Berwick Councilman says code enforcement officer refuses to acknowledge or abide by borough code
Specifically, Shecktor received a notice of violation from the Berwick codes office on May 12, 2017, citing the borough sidewalk ordinance. The notice advised Shecktor that the sidewalk abutting his property at 1308 Fairview Avenue, had buckled severely due to the growth of the roots of a tree growing in the cartway gutter adjacent to the sidewalk, and requested that Shecktor contact the office to advise how he planned to correct this deficiency.
This issue was debated at a codes appeal hearing and a public Council meeting and was dormant until a new demand for action was sent April 16, 2019, demanding action be taken within 20 days.
Shecktor advised Harkness that he should follow borough code and fix the sidewalk. Harkness told Shecktor, "Fix your sidewalk. The sidewalk and the trees are your responsibility. I don't know what you are talking about regarding the code. It is your responsibility."
In fact, the International Building Maintenance Code of 2015 as adopted by Berwick states in section 102.4 "The provisions in this code shall not be construed to abolish or impair existing remedies of the jurisdiction or its officers or agencies relating to the removal or demolition of any structure that is dangerous, unsafe or insanitary."
The Pennsylvania borough code states in section 1805 that upon failure of a property owner to correct a sidewalk deficiency the borough may make the repairs and collect the cost of repairs plus 10 percent from the property owner. The term "may" obviously means the borough has no duty to do this, but may set rules to allow for the borough to make the repairs.
Berwick Borough code is more specific, however, in stating in Article 4, section 149-9 "Upon the neglect or refusal of the owner of the lot or lots aforesaid to grade, pave, repave or repair any sidewalk, or to set, place, construct or repair any curb after 30 days' notice to do so from the Council of said borough, through its proper officials, the borough shall cause the same to be done and shall collect from such owner or owners of the lot or lots in question the cost thereof…" Shall means "must", there is no other definition. This code is not in conflict with the International Code, and in fact is a long standing local remedy to ensure the sidewalks remain in good repair, even in the event of non-compliance of the property owner.
Clearly, once notified of the refusal to repair a sidewalk the borough is compelled to make those repairs.
Shecktor plans to ask for the support of the Council to see that borough code is honored and enforced, and if necessary bring the action to court if there is no resolution.
"This is not just a personal matter," Shecktor said. "It is a matter of community. We have many residents who are in a similar situation and who have no way to muster the 5-10 thousand dollars to fix their sidewalk. We are a small community borough, not a big city. We should act like a community. We should have options to help those in need." Shecktor also said he has a plan to help those residents in need and also to get all those damaged sidewalks in the borough fixed – and there are many in need of repair.
Harkness says he plans to inspect the property on Tuesday, May 7, and take action if the repairs have not been made.
Berwick Borough Council workshops are open to the public and are held the first Monday of every month at 7:00 p.m. Council meetings are open to the public and are every third Monday at 7:00 pm at city hall.