Blight proves tough to fight

Town officials look for ways to get homeowners to be responsible for blight

JOHNSTOWN — Town officials expressed frustration last week with homeowners who refuse to address blight issues with their properties in the town without any official recourse to address the problem.

Town resident Kelly Bradt, who made a complaint about one of the blighted homes, questioned whether fines are being issued.

“This person, since they lived there, codes have been violated every single year,” Bradt said.

Supervisor Jack Wilson said one of their re-occurring issues has been getting people to appear in court even when the Fulton County sheriff’s office serves summones to those residents.

Bradt then questioned if warrants could be issued.

Town clerk Nancy Hart said a warrant can’t be issued if it is not a criminal offense.

“Then I hope all the people in those neighborhoods come out here on assessment day and ask for all their assessments to be lowered,” Bradt said. “I’ve got one down the street from me. The garage roof is caved in, there’s nothing living in the trailer, but vermin, I’m sure. The lawn has not been mowed.”

Councilman Walt Lane said the problem is that the town doesn’t have the authority to make arrests to get those who continue to violate codes into the courtroom.

The town also doesn’t have a charter, so officials are unable to add the cost of cleaning the blighted properties to the tax bill.

Wilson said the town tried to hire an attorney to work with town Code Enforcement Officer Todd Unislawski and to help with the issue, but the attorney never returned any phone calls.

“It’s very frustrating,” Unislawski said. “I’ve done what I can do.”

Town Attorney Leah Everhart said the code enforcement officer can only take the case to court. After that it is up to the judge to decide how to handle the case.

“So if someone doesn’t show up, it’s true that the judge is not going to issue a bench warrant for their arrest,” Everhart said. “The first step would be to get a judgment against them and it would be $400.”

She said however, under the state code for a first offense the judgment would be $250.

“I’m going to suggest that we work together, over the phone, through email, so you’re not paying for anyone to drive out here, so that the town takes steps to work diligently trying to get judgments if people don’t show up,” Everhart said. “Then we can try to work on getting those judgments actually converted into a lien. The problem with that is a lien is a piece of paper, it has legal effect, but it’s not money. But we can certainly at least get that far.”