The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

September 24, 2013

Council warms up to idea of major blight cleanup

Fixing entire problem will cost $1 million, city manager says

By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer

FARRELL — The City of Farrell may start putting more money behind an effort to clean up blight in the city, if sentiments from council members expressed Monday gain further traction.

The discussion came up because there’s little on the legislative plate this month and City Manager Michael Ceci gave council a bit of trivia.

“In 2èyears, 76 structures have been taken down on a pauper’s budget,” Ceci told council during its work session Monday.

But those demolitions have_n’t made a dent in the problem, which Ceci has likened to a cancer afflicting the city.

According to the latest data available from the Census bureau, Farrell’s 5,111 people live in 2,181 “occupied housing units” and there are 412 vacant homes in the city.

Of those, 61 were for rent and 36 were for sale, which jibes with recent estimates made by Ceci based on information from code officer Mark Yerskey and his assistant Jonathan Laird.

They estimate there’s about 250 houses along with a handful of vacant commercial buildings that should be demolished, Ceci has said.

Doing to would cost about $1 million.

“We’re getting there,” Ceci said. “It’s hard sometimes to prioritize.”

The city uses its about $100,000 each year in Community Development Block Grant money for demolition, which isn’t enough to effectively tackle the problem.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Ceci said.

“We’re knocking on doors to see if there’s any assistance,” he said, referring to other funding avenues.

One of the options may be to use case in economic development funds the city has squirreled away to make a bigger dent in the blight.

Whether that’s possible or advisable is something worthy of debate, Ceci said.

“I’m going to check to see what discretion we have,” Ceci told council.

Something needs to be done, Mayor Olive McKeithan said.

“We need to tear down houses to get rid of the blight,” McKeithan said. “It’s trying to make the community look better.”

She noted there are too many vacant, rat-infested homes where possums and drug dealers are laying their heads.

The problem isn’t uniquely Farrell’s, Ceci said.

“It’s an issue that’s a cancer that’s spreading throughout the nation,” Ceci said.

Addressing the issue has been one of Ceci’s top priorities and talking about the problem is nothing new.

But this is the first time council members have publicly supported spending money from the city’s coffers that’s not from a state or federal grant on the problem.

“This is a good thing to discuss and debate,” Ceci said.

“Let’s see what Mike (Ceci) can find out,” councilman Robert Burich said.