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Monessen to acquire properties

| Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 12:16 a.m.

Monessen council will soon acquire 264 tax-delinquent properties from Westmoreland County — a handful of which will be targeted either for rehabilitation or demolition.

In one of the final actions under outgoing Mayor Mary Jo Smith, council is expected to approve the measure at Wednesday's regular meeting.

The properties include 27 homes sitting in county repository, according to city administrator John Harhai. Twelve of those homes can be fixed up, sold and put back on the tax rolls, he said. The other 15 will likely be put on the city's demolition list.

The Monessen school board last week approved the acquisitions from the county's Tax Claim Bureau.

Westmoreland County officials in October obtained $400,000 from Marcellus shale impact fees for the project, a procedure initiated during the administration's “Monessen Rising” project. According to Harhai, the county used the city's initial program request to apply for the money.

The county will receive $92,400 to cover administrative costs for the properties, he added.

“Part of the money must be used to demolish the unsafe properties and rehab the properties they choose to rehab,” Smith said.

The city will also budget $100,000 for demolition to come from 2014 Community Development Block Grant funds. The city receives a minimum of $300,000 annually in CDBG money, Smith said.

Part of the money must be given to the Mon Valley Initiative of Homestead to rehabilitate the old Eisenberg building on Schoonmaker Avenue, which it owns, Smith said. Harhai said there are tentative plans for six apartments to be installed on the building's top floor.

“Once we approve, the county will go in and start to deed the properties over to the city of Monessen,” Harhai said. “That will probably take two to three months to complete. That was their estimate.”

The administration had planned to acquire the properties for $1 apiece earlier this year, but Republican Commissioners Tyler Courtney and Charles Anderson rebuffed the proposal.

The vast majority of the properties are vacant, Harhai said, but the city has been maintaining the properties at its expense.

The incoming administration, including new Mayor Lou Mavrakis and council members John Scott Nestor and Patty Bukowski, will determine whether to continue the program.

“It's what we wanted,” Harhai said. “The problem is, if the next administration does not follow up, it's all for naught.”

Council on Wednesday is expected to approve the following retirements: Harhai, Monessen police Capt. Ed Lyons Jr., city clerk Rosalie Nicksich, meter maid Cindy Gernot and part-time city clerk Mary Hickton.

In addition, Nicksich is expected to be appointed to fill the remaining term of Marc Bellora, who recently resigned from the Monessen Library Board of Trustees. The term runs through Dec. 31, 2015.

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