In wake of Shenandoah fire, Argall renews fight for demolition funding

HARRISBURG – In the wake of last week’s fire that destroyed over a dozen row homes, Senator David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks) is renewing his fight for proposals that would provide significant funding to demolish vacant and abandoned properties in Berks and Schuylkill Counties.

“Our state now has some of the toughest laws in the nation when it comes to fighting blight,” Argall said. “The problem, however, is that many municipalities lack the funds necessary to demolish blighted buildings.”

Argall is the prime sponsor of a bipartisan measure that would provide counties with an option to raise up to $15 per mortgage or deed to provide additional demolition funding.

“Shenandoah’s population peaked around 30,000 in the 1930s. Their population now hovers around 5,000 – there are a lot of vacant properties that need to come down and they don’t have the extra money set aside for demolition, nor do most of the communities I represent.”

On an average year, Schuylkill County would raise $130,000 annually for this program if the county enacted the $15 fee. Berks County would realize $315,000 annually under the same fee.

Argall is encouraging action on his proposal, as well as a bill sponsored by Senator Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland) that would allow counties to levy up to a 10 percent fee on all properties sold through the county tax claim bureau. He sent a letter along with photos of the Shenandoah fire to the members of the House Urban Affairs Committee asking for a favorable vote of these two bills. Both bills have already been unanimously approved by the Senate and are awaiting action by the House committee.

Both proposals are optional for counties. “If blight is not a problem in a county, then they wouldn’t need to exercise this option. But this is a serious issue here in Schuylkill and Berks Counties and this is another way we can remove vacant and abandoned property,” Argall said.

Senator Argall tours the scene of the fire on June 24 in downtown Shenandoah. The fire destroyed 11 vacant homes in the community.
Senator Argall tours the scene of the fire on June 24 in downtown Shenandoah. The fire destroyed several vacant homes in the community.
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