County buys Russo site

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Blair County purchased the site of the former Russo building at Wednesday’s judiciary tax sale, a move that puts the property in the county’s control as it tries to recoup demolition and related costs.

County Chief Clerk Helen Schmitt, on behalf of the county, offered the minimum bid of $133,000, and no one bid higher for the barren site at South Branch Avenue and 31st Street.

Solicitor Nathan Karn said Wednesday that the county does not have to write a check to itself because under tax sale laws, the county was in a position to claim its $133,000 in expenses if anyone bought the property. Banks are in that same position, Karn said, when the county auctions properties with mortgage foreclosures.

Commissioners Chairman Terry Tomassetti said Tuesday that the site of former Russo building site had attracted interest. But Karn said he and Tomassetti discussed the county’s submission of a minimum bid in case no one else bid. Without any bids, the county’s tax claim office would have moved the property into a repository, where offers of any amount could have been submitted. Subsequently, a decision to sell would have rested with the trio of taxing bodies: the county, the City of Altoona and the Altoona Area School District.

Karn said the county’s minimum bid was designed to “protect the real value of the property” and position the county to recoup as much of its $133,000 investment as possible.

“The probability is that they’re going to take a loss when it’s all said and done,” Karn said. “But this at least gives them a chance of getting as much back as they can.”

With the purchase, commissioners will be in a position to put the property up for sale, using a method they think will net the highest price. They will have to follow the state’s County Code concerning property sales, and a decision to accept an offer will rest with commissioners, Karn said.

Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. said Wednesday afternoon that he didn’t have any knowledge of the county purchasing the property.