Turtle Creek Valley COG recognized for work on blight
The Turtle Creek Valley Council of Governments received an award from Gov. Tom Wolf’s office for work to reduce blight in the area.
The council of governments, which includes 20 communities east of Pittsburgh including Monroeville and Penn Hills, received the nod on April 24 from Wolf’s Office for Local Government Excellence for its work on intergovernmental cooperation. The other communities include:
Braddock, Chalfant, Churchill, East McKeesport, East Pittsburgh, Edgewood, Forest Hills, North Braddock, North Versailles, Pitcairn, Plum, Rankin, Swissvale, Turtle Creek, Wall, Wilkins, Wilmerding and Wilkinsburg.
Amanda Settlemaier, executive director of Turtle Creek Valley Council of Governments (TCVCOG), said the organization is grateful for the recognition and highlighted its work in code enforcement to reduce blight in Churchill, Chalfant and East McKeesport — where TCVCOG launched a pilot code enforcement program in 2015.
“Blight is more than just an eyesore. It’s a massive problem in this area of Pennsylvania. Our strategic code enforcement department was started in order to provide municipalities a strategic first line of defense to fight and prevent blight in their communities,” said Settlemaier in a statement.
The organization conducted a study with the Steel Valley Council of Governments in 2012 that, in part, found the cost of blighted residential houses in those communities cost around $254 million each year due to demolition, code enforcement violations and court fees, among other expenses.
The study also found that properties that are near or adjacent to blight experience a decrease in value from 17% to 25%, depending on the area.
“Another important thing (the study) found was that on one degree or another, every one of our communities were impacted by blight,” said Settlemaier of the 40 communities represented between both councils.
Settlemaier said blight happens for a number of reasons, such as homeowners who die and do not have successors to handle the estate.
“Or the children have moved away and don’t want anything to do with the property,” she said.
In East McKeesport, Manager Connie Rosenbayger said the code enforcement pilot program has worked. The borough executes about three demolitions per year, but the partnership has led to fewer because they are able to keep track of vacant homes more efficiently. As a result, property values are increasing, she said.
The borough currently is tracking about 20 vacant homes. Of those, Rosenbayger said, only a few are considered as blight. Rosenbayger is excited to soon be able to use a cloud-based technology developed by TCVCOG to keep better track of blight — a problem Settlemaier said is common in smaller communities.
“(The technology) makes it more time efficient for code enforcement,” Settlemaier said, adding the software was developed by a Carnegie Mellon University graduate student. She said the software, which will be available to the organization’s members on a per parcel fee, will give communities the resources to track vacant properties and build cases with proper evidence when a property is involved in a lawsuit.
“One thing we’ve heard from enforcement officers is district judges didn’t back them up in court. But when we talked to the judges, they said they would like to but (code enforcement) doesn’t build an appropriate case. The software builds that case,” she said.
The technology will not be available to communities until later this year. Settlemaier said she does not have an estimate for how much it will cost, but said the fee will be based on how many parcels are within a community.
TCVCOG was one of seven governmental entities, including Bethel Park in Allegheny County and Hempfield Township in Westmoreland County, recognized this year. Ten individuals were recognized for “exemplary service and dedication to local government.”
“With all the attention paid to federal and state politics, it’s easy to overlook that the level of government that has the greatest impact on an individual’s day-to-day life is on the local level,” said Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin in a press release. “When local governments go above and beyond by implementing new technologies, forming new partnerships, or developing new ways to tackle their problems, that has a huge effect on residents’ quality of life.”
Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, [email protected] or via Twitter .