Tax blight aimed wrong way

A $7.50 fee on every deed or mortgage being recorded — approved by the Blair County commissioners on Friday — will be good from one perspective but not so good from several others.

On the positive side, the county’s landscape will benefit from having an additional financial resource to carry out demolition work that otherwise might have to be postponed indefinitely.

The fee, which could have been up to $15 for each deed and mortgage recorded, was authorized by the state Legislature last year and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf.

By a 2-1 vote Friday, Blair’s commissioners chose to halve the amount Harrisburg authorized, meaning that the new total fee for recording a mortgage or deed, possibly effective Sept. 1, will be $74.50 rather than the current $67.

At the time the commissioners began considering the option, it was thought that the new total fee might end up being $82.

Commissioner Ted Beam Jr. cast the dissenting vote on Friday, based on his opinion that the county should have opted for the $15 that the state authorized.

It’s interesting that the Legislature, which is gun-shy about increasing state taxes to attack the commonwealth’s burgeoning deficit and to improve services, is not so reluctant about approving a measure — albeit a somewhat productive one — for a lower level of government to raise additional money.

But that observation aside, there are other reasons why the proposed fee justifies a degree of public opposition, even though it would not impose a serious burden on those who would be required to pay it.

That basis for opposition rests not with county government but, instead, with individual municipalities that have allowed blight to evolve and exist over many years.

It’s not uncommon at municipal government meetings to hear officials ordering a crackdown on speeding, junk cars, dilapidated structures, illegal dumping or high grass and weeds. Right-thinking residents’ logical response always should be the question of why consistent enforcement of regulations or ordinances dealing with those problems was allowed to become lax.

Then there are those municipalities that prefer to allow people to live like they want to live, no matter what negative impact they might be having on neighbors or the municipalities in general.

This isn’t the 1950s, when it was common for communities to have their own unregulated municipal garbage dumps — and a time when there were fewer prohibitions against blight.

Attacking blight should be a municipal responsibility, not part of county governments’ agendas. However, that’s what has evolved.

The new fee will guarantee Blair’s and other county governments’ continued involvement.

Nevertheless, even with the additional $7.50 tacked onto every recorded deed and mortgage, blight won’t disappear. In Blair, where an average of 7,550 mortgages and deeds are recorded annually, the added fee is expected to generate only about $55,000 a year — perhaps only enough to pay for a couple of razings.

Enforcement of existing ordinances and passing ordinances where they don’t currently exist are the best means for dealing with nuisances. Under this new “creative” fee, people generally not responsible for blight would be paying to help eradicate it.

Such means of problem-solving always will remain questionable.

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