Land Bank

Posted on: February 9, 2017

Westmoreland County property auction to expand

Westmoreland County's land bank is expected to add four more parcels to its inventory Wednesday at the first of what could be as many as four judicial sales this year of tax-delinquent properties.

The county land bank, created in 2014 to return blighted properties to the tax rolls, could acquire two residential properties in Irwin, one in Jeannette and a vacant lot in Jeannette.

“They have been on our radar since last summer,” said April Kopas, executive director of the land bank.

Since its inception, the land bank has purchased more than 50 properties. Kopas said 26 have been sold and placed back on the tax rolls. There are 30 parcels still owned by the land bank, she said.

Properties purchased by the land bank can be renovated, or dilapidated buildings on those sites can be demolished.

“We don't go in there until we own them to determine if we will demolish or renovate,” Kopas said.

Most of the properties purchased by the land bank have been residential, although Kopas said four commercial developments, including the former Monsour Medical Center in Jeannette, are part of the agency's property inventory.

The Monsour site was purchased for about $15,000 at a 2014 judicial sale. The former hospital and other buildings were demolished last year, and the site is for sale.

When the land bank was created, the county's redevelopment authority provided a $50,000 grant to make initial purchases. Joining municipalities, which now number 20, are required to pay a $5,000 fee. Proceeds from property sales are expected to keep the land bank self funded, Kopas said.

Kopas said judicial sales are the primary source of purchases for the land bank.

More than 50 properties are listed for sale at the auction that begins 10 a.m. Wednesday at the courthouse. The tax-delinquent properties previously went unsold at a county sale of properties for unpaid back taxes.

This week's judicial sale is for properties in which delinquent tax burdens have been removed by a judge, meaning buyers will not be responsible for outstanding levies.

Deb Chiado, director of the county's tax office, said she expects her office will conduct about four judicial sales in 2017.

“We want to get as many of those properties back on the tax rolls,” Chiado said.

Some properties listed for sale could be removed if owners pay outstanding taxes. Officials expect as many as 30 to 40 parcels could be sold Wednesday, Chiado said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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