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Monessen changes property sale rules

| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 1:11 a.m.

Monessen council Wednesday sped up its information gathering process for potential new owners of city properties in Westmoreland County repository.

Council unanimously amended a 2006 ordinance in an effort to reduce the time – from 45 days to 20 days – prospective owners can submit information to the city in support of bids.

Even though the county owns the property, the city has right to block sales – unless its action is deemed “unreasonable,” according to Pennsylvania law.

“That's why the city developed criteria, so we can say, ‘Here is our criteria, which we think is reasonable' and if somebody hasn't met it, that's our basis for denial,” city Solicitor Mark Shire said.

“As far as the county goes, it typically respects the decision of the municipality. But the person who bid would be free to challenge the legal interpretation of what is ‘reasonable.'”

The ordinance prevents the city from getting caught in a five-day discrepancy between the city's previous deadline of 45 days and the county's mandated deadline of 40 days.

Buyers of residential or commercial property must show the city they intend to rehabilitate the property so it complies with the building codes of Monessen.

Many of council's ordinances under Mayor Mary Jo Smith and City Administrator John Harhai have targeted “flippers” – people who purchase property over the Internet and try to “flip” it for a quick profit.

There's been an instance of someone from Australia purchasing city property from the county, Shire said.

Shire said the city recently denied one bid because the prospective buyer owned other properties in town and did not properly maintain the properties.

“We got a letter from an attorney challenging the city's right to even impose the criteria and asking council to reconsider its decision,” Shire said. “I wrote back and basically said we have criteria, and he hasn't met the criteria. We haven't heard anything back.”

In 2009, one Monessen neighborhood around Knox Avenue had more vacant properties than any other neighborhood in the state, according to data compiled by The Associated Press.

“This is all central to what the administration is doing to reclaim properties and have them in hands of owners who will be financially responsible and follow laws,” Shire said.

“We want to prevent the selling of property to buyers who have no intention of improvement, let alone paying taxes or garbage fees or complying with building codes – whether it's a flipper or the guy next door”.

Mayor Mary Jo Smith commended recently retired police Lt. Lloyd Aldrich after 40 years of service. Council unanimously accepted the resignation of longtime police Chief Mark Gibson.

City Clerk Rosalie Nicksich then swore in John Mandarino as chief; Edward Lyons as captain; Michael Kelemen and Brian Vitale as lieutenants; and David Winkler as a part-time officer.

Another new part-time officer, Patrick Schmidt, did not attend the meeting.

In a 4-1 vote, council agreed to pay the engineering firm Urban Design Adventures $7,785 in architectural design costs for the proposed transformation of the old city building into a cultural and arts center. The payment comes from Community Development Block Grant money.

Councilman Josh Retos cast the lone “no” vote. In other action, council:

• Conducting the first reading of an ordinance that would increase, from $300 to $18,500, the minimum amount for contracts subject to competitive bidding.

• Accepted the donation of property at 18 Elm Street and exonerated the last two years of city taxes on the property.

• Exonerated delinquent taxes on a property at 255 Schoonmaker Ave. owned by the redevelopment authority.

• Proclaimed May as “Protect Our Children from Tobacco Smoke Pollution” month at the request of the Monessen Tobacco Free Coalition.

Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-684-2635.

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