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Latrobe will join county land bank

| Monday, March 10, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

Seven nuisance properties in Latrobe could be improved as a result of city council's decision to join the newly formed Westmoreland County Land Bank program, but Mayor Rosie Wolford views it as more of a proactive step when compared to municipalities such as Monessen,where more than 200 properties are languishing.

“It's manageable right now, but we have to get our arms around it,” she said after council's meeting on Monday.

Council voted unanimously to enter an intergovernmental cooperation agreement with Westmoreland County to pay the $5,000 to join about 10 other communities in the program administered by the county redevelopment authority.

West Newton's council members agreed to enter into a similar agreement with the program on Monday.

Through the land bank, those blighted properties with delinquent taxes could be acquired, then sold or demolished and the land resold.

City manager Alex Graziani said the city has to “babysit” these properties, including one in particular on Ligonier Street where public works has mowed the grass and even had to remove the porch because of safety concerns.

Councilman Mike Skapura asked if the goal of the land bank was to return properties to tax rolls.

Graziani responded that once the property is purchased by the land bank through a judicial sale, the city can help set conditions of the sale to exclude tax-exempt organizations, if so desired.

Solicitor Jim Kelly said if the city would purchase the property, it would be required to sell it to the low bidder and could not include such conditions guaranteeing a return to real estate taxes.

The redevelopment authority has invested $50,000 in the program, and the municipality must give the program half of any real estate taxes collected for the first five years after it is sold. The school district must do the same.

Graziani said joining the program at the beginning may ensure that the city benefits from this initial financial investment by the county.

“The land bank allows us to address with the county something we're not large enough to do on our own,” he said before the meeting.

Wolford said any agreement that saves financial resources and shares ideas is beneficial.

“We're all kind of in the same boat; we need to row in the same direction,” she said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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