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Sewickley Township votes to join land bank

| Friday, March 21, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Sewickley Township has joined a growing list of municipalities participating in a new Westmoreland County land bank program designed to return blighted buildings burdened with liens and unpaid taxes to the tax rolls.

Township supervisors voted unanimously this week to join the program administered by the Westmoreland County Redevelopment Authority. April Kopas, redevelopment authority executive director, has said the program will attempt to purchase properties through a judicial tax sale, which would erase any liens and back taxes, clearing the way for properties to be re-sold.

Dilapidated buildings also could be demolished, allowing for future development.

The program calls for participating municipalities to contribute $5,000. The county has allocated $50,000 in startup funds.

“It's another way to get rid of the blighted properties,” said township ordinance officer Dean Zimmerman.

Municipalities and school districts must agree to relinquish half of the real estate tax revenue derived from any property sold through the land bank for the first five years it is back on the tax rolls.

Supervisor Wanda Layman said the township won't lose anything because “right now, a lot of these properties aren't paying any taxes.”

In other business, supervisors approved moving the Herminie Fire Department's siren from atop the Sewickley Township Recreation Center to a site behind the recreation center on township property. Fire Chief Eric Kline said the 15-year-old siren on the recreation center roof needs to be replaced because it will be obsolete by the end of the year. The Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety is upgrading its system for activating sirens, making Herminie's use of telephone lines to activate the line out of date. The new wireless siren will be activated by a remote signal.

Kline said the new siren, which will sound for about three minutes, will have a decibel level of 109, compared with 100 for the existing siren. The fire department averages 338 calls a year.

Residents voiced concern about how loud the siren will be.

“We're not against the fire department. We're against the siren,” said Ruth Lucov of Herminie.

Sandy Mireles-Dull, who lives near the siren, said it is loud enough.

“It just blows me out of bed,” she said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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