Pair of Common Council members, citizens group discuss blight, other concerns

PHOTOGRAPHER:
Two city officials attended a meeting of the Johnstown Citizens in Action group Thursday night at the Johnstown Senior Center. Center and right in attendance were Johnstown 3rd Ward Amy Praught and Johnstown 4th Ward Maxwell Spritzer. At left is Johnstown Citizens member Robert Gould. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — Two Common Council members attended a Johnstown Citizens in Action meeting Thursday night, assuring the public group that concerns it raised Feb. 18 before the council are being addressed.

Attending the session at the Johnstown Senior Center were 3rd Ward Councilwoman Amy Praught and 4th Ward Councilman Maxwell Spritzer, new council members this year.

Johnstown Citizens in Action members spoke at the Feb. 18 council, raising many concerns about the city’s inability to collect taxes on certain delinquent properties, and blight in general in Johnstown. About 25 people attended Thursday night’s meeting, to which Mayor Vern Jackson was invited but didn’t attend.

At the Feb. 18 meeting, the citizens group cited three city-owned buildings that appear to be idle, including roofless 124 W. Fulton St.

Praught said that building is due to be razed by the city’s demolition team sometime in May or June.

The group had also referenced a partially demolished building at 159 E. State St. Praught said that building was in probate, but that building is also due to be demolished in May at the property owner’s expense.

“The issues have been resolved,” Praught said.

Also mentioned at the Feb. 18 meeting was 6 Spring St., the former Halo Optical Products, which last used the building in 1984.

Praught said the property is being put up for sale again, hopefully immediately.

In a Feb. 20 letter from Jackson to Johnstown Citizens spokesperson Roberta Thomas, the mayor wrote that city officials need more time to respond to written questions asked by the group at the Feb. 18 session.

“In a preliminary discussion with the appropriate department heads, it was decided that more time would be needed to prepare responses to the questions you asked in your handout,” Jackson wrote.

He indicated: “I have directed the department heads to review your handout and to prepare complete and concise responses to each questioned posed. Once that is completed, we will send a written reply to the group for your review. After your review, we can then schedule a meeting with you to discuss them, if necessary.”

“There’s a lot of interest in our city and that’s a healthy environment we’re creating,” Thomas said.

Praught told the group that she contacted City Engineer Christopher Vose and Treasurer Michael Gifford.

“They are getting together and answering the questions you put out,” the councilwoman said.

Praught said she has taken it upon herself to learn more about “zombie” properties and absentee landlords and city code rules. She said Johnstown Fire Chief Bruce Heberer, code enforcement officer, is briefly out on medical leave. She said some property owners are willing to work with the city.

“They are motivated to take care of these properties,” Praught said.

She said there are also openings with the Department of Public Works, which people are anxious to fill.

“I think that’s one of our priorities,” Councilman Spritzer said.

He said he’s not sure why some of the DPW positions weren’t filled in the past.

“We need to get good persons in these positions,” Spritzer said.

Group member Lisa McCoy asked why the city doesn’t explore more grant opportunities, to which Praught said she wasn’t sure.

Praught did note the city has grant writer Nicholas Zabawsky, who has been utilized in the past.

Spritzer said it would also be beneficial for city officials to sit down with the state Department of Environmental Conservation on some of the property and blight concerns raised by Johnstown Citizens in Action.

“We want to bring some positive change to Johnstown,” he said.

But Spritzer also told the group that people have to be careful what they label as blighted properties just because, for example, the grass gets too long.

“We can’t cherry pick every single property in the city,” he said.

McCoy asked the council members about the city being five years in arrears on foreclosed properties. She said the group has been told “there was no people to [collect] it.”

Group member Nicholas Cannizzo, a former councilman and Water Board president, said when he tried to get grants for water lines the city administration told him “we’re too busy.”

“I think the council needs to get a little more involved in what’s going on in the city,” he said.

Group member Joe Sheperd said he talked to Jackson Thursday and said the mayor will speak to the group.

“He wants to come here with a lot of information to give us,” Sheperd said.

Sheperd also said the mayor indicated owners of the former Rainbow Restaurant building on East Main Street have “put a lot of money” inside into opening a new business there.

“That was hopeful to hear that,” he said.

Group member Robert Galinsky said he would like to see the higher amounts of truck traffic in the city addressed.

The group tentatively decided to meet again soon, possibly March 10 or 11.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Kerry Minor

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