Program, Keystone Communities, Act 137, HOME, Federal Home Loan Bank and local matches has been used to demolish 37 properties in Sunbury, Mount Carmel, Mount Carmel Township, Coal Township and Shamokin and rehabilitate two properties across the county.
State Rep. Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108, said she has noticed the changes in Sunbury.
“We used to get calls for years for bugs, rats and smells,” Culver said. “In the last year, not one call. You can point out which neighborhood have improved.”
Putting more “tools in the toolbox” is making a difference, she said.
The top prevention strategies include encouraging municipalities to enact comprehensive property maintenance codes and to take advantage of state laws that prohibit “bad actors” from purchasing properties at tax sales, developing a county-wide warning system, and improving communications with the district judges to gain support in dealing with blighted properties. The top remediation strategies include implementing the laws, using Community Development Block Grant funding, ticketing for code violations as a summary offense, and encouraging district attorneys to charge repeat offenders with misdemeanor charges.
Sunbury City Clerk Cheryl Delsite said the city’s redevelopment authority has been successful and printing of addresses has been working, while Mount Carmel Township officials said they have found a lot of success with posting bright orange signs on doors of people with code violations. Coal Township officials said their ticketing efforts have been working.
The goal has been to “stop the bleeding,” Northumberland County Housing Authority Director Ed Christiano said.
The task force will be setting up a Northumberland County Land Bank, the practice of aggregating parcels of land for future sale or development, for Shamokin, Sunbury, Coal Township, Mount Carmel and Mount Carmel Township. The first meeting will be held this month or in July.
“I know at some point, we’re going to need this,” Housing Authority employee Pat Mack said.