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Efforts to clean up Connellsville continue

| Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011

Connellsville's health and code officer Tom Currey and health board continue to cite owners of derelict properties in an effort to clean up the city. Meanwhile, state law may help the city recoup some of its losses when forced to abate a public nuisance.

Act 90 of 2010 allows a municipality to pursue a property owner's assets following three convictions for violations when the owner does not abate the nuisance and the municipality spends funds to do so. One city property is only a "strike" away from Act 90, Currey told the board Monday night.

Brenda Herbert owns the vacant structure at 314 W. Murphy Ave. Currey has twice cited Murphy for leaking exterior walls, rubbish, stairways balconies, holes in the foundation, grass and weeds.

District Judge Ronald Haggerty Jr. has found Herbert guilty twice this year.

Currey started inspecting the outside of the property in April of 2009.

Currey said the house has a "For Sale" sign but no contact number or name on it.

The health board voted to declare 314 W. Murphy Ave. a public nuisance that must be abated by demolition. Herbert will have 30 days to demolish the structure. If not, Currey will cite her a third time. If Haggerty finds her guilty, that will be the third strike under Act 90; the city will demolish the structure and attach Herbert's personal assets to cover the expense.

Currey said several properties subject to ongoing violations have been put on hold due to appeals and other circumstances he cannot control.

Currey cited Michael and Tina McKitrick for operating a junkyard at 899 Memorial Blvd. more than eight months ago. Haggerty found the McKitricks guilty and they appealed to Fayette County court. Currey said the county has not yet set a date for the appeal.

"On the day of court, I will re-inspect the property and if they haven't cleaned it up, I will write another ticket," Currey said.

The vacant WCVI building at 131-139 E. Crawford Ave. was up for sale and not sold.

Currey said that Warren Hughes, of the county Office of Planning Zoning and Community Development, will take the matter to the county commissioners.

"Hopefully, they will have it demolished," Currey said. In the meantime, a citation remains pending against the most recent owner, Jamie Bird, who lives in the state of California.

Mark Fremd appealed the legality of a free and clear tax sale of several of his properties.. At a summary trial earlier this month, Haggerty gave Fremd until Nov. 15 to seal up several properties, cut grass and remove garbage. "Fremd claims the tax sale was illegal, but that he has no responsibility for the properties because they are not his," Currey said. "He has done no work on them that I have seen."

PNC Bank has held up progress on 255 E. Fairview Ave., a vacant property that burned.

Currey cited the bank.

"The property is in a severe state of decay. The city boarded it up and cut the grass. Haggerty withdrew the citations against the bank and we haven't heard anything back," Currey said.

Amelio Gallo told Currey that PNC foreclosed on the property and collected rent from former tenants.

"PNC Bank needs to get back to us or we will re-cite them," Currey said. "We now have a blighted situation."

Currey has cited 216 W. Austin Ave., owned by Eileen French, as unfit for human habitation. He said French and her family are cleaning the house, but dog urine and feces has soaked floor boards and into the walls. He said the house might have to be stripped to the studs, an expensive fix. The board granted French until their next meeting to present a written plan to bring it to code.

John Enold, who has outstanding citations for several properties, has been cited by both Currey and Connellsville police for illegal habitation of 122 Witter Ave.

Enold has a summary trial before Haggerty at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Currey said he did not know how many outstanding citations will be covered at that trial, but he expressed concern that Enold's empty houses may attract drug users.

Currey said several homeowners have fixed their properties and he appreciated the work:

• Warren and Rosetta Upton have made improvements to 213 Odgen St. "It's almost done," Currey said.

• Donald Lindsay purchased 306 N. Prospect St. at the last Free and Clear Sale. "He's working on it," Currey said.

• John and Barbara Machesky purchased 312 N. Prospect St. "They've cleaned it up, are maintaining it and turning it into a nice place," Currey said.

In other business, Currey reported that he and Lt. Craig Gates, of the Connellsville Fire Department, will evaluate the outside of abandoned structures. Connellsville has 59 vacant structures with problems that have come to his and the board's attention. "We know those owners," he said, noting of more pressing concern are the 16 abandoned structures whose owners cannot be found. "Craig will go to those abandoned structures and evaluate the outside of them for fire danger. He will prepare a preliminary list for the fire departments."

Currey alerted all property owners to "pay attention to them, because we are."

The next board of health meeting date will be announced.

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