Thursday, September 17, 2009

Land Banks

One thing for certain, when you sustain an injury, undergo surgery and your leg is placed in an immobilizer, you have more time to read all those books you had been planning on reading. I recently took the opportunity to read Philip Myers, American Rust, a work of fiction that takes place in the Mon Valley. Myers’ description of decaying communities, abandoned factories, deteriorating houses and vacant buildings is far more real than fiction. A drive through many, many communities in Fayette County and in Southwestern Pennsylvania is an eye opener to any visitor. The number of dilapidated homes and abandoned structures increases daily. These abandoned structures may offer sanctuary for drug dealers and criminals and substantially devalue neighboring properties and entire neighborhoods. Business districts are polluted with dilapidated buildings that are unsightly and hazardous. People living in these communities are acutely aware of the problems, but no one is able to offer any real and practical solutions.
Obviously, Fayette County is not the first area of the country to experience economic decline and the resulting deterioration and abandonment of homes, structures and factories. Other communities and other areas of the country have also suffered as the "rust belt" continues to expand both geographically and in severity.

One plausible solution is a Land Bank, a public authority created to manage and possibly develop tax foreclosed properties. Land Banks have been a necessity in many major American cities where property vacancies run as high as Fifteen (15%) Percent. Obviously, vacant and abandoned properties do not produce sufficient tax revenue, if any, and have an extremely negative impact. Most are used for illegal activity and depreciate neighboring properties, further stressing local governments. Residents feel unsafe in their own neighborhoods and are constantly reminded that their homes, their life investments, are being depreciated in value due to the abandoned and deteriorating structures in their communities.

A Land Bank using government funds, grants and charitable contributions can acquire abandoned properties, demolish them and revert the properties back to usable condition. The now vacant land can be transferred to adjoining property owners for yard extensions or garage construction or, if large enough, for owner-occupied home development. The properties will no longer be available for illicit purposes and will certainly help to rid the neighborhood of the criminal activity. In addition, the now usable properties will create reinvestment in the community, revitalize the otherwise blighted neighborhoods and at the least "clean up" the deteriorated business districts. Such action will benefit all levels of government including the local municipality and school district. The removal of public nuisances will assist in crime prevention and the promotion of economic development.

The time for action is now! A summit of government leaders, municipal, county, state and federal along with church leaders, community leaders and business leaders must be held. The primary purpose of the summit would be the development of a County Land Bank with a specific and stated purpose of acquiring dilapidated and abandoned structures. If legislation is needed, state officials must act promptly. The situation is so acute that the typical governmental red tape and bureaucratic haggling cannot be tolerated. The Bank must be established through a unified effort and the work of elimination of blight must begin immediately.

Submitted by:

James T. Davis, Esquire

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Importance of Seatbelts:

How many times have you opened the morning paper only to learn of another traffic fatality? More often than not, as you read the article, you learn that the victim was an unrestrained passenger or driver. From 1975 through 1996, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seatbelts saved an estimated 90,425 lives. An estimated 75,000 lives were saved between 2004 and 2008. Each year more than 40,000 Americans are killed in motor vehicle crashes. Some experts estimate that the number could be reduced in half by merely "buckling up". According to NHTSA, the lap-shoulder belt system, if used by drivers and front seat passengers, will reduce the risk of fatality and serious injury by Fifty (50%) Percent. The lap belt shoulder to hip belt protects the internal organs and minimizes the possibility of head contact or excessive neck motion thereby helping to prevent head and neck injuries when crashes occur. Unrestrained drivers are typically thrown against the steering wheels or ejected from the vehicles. Unbelted passengers strike the dashboard or are propelled through the windshield. The likelihood that a passenger or operator will be ejected in a crash is twenty five times greater when unrestrained.

The cost resulting from injuries or fatalities to unrestrained drivers and passengers is astronomical. It is estimated that the cost to Americans resulting from higher insurance premiums, higher medical costs and higher taxes is more than $130 billion dollars annually.

Although it is the law in Pennsylvania that drivers and front seat passengers be restrained, the difficulty in enforcing such a statute is obvious and its impact is at best minimal. Public awareness, particularly among young and inexperienced drivers and front seat passengers, is essential. People must be constantly and repeatedly reminded of the extreme dangers an unrestrained driver or passenger is subjected to. A concerted effort to continue to educate and remind the public of the danger one exposes him or herself to by failing to use the seatbelt is essential. Seatbelts save lives, that is common sense and a statistical certainty! Each of us must remind ourselves of the importance of wearing seatbelts and continually remind all of our loved ones and friends.

Submitted By:

James T. Davis, Esquire