Luzerne County faces hurdles unloading 170 unused parcels

By Jennifer Learn-Andes -
Pedri -

After months of review, Luzerne County’s administration has fulfilled a promise made by predecessors for at least two decades to identify all parcels listed under county ownership that are not needed.

Setting aside approximately 14 as prospective revenue-generating billboard sites, the administration was left with 170 properties that can be sold and returned to the tax rolls, county Manager C. David Pedri told council’s real estate committee Tuesday.

However, only 60 are being proposed for sale at this time because further legal research is required on the others.

No deeds can be found for 78 of the properties, even though they are listed as county-owned, he said. To advance to a sale, the county must engage a title searcher, which can be pricey, or file a court action seeking title to the properties after a publication notification, he said.

Another 32 properties are listed as county-owned with deeds, but the deeds also contain the names of other owners, he said. County ownership of some of these parcels dates to the 1920s.

An action seeking a county-only title to this real estate also will be necessary, he said.

“Every time it seems like I open a box, there’s another box inside of it. I feel like it’s one of those Russian nesting dolls,” Pedri said, adding the ability to list one-third is a “great start.”

County Chief Solicitor Romilda Crocamo said her office will address the properties with joint deeds or no deeds over the next 60 days.

Pedri proposed an auction of the 60 properties instead of listing them with a Realtor, saying a mass sale could draw the most response and avoid the need to pay a commission fee. County tax-claim operator Northeast Revenue Service LLC had offered to conduct an auction at little or no cost to the county, he said.

Some of the properties are slivers that would have value to neighbors only, but a few may fetch more, Pedri said, citing a lot in Exeter that is adjacent to the Fox Hill Country Club.

Committee Chairwoman Jane Walsh Waitkus suggested a minimum bid for this parcel and others that have higher assessments — an idea Pedri supported.

Committee members Robert Schnee and Matthew Vough also recommended further review, possibly appraisals, on two Harveys Lake parcels to determine if they should be sold separately.

One is a small triangular lot — the acreage was not listed — on Northview Avenue assessed at $15,700. The other vacant tract is assessed at $122,500, but property records show it has no direct access to infrastructure in a location described as a “failed subdivision.”

If the properties don’t sell at auction, the county could consider a Realtor or assigning an employee to approach adjacent property owners to drum up interest, Pedri said.

The committee agreed to propose a resolution authorizing an auction at county council’s June 26 work session, with a possible council vote in July.

Citizen Brian Shiner urged the committee to consider first working with a Realtor on commission and posting for-sale signs at the sites, reserving an auction as a last-ditch attempt to unload the properties. Obtaining top dollar is more important than swift action, Shiner said, noting the county has owned some of the properties for a century.


By Jennifer Learn-Andes

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.