Tarentum volunteers taking action on abandoned houses
A group of Tarentum residents plans to fan out across the borough Saturday to clean up about a half-dozen abandoned and empty houses overrun by tall grass, overgrown shrubs and unsightly garbage.
It’s the first public cleanup effort by the Tarentum Action Committee, a group of about 30 volunteers who want their community to look better and hope their efforts will get unkempt properties back on the tax roll and properly maintained.
“If we don’t do something, nobody else will,” committee chairwoman Lorri Wildi said.
The volunteers plan to meet at 8 a.m. Saturday at the borough building and work until about noon. Anyone interested in helping should contact the borough.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what this group of volunteers can do,” said Anthony Bruni, the borough’s code enforcement officer.
The group formed about a year ago, before Bruni started working for Tarentum, with a goal of helping the code enforcement office and the borough’s battle against blight.
“We were seeing too much of the abandoned properties, unkempt yards and a lot of issues around grass cutting and the overall deterioration of the appearance of the community,” said Wildi, a borough resident.
The committee met a few times last summer but was put on hold while the borough underwent turnover and changes in its code enforcement office, culminating in Bruni’s hiring in November. It was resurrected in April, Wildi said.
“We do have a lot of work to do. It sometimes feels like a daunting task. Like any good grassroots effort, you have to start somewhere,” Wildi said, adding the group is working in concert with the borough.
Borough Council President Erika Josefoski said the idea of cleaning up and revitalizing the borough drove her to become involved in council. But it’s been a slow process, she said.
“I was pleasantly surprised when a group of citizens approached council and announced that they wanted to form the Tarentum Action Committee,” she said. “To me, it means everything that these people voluntarily give up their free time in the name of a better Tarentum. This is what community is all about. I’ll continue to help and support the TAC, and I truly hope more citizens will get involved.”
The properties being cleaned up Saturday could qualify for Allegheny County’s vacant property recovery program, through which delinquent property taxes are forgiven and a buyer can repair the building or demolish it and add the land to a side yard, Bruni said. Tarentum participates in the program.
The houses have code violations but are not on the borough’s demolition list. The volunteers will not be entering them.
Beyond Saturday’s cleanup, Wildi said, the group would like to help those who are not able to maintain their homes, such as the elderly and disabled.
“We realize not all of these properties that need time and attention are abandoned. Some are occupied,” she said. “How do we reach out as community-minded, caring citizens in this borough to help those who need it? What might that look like?”
The group also wants to be “the eyes and the ears” for Bruni, and funnel to him things they see around the borough so that he can follow up.
Bruni said the committee will not be an arm of the code enforcement office.
“They’re not going to replace me. They’re not going to be serving residents with violation notices or anything. They want to help me,” he said. “They want to be proactive and try to help some residents that are in need and to clean up some problem properties we know are abandoned.”
Brian C. Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .