At its July public meeting, Kittanning Borough Council established a fee schedule that will be charged to property owners for unoccupied buildings.
Owners of vacant buildings will pay a fee of $250 for the first year the property sits vacant. If it is not utilized by the second year, the fee increases to $500. The third year, the fee will increase to $1,000; years four and five will be $2,000 per year. Years six, seven, eight, and nine will incur a fee of $3,500 per year. The fee will escalate to $5,000 for the tenth year. An additional fee of $500 will be applied for every year of vacancy beyond ten years.
Solicitor Ty Heller attempted to explain the ordinance.
“The vacancy ordinance is intended to cause people to register vacant property. In lieu of that, they can make improvements to the property.”
Councilman Mike Johns asked what constituted a vacant property.
“It’s a property that is not occupied for any purpose for a certain number of days,” Heller responded.
“So if you pay your taxes, your water bill, your electric bill, why are we saying you can’t do that? Why do we want to charge someone $500 because they want to do that?” Johns asked.
Councilman Scott Davis chimed in on the discussion.
“These properties are the ones that are not inhabited. If I had a house across the street and I can’t live in it, what am I going to do? Let the grass grow up around it? How many properties are like that in town? At least 50.”
Codes Officer Tony Chiesa added to the discussion.
“As long as it is maintained, you wouldn’t have to pay a fee. The fee is only if the house is not being maintained,” Chiesa said. “If it is vacant, you are not maintaining it, and you have code violations, the house would have to be registered and you pay the fee. You are exempt from the fee if you maintain the home.”
However, Borough Manager Cyndee McDermott countered Chiesa, stating that the specific language he stated was actually not in the ordinance.
“The ordinance states that if no one lives there as in “a permanent non-transient basis” – no one has a business there, no one resides there, even though it is a well taken care of, it is still considered unoccupied (vacant),” McDermott said.
Chiesa said that in that case, the property would still have be registered as a vacant property, but the fee would be waived.
Councilman David Croyle spoke in opposition to the fee schedule.
“That is the problem. It goes back to the owner to ask for the waiver in order to not go through all this process. We are constantly putting the burden back on the owner and making it more difficult to own property in the borough,” Croyle argued. “There are already codes that govern properties that are not maintained. If there is non-compliance, then the owner can be cited for code violations. But this (fee schedule) is just another way for the Borough to make money.”
The vote was taken to approve the fee schedule. Council members Betsy Wilt, Joe Kiehlmeier, Scott Davis, and Kim Chiesa voted in favor of the fees. Council members Andy Peters, Mike Johns, and David Croyle voted against the fees. The fee schedule passed 4-3. Councilman Chris Schiano was absent.
Council President Kim Chiesa praised the vote.
“This gives us an opportunity to go after these really bad blighted properties,” she said.