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Council given an earful about blighted properties

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Oct 16 2013 11:00:44 PM CDT
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

Allentown residents distressed about having to live near blighted properties gave city council an earful and then some Wednesday night.

At least a half-dozen residents addressed council, which met at the West End Youth Center because council chambers are being refurbished.

They told stories of homes that are crumbling, properties that are being used as dumping grounds, neighborhoods peppered with abandoned homes that attract criminal activity, areas that look like "war zones," and plummeting property values.

Council members reacted sympathetically. Council member Jeanette Eichenwald called the stories "heartbreaking," and council president Julio Guridy asked city managing director Francis Dougherty to investigate specific complaints.

But overall, council asked the residents for patience while a comprehensive strategy is being developed by two committees to attack the problem.

Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski has said that of the city's 47,000 properties, between 200 and 300 could be considered blighted, and that the city is spending $2.3 million of the city's federal housing funds on fighting the problem.

Ken Heffentrager, vice president of the Tenant Association of Allentown, said the mayor told him the number of blighted properties was 175, "but we've blown that number out of the water" with research.

Eichenwald responded, "Whether it's 300 or 450 [properties], one is too many if you're living next to one of these properties. ... For these people, time is money."

Council member Peter Schweyer said the difficulty in doing something about the problem is money, not a lack of awareness.

He said cutbacks in federal and state aid have forced council to make difficult choices. "A big part [of dealing with blight] is, how do you fund the solution to the problem. ... The federal and state governments are not coming to the rescue. The problems are not insurmountable, but they're not free either. We are asking for your patience."

In other business, council approved an ordinance transferring $649,079 from the city's water, sewer and equipment funds to the general fund, and a $2.42 million adjustment to the general fund.

The ordinance, which Schweyer described as "an accounting bill," is tied to the lease of the city's water and sewer systems to the Lehigh County Authority

About $160 million from the remainder of the profit from the water and sewer lease will be transferred by ordinance to the pension fund at a special council committee of the whle meeting on Oct. 24 on the 5th floor of city hall, Schweyer said.

The meeting will begin as soon as council's budget and finance committee meeting ends. The budget and finance committee meeting will start at 5:30 p.m.

The major reason for leasing the city's water and sewer systems was to meet an anticipated $160 million shortfall in the city's pension funds.