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New Kensington aiming federal money at blight, playgrounds

| Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, 4:39 p.m.
417 and 419 10th St., New Kensington
417 and 419 10th St., New Kensington

New Kensington officials will use federal grant money to continue their focus on clearing and preventing blight.

Council on Monday agreed to apply for 2017 federal Community Development Block Grant funds to be used for demolition, code enforcement and park improvement.

City officials expect to receive $269,615 from the block grant program.

Of that amount, $66,000 will be used for demolition, $80,000 for code enforcement and $75,000 is earmarked for park work. The remaining money, about $49,000, will be used for program administration.

City Clerk Dennis Scarpiniti said the decision to exclude street improvements was made after a suggestion by the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

“DCED suggested that, because the funds are getting smaller, to keep it to three small categories,” he said.

Frank Tosto, city Redevelopment Authority director, outlined the application proposal during a public hearing Monday.

Only one resident, Tom O'Sullivan, questioned the uses, primarily the emphasis on code enforcement.

He argued that the city has been putting money and effort into code enforcement but it seems to have little effect because neighborhoods still appear deteriorated. He wondered if the money would be better spent on something else.

Tosto, however, said that the aim of code enforcement is not to eradicate blight. “It's to arrest the decline,” Tosto said. “That decline would be more rapid if we didn't use money for code enforcement in those areas.”

Scarpiniti said there are basically three census tracts that fit the federal income requirement for use of the funds. He said those tracts run from the Allegheny River to Constitution Boulevard and from Constitution Boulevard up into the city's hill section to Kimball Avenue. The third is from the Route 366 bypass up Seventh Street to Aluminum City Terrace and East Ken Manor and includes streets such as Strawn and Forest avenues.

Scarpiniti said the city assigns CDBG funds use based on the area and amount of hours logged by code enforcement officers, which basically helps pay their salaries.

Scarpiniti said city officials do not know for certain which structures will be targeted for demolition, but have “a good idea.”

“We want to take down the structure whose demolition will automatically improve the neighborhood,” Scarpiniti said.

Four properties along 10th Street in New Kensington have been declared a public nuisance by city council.

The action also included filing emergency motions to demolish and abate the nuisance now posed by properties at 405, 411, 415 and 419 10th St.

Scarpiniti said a contractor has not been chosen but estimated the cost of the demolitions at more than $100,000, which will be paid for by money from previous Community Development Block Grants.

Scarpiniti said targeted demolitions are aimed at preventing the spread of blight in neighborhoods that may be on the brink of becoming deteriorated.

The money allocated for the parks will be used primarily to provide a rubberized surface for the children's playground at Memorial Park, Scarpiniti said.

Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.

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