Graham Avenue Windber

Motorists move along Graham Avenue in downtown Windber on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018.

Windber Borough property owners who make a habit of ignoring codes requirements or dodging annual tax bills could end up facing new consequences.

Borough officials took a step this week to adopt changes to property maintenance laws under Act 90, a decade-old law being embraced by some communities that could enable property owners to face criminal charges for certain issues and trouble obtaining building permits for projects for violations.

Anson Bloom, the borough’s codes enforcement officer, said that people who repeatedly have property maintenance code violations could end up facing charges through the amendment.

For those who don’t pay taxes by the annual deadline, then seek permits to make upgrades to the property or another they own, the borough would have the right to decline approval until taxes are paid up, he said.

“Right now, blight and tax delinquency are huge problems in Windber,” Bloom said, “and we’re committed to do something about it.”

The borough has been taking steps to eliminate blight for the past several years, including giving Bloom a full-time role at handling property issues two years ago.

The borough also took the rare step at the municipal level last month of publishing the names and addresses for properties that were delinquent on property taxes in town.

By adding the state’s Act 90 allowances, Windber will have another method to encourage people to pay their share, Bloom said.

“Right now, if someone wants to build a deck or something on their home, and they meet the guidelines to do it, they get a building permit. With Act 90, we have a little more (leverage). We can say, ‘No, you owe us taxes and you’re not getting the permit until the borough is paid.’ ”

The property maintenance component targets issues that create blight in neighborhoods, such as dilapidated structures and abandoned vehicles.

It does not automatically give a community the right to file charges against someone for those violations, but that can change if a property owner is cited for repeat offenses, he said.

“It gives us the ability to work with our solicitor and the district attorney to take action, when needed, when there’s a pattern of a property owner being in and out of compliance,” he said.

Borough council tentatively approved the change Tuesday.

Bloom noted there’s no 100% solution to addressing the borough’s blight issues, “but this is going to help,” he said.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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