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New Lackawanna County Blight Task Force Meets For First Time

August 24, 2018

SCRANTON — City Councilman Wayne Evans wants to find a solution to blight beyond slapping a “condemned” sticker on the front door.

At the first meeting of the task force meant to fight blight in Lackawanna County, Evans and 14 other volunteers discussed potential solutions to put in place before the end of the year.

The task force was formed after four public meetings held in the spring as part of a burgeoning Blight to Bright Program administered by the Lackawanna County Land Bank, in partnership with NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania. Consultant Chris Gulotta, author of “Five-Step, Fast-Track Blight Plan,” led the public meetings and attended Thursday’s meeting.

At the two-hour session, Evans and other task force volunteers talked about how municipalities respond to blight and how to improve that response in the future.

“Instead of trying to solve the problem and try to find out the cause, they just put that orange sticker on the door that says ‘condemned,’ ” Evans said. “What they’ve done when they do that is devalue that property and the property next door, with no solution.”

Many of the task force volunteers advocated for new strategies in approaching county blight, wanting to address the causes of such problems and not generalize all blighted properties.

“From a health care perspective, I look at everything from a proactive approach,” said Gary Duncan, an occupational therapist and head of Dunmore’s Neighborhood Crime Watch. “We’re a geriatric state, so we have to look at that demographic. The people can’t keep up with their houses, through no fault of their own.”

The task force will meet again Thursday, Sept. 20, to review and prioritize strategies. It will meet again in October. In November, the group will invite municipal officials and residents to hear and discuss the strategies.

The plan to battle blight comes at an important time. A 2017 study by the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development found a total of 4,838 longer-term vacant units in the county — meaning not for sale, rent or seasonal use — and conservatively estimated that 35 percent, about 1,693, of those properties are blighted.

According to the study, the aggregate potential value of blighted homes was more than $167 million, and taxes on these properties would amount to more than $1.4 million.

Additionally, 1,814 properties in the county are abandoned; of them, 927, or 51 percent, are in Scranton.

“It’s contagious,” said task force volunteer Linda Walsh of Carbondale. “Once you start having a problem, it doesn’t go away. But it’s a long process. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

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Members of the blight task force are:

Michele Bannon

Austin Burke

Francis DeAngelo

Gary Duncan

Lisa Durkin

Wayne Evans

Karin Foster

George Kelly

Richard Leonori

Kathleen Madzin

Cheryl Lynn Murnin

Tom Oleski

Teri Ooms

Todd Pousley

Bruce Reddock

Linda Walsh

Thom Welby

Matthew Whitney

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