Westmoreland could raze blight by raising real-estate filing fees
Home buyers and sellers in Westmoreland County will pay an extra $15 in filing fees under a plan set to be approved Thursday.
County commissioners expect to vote on instituting the new fee on deeds and mortgages docketed with the Recorder of Deeds office to finance a program to demolish blighted properties.
“There is a lot of need for this, and it's a good source of revenue to make places with blighted properties ready for redevelopment. It's a safety issue as well,” Commissioner Charles Anderson said Tuesday.
At least 22,000 deeds and mortgages will be filed in Westmoreland County next year, raising about $330,000 in 2018 for the demolition fund, Recorder of Deeds Tom Murphy estimated.
There are about 900 blighted properties in the 22 municipalities that participate in the county land bank, said April Kopas, executive director of Westmoreland's redevelopment authority. It is unclear how many structures throughout the county need to be demolished.
“There is no complete inventory for all 65 municipalities at this point,” Kopas wrote in an email. “The demolition fund would really help to address communities' needs to address the blight, stabilize neighborhoods and get properties back into productive use, so the redevelopment authority is very supportive of these resources.”
County officials said they will have three months to formulate a process for how the demolition money will be spent and which department will administer it.
The county, through the land bank and its industrial development corporation, has paid to demolish blighted property in recent years. The former Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette was leveled last year to pay for a new commercial development that is in the planning stages. That $1 million demolition project was paid for from a series of state and federal grants.
The land bank in the past two years paid to knock down blighted buildings it owned but only in communities that have participated in that program.
Officials conceded Tuesday they didn't have any specifics about how a newly created demolition fund would operate or how buildings targeted for removal would be identified.
“We'll have 90 days to decide how it is used,” Commissioner Gina Cerilli said.
If approved, the additional $15 fee would begin to be charged in December, Murphy said. That will coincide with a new $4.75 fee assessed on all documents filed in the Recorder of Deeds office as part of a state program to pay for upgrades to the computer program used by the Pennsylvania court system.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.