Delinquent tax sale to put Clairton properties back on rolls
By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Published: Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, 4:36 a.m.
As Greg Chiprich walked out of Clairton council chambers on Monday night, he was one step closer to acquiring property that he hopes will give him his ideal retirement.
Chiprich and his wife Lorraine, who live in Pleasant Hills, became interested in a vacant property on N. State Street in March and inquired about buying it.
On Monday, they came away from the city's delinquent real estate tax sale with an agreement to purchase the property, which had accrued a $60,000 delinquent tax bill.
“This will be part of my retirement,” Greg Chiprich said. “I want to repair classic and antique cars, and this is a nice property with a side lot.”
But the best news, he said, is that the transaction will cost roughly $500.
City officials and residents are optimistic that the sale will build momentum for cleaning up their neighborhoods and improving city finances.
The sale will allow the city, school district and Allegheny County to exonerate back taxes as an incentive to get the properties back on the tax rolls.
Monday's public sale in city council chambers involved nearly 180 properties. They were offered to current owners who agreed to pay all delinquent taxes, then were auctioned to owners who agreed to assume the bill.
Properties that received no bids were offered to potential buyers who had expressed interested in the vacant property review process prior to the sale.
The highest successful bid was $7,000, and the lowest was $1,900. All bids must be paid by Wednesday. The city will draw up agreements within 60 days for those purchasing properties through the review process.
Lifelong city resident Amzi Lightner, 60, was interested in three lots near his Ridge Street home.
“I'm trying to clean up my neighborhood,” Lightner said. “People should do like me and take pride in where they live. It's not about where you live. It's about how you live — that's my motto. You can make Clairton like Peters Township or any of those places if you just take pride in where you live.”
School director Roger Tachoir, who sits on the redevelopment authority board, said neglected property and unpaid taxes are major problems, and will continue to grow until something innovative is done.
“We need to try to do something to stop this problem,” Tachoir said. “The city and the school district have hired delinquent tax collectors, and the outcome of their efforts has been minimal. This tax sale tonight is a first, and we hope this will help turn this problem in the right direction.”
Mayor Rich Lattanzi said residents are interested in improving their properties, because they have looked at blight and vacant land for too long.
“This is going to spruce up the city of Clairton,” he said.
Robert and Gloria Ruffing want to improve their land by acquiring an adjacent lot where a home burned in the 1990s.
“There is property that abuts our land, and we have a carport next to it,” Gloria Ruffing said of her childhood home along Bluff Avenue, where she still lives. “We want to keep the carport safe and have a nice corner lot.”
Lattanzi said he is hopeful the sale will give neighbors in Duquesne and McKeesport incentive to try similar sales. They, like Clairton, are qualified to conduct such sales under Pennsylvania's Third-Class City Code.
“This is going to set a precedent for the whole Mon Valley,” Lattanzi said. “We are not the only city that has a problem moving property.”
Properties that were not included in Monday's sale because of time constraints or tax questions will be covered when the sale resumes on Oct. 2.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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