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Citizen group expresses concerns to council

Roberta Thomas, spokesperson for Johnstown Citizens in Action, addresses the Johnstown Common Council Tuesday night at City Hall. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Johnstown Citizens in Action, a public group, expressed concerns about non-collection of taxes on certain delinquent properties at the Common Council meeting Tuesday night at City Hall.

During the public speaker portion of the monthly business session, six members of the group also addressed blight issues on various city streets.

“The major problems of concern tonight are delinquent taxes and blight,” group spokeswoman Roberta Thomas told the council.

Thomas said Johnstown Citizens in Action was formed last summer over concerns with the “overall disrepair and otherwise unkempt features of an increasing number of properties in the city of Johnstown.”

Other speakers Tuesday included:

∫ Lisa McCoy of South William Street, who said that last November the group requested and received a 59-page list of delinquent taxes from the office of City Treasurer Michael Gifford. She said outstanding delinquent taxes as of last November totalled about $1.62 million. She said the city continues to hold property already foreclosed upon in an amount of nearly $400,000, bringing total uncollected revenue to about $2 million.

“We inquired at the treasurer’s office concerning the long delay in collecting taxes over three years old,” McCoy said. “The answer we received was that a previous city attorney several years ago failed to file the necessary paperwork and no properties were foreclosed upon for two years.”

McCoy said Johnstown Citizens in Action requests the city seek payment of 2015 and 2016 taxes by June 30, or people would risk foreclosure. The group also wants the council to “order” 2017 owed taxes by paid by the end of 2020.

∫ Mary Becker of South Market Street cited three city-owned buildings she said “appear to be idle.” They include 124 W. Fulton St., which is missing a roof.

“There can be no reasonable future for this building except to have it demolished,” she said.

Becker also mentioned 6 Spring St., the former Halo Optical Products, which last used the building in 1984; and 111 N. Market St., formerly Kentris Chevrolet, which may have “environmental issues.”

∫ Joe Sheperd of West Third Avenue also spoke about three properties. He addressed the former Rainbow Restaurant at 14-16 E. Main St.

“This property has 95 feet of frontage on East Main Street, next to it is a home that appears to be abandoned,” he said. “Next to that is a building which has been listed with a realtor. The entire frontage detracts from the positive strides being made downtown.”

Sheperd indicated 159 E. State St. has been partially demolished, although no final “action” has been taken by the city Codes Department. He also mentioned the former Knox Gelatin plant at 10 Knox Ave., for which environmental concerns are still in doubt.

∫ Christine Reynolds of South Perry Street stated: “There is an alarming number of apparently abandoned buildings in this city.”

She cited: 17. S. Perry St.; 125 Washington St.; 101 Glebe St.; 102 Oakwood Ave.; 335 N. Perry St. She said these unsightly properties include: overgrown weeds, no sign of habitation, and owners who reside in other states not being held accountable.

∫ Rosemarie Sheperd of West Third Avenue stated: “All the buildings mentioned thus far have much in common. Most are apparently abandoned, all have been in a state of tax delinquency for at least three years and up. They are all unsightly, unkempt, and most are uninhabitable. Many of the owners live out of town and some can’t be located. Again, we find there are many unanswered questions regarding how code enforcement addresses these issues.”

“Can people simply leave bushes untrimmed, weeds uncut, grass not mowed, windows boarded up, front doors ajar, blue tarps blowing in the breeze?” she asked. “We’re simply trying to clean up the appearance of a once beautiful city.”

Thomas thanked Mayor Vern Jackson and the council for the forum to air their concerns. She said Johnstown Citizens in Action contacted Kevin Clark of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, a regional official in Albany, who is “very willing” to assist the city’s codes officials. Thomas said the next meeting of Johnstown Citizens in Action will be 6 p.m. Feb. 27 at the Johnstown Senior Center.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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