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Group wants answers from Mayor Jackson

JOHNSTOWN — The public group Johnstown Citizens in Action – out of the picture since the COVID-19 pandemic hit – is back in and more concerned than ever about delinquent properties in the city.

Member Robert Gould indicated recently that members of the group have been meeting in recent months and may take their renewed concerns back to Mayor Vern Jackson and the Common Council.

Prior to the COVID outbreak, Johnstown Citizens in Action attended the council’s Feb. 18 session to express en masse concerns about non-collection of taxes on certain delinquent properties. The group was formed in fall 2019 in response to earlier 2019 failure to pass a Greater Johnstown School District budget.

Gould this week issued a news release saying that “to date,” Jackson and the council have “ignored” questions raised by the group in February. He said 3rd Ward Councilwoman Amy Praught and 4th Ward Councilman Max Spritzer have “shared information” with the group, but cannot speak for the mayor or majority of the council.

“It has now been seven months since we presented these concerns,” the release said. “In as much as we have had no response and now find ourselves locked out of City Hall, we think it is now time to share these concerns with the rest of our citizens.”

The Johnstown Citizens in Action release indicated that the amount of unpaid taxes in Johnstown in November 2019 was about $1.62 million. Of that, $96,184 was outstanding since 2015 and $64,232 since 2016. The group said it was told takes the city six years to foreclose on property. The group also stated that buildings on which the city has already foreclosed stand idle.

The former Demi’s Leather building at 124 W. Fulton St. — with part of its roof missing — still stands idle. The former Kentris Chevrolet at 111 N. Market St. — taken by the city in 2012 — remains unresolved on whether it will ever be used again.

Some privately owned buildings are of concern, the release said. The former Carville Leather factory at 10 Knox Ave. has accrued taxes since 2010. The property was cleaned up by the EPA in 2017, and Johnstown Citizens in Action is questioning the city’s involvement with unpaid county taxes for the site.

Other properties raised by the group include: A former auto body shop at 17 S. Perry St., where taxes have gone unpaid since 2014; a house on Washington Street, where a blue tarp covers part of it; a Glebe Street house that was apparently abandoned two years ago; a trailer parked on a small lot on Oakwood Avenue — reported to city code enforcement with no response; and a house at 335 N. Perry St., which is owned by a Florida resident and has some parts open to weather with unpaid taxes for years.

The release said some basic questions remain about delinquent properties: Who is responsible for flagging them? The group also asks this question: “Can people simply leave bushes untrimmed, weeds uncut, grass unmown, windows boarded up, second story porches propped up by long planks from the ground for an indefinite time?”

Johnstown Citizens in Action members say both Jackson and City Engineer Christopher Vose cite problems with a shortage of personnel in 2019 and now in 2020 through the virus season.

“Why were we unable to fill these positions so that the city’s needs could be properly addressed?” the release asks.

The group is also asking why the city of Johnstown can’t secure grants to improve city properties while other municipalities have.

The public can contain more information about Johnstown Citizens in Action, and become a member, by emailing: bd510@nycap.rr.com.

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

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