Anti-blight initiative good move

As reported in a front-page article in the Jan. 27 Mirror, Blair County’s anti-blight initiative is poised to move another step forward, now that about $66,000 has been collected through an additional $7.50 charge added to the recording of deeds and mortgages, effective in September 2017.

In May 2017, the county commissioners created the blight-related fund under the state’s Demolition Act 152, which allows counties to levy a fee of up to $15 per recorded deed and mortgage to confront problem properties.

However, that May 2017 action forgoing half of the fee that the state law allows is now revealing itself to have been a mistake. The paltry $66,000 collected over approximately 16 months isn’t going to go far enough — and quickly enough — to help address the blight problem that exists in the county’s municipalities, as well as among properties that the county now owns because of their former owners’ nonpayment of taxes.

It’s understandable that county leaders prefer not to increase any fees, especially during an election year. However, if officials truly desire to help make a substantial dent in the blighted housing stock, they should increase the fee to make it more workable, even if it’s not necessarily politically expedient.

It must be kept in mind, though, that the higher fee would affect only the small percentage of people involved in real estate-related transactions, not the county’s populace as a whole.

At a meeting on Jan. 22, both Commissioner Terry Tomassetti and county Director of Social Services James Hudack expressed pessimism about the scope of accomplishment possible with just the approximately $66,000 collected thus far.

Hudack, whose department, on behalf of the county, will be in charge of administering the new program through the county’s Housing Trust Fund Advisory Board, said that a typical family home can cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to demolish.

However, Blair’s proposed blight-removal-program guidelines, which the commissioners have yet to approve, encourage local governments and entities such as redevelopment authorities to commit money toward tearing down blighted structures.

That would help stretch program money further.

The effort’s proposed guidelines set a limit of $10,000 per property, although it can be presumed that many blighted structures would carry a lower demolition price tag.

With such a countywide anti-blight program in play, municipalities should search their resources and spending projections for funds that could help attack blighted properties within their borders. The anti-blight fund is aimed primarily at helping, not assuming the full burden, although it might end up shouldering the full cost in some instances.

Every municipality that acts proactively to eliminate a problem property, with or without the county’s help, benefits in the long run.

People who live near problem properties are less likely to want to upgrade their own. Some potential new residents turn away from municipalities where much blight exists.

Blight erodes the values of adjacent properties, no matter how well-maintained they might be.

The Housing Trust Fund Advisory Board will evaluate requests for financial assistance before forwarding those requests to the county commissioners for consideration.

Meanwhile, upping the current $7.50 fee to the allowable amount of $15 per recorded deed and mortgage wouldn’t scuttle real estate transactions but could help accomplish much good.

County officials should strengthen the program by opting for the higher fee.