County right on Russo’s

Blair County commissioners should be commended for their decision to seek bids and demolish what’s known as the Russo building at 31st Street and South Branch Avenue.

Commissioners could have made a worthy argument as to why county taxpayers should not cover the estimated $250,000 cost of demolishing a longtime blighted city structure.

Instead, commissioners recognized the poor condition of the building and the hazard it presents. And they recognized that no matter how much they might want to protest, the state’s 1947 Real Estate Tax Sale Law makes the county responsible for maintaining properties moved into its repository after owners fail to pay real estate taxes.

“We’re stuck,” Commissioner Diane Meling said of the situation.

Despite that accurate assessment, Meling and fellow commissioners Terry Tomassetti and Ted Beam Jr. did the right thing by voting to seek bids to demolish the former slaughterhouse with steel framing and brick columns.

The building, labeled a public nuisance by the city codes office in January 2007, is in extremely poor condition due to neglect and repeated fires. It’s a hazard that needs to be addressed.

Almost a year ago, the building’s owner, Napoli Recycling of East Norwich, N.Y., showed interest in fixing up the structure, but the company never came through.

That left 31st Street closed for almost two months while the city arranged for a demolition company to address the building’s unstable second-story wall. The city paid the $8,000 cost with Community Development Block Grant funds for removing blight.

City Manager Joe Weakland said the city has put liens against the property for costs incurred to address the structure and for firefighting. But he doesn’t expect the city will ever collect on those liens.

Meanwhile, it seems the responsibility for this structure has fallen to the county’s taxpayers.

“Is it fair we pay for it? No,” Tomassetti said. “Sometimes things aren’t fair.”

We agree, but in this case, it’s proper to get rid of the hazard now and debate the fairness later.