The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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February 19, 2014

City sues Southwest Gardens

FARRELL — The city of Farrell is suing Southwest Gardens Economic Development Corp., claiming Southwest Gardens owes it almost $50,000 in sewer fees, real estate taxes and demolition charges for properties the nonprofit corporation owns.

Southwest Gardens responded that the city waited too long to file the claim on many of the properties and could have pushed for judicial sale to stop the accumulation of taxes and fees.

The city filed suit Nov. 27, listing 17 properties it said are owned by Southwest Gardens that have amassed $17,585 in past-due sewer fees, $23,142 in delinquent property taxes, and $8,814 in demo fees.

In a response filed Feb. 4, Southwest Gardens said it only owns 11 of the properties, and all but one of the rest were sold outright or at tax sale as far back as 2002. Southwest Gardens said it never owned one property named by the city, 904 Negley St.

The nonprofit neighborhood organization said $12,933 of the sewer claims and $14,315 of the tax claims are too old for the city to collect under state law, and details about the demos, including dates, properties and legal authority the city was working under, are insufficient to support a legal action.

Southwest Gardens said it has been trying to sell its “nonperforming real estate” and has sold four such properties, the payments covering tax and municipal claims.

“Most of the remaining taxable properties owned by (Southwest Gardens) have tax and municipal liens that exceed their fair market value, and accordingly are not marketable,” Southwest Gardens said. “This has made it impossible for (Southwest Gardens) to sell the properties to persons who would have the ability to return the properties to productive use.”

Of the properties listed by the city, 12 went unsold at upset sales dating back to 1983, with one of them sold privately later, Southwest Gardens said.

The city could have asked the Mercer County Tax Claim Bureau to try to sell the properties at judicial sale, which would have taken the properties away from Southwest Gardens ownership and extinguished municipal liens, Southwest Gardens said. By doing so, the city would have “prevented the accumulation of at least $10,916 in additional taxes and sewer claims,” Southwest Gardens said.

Southwest Gardens asks that any judgment be reduced by the amounts owed on properties that have been offered at tax sale, and that the city be directed to ask for judicial sale on other properties.

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