Burned-out property in Wilkes-Barre a mess in more ways than one

By Jerry Lynott - [email protected]
A fire-damaged property on Murray Street in Wilkes-Barre is at the center of an ownership dispute and the focus of a neighboring property owner who wants it torn down. - Jerry Lynott | Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — The fire-damaged house on Murray Street isn’t the only mess Tom Dombroski has to deal with — he’s also trying to confirm who owns it so he can have it torn down.

The house, vacant since a 2006 fire, is near the rear of Dombroski’s property that faces Jones Street and he said it’s affecting his investment.

Dombroski, who lives in the Back Mountain, has addressed Wilkes-Barre city council and Luzerne County council and recently filed a civil complaint seeking $12,000 in lost income from the Cadle Co. II Inc. of Newton Falls, Ohio, that reportedly owns the eyesore at 46 Murray St. and the vacant house next door at 48 Murray St. Both are located on a single parcel, according to county records.

Proximity alone doesn’t give him legal standing. But Dombroski said he stands on solid ground as a taxpayer who’s paid $300,000 in taxes over the past 12 years compared to the more than $88,000 owed on the Murray Street property dating to 1995.

“So we have 300,000 times as much rights, as far as I can see, than they have,” Dombroski said Friday. “We certainly have the right to ask for it to be demolished.”

He’s more interested in getting rid of the burned-out house than getting rich from a judgment if the owner doesn’t show. Dombroski said he’d prefer to work out a deal to have the property deeded to Wilkes-Barre for demolition.

“I want a responsible party to take it over,” Dombroski said.

The new owner could demolish the damaged house and make a driveway for the other residence on the lot because parking is at a premium on the narrow one-way street, according to Dombroski.

That’s all well and good, but Cadle isn’t being irresponsible, countered Doug Harrah, a real estate manager with the company.

“We don’t own it,” Harrah argued, adding he’s repeatedly told city and county officials the same thing since 2012.

The company bought 17 properties in a 2009 tax sale, Harrah said. It took the county Tax Claim Bureau two years to file the deeds on the properties, he added. When informed the Murray Street property was included, he said he notified the bureau and an employee acknowledged it was done in error.

“We didn’t accept the deed,” Harrah said.

Dyan Dinstel, an attorney for the tax claim bureau, said the property in question had Cadle’s bidder number on it.

County solicitor Romilda Crocamo checked into the dispute and said Northeast Revenue Services that handles tax claims maintains Cadle bought the property for $21,000.

“The county’s not part of it,” Crocamo pointed out.

Northeast Revenue has been running the county’s tax claim office since May 2010, when officials at the time opted to privatize the operation to reduce general-fund operating expenses and improve collections. The contract was renewed in 2014.

Northeast Revenue has been credited with turning around the office that had been criticized for not enforcing mandates and allowing some politically connected defaulters to keep their properties out of auctions with no legal justification.

Crocamo said Cadle can go to court to set aside the sale. In the meantime, it’s going to be listed on the upcoming Upset Sale in September, she said. That’s the first opportunity to list properties that owe back taxes.

None of the other properties Cadle bought in 2009 owe back taxes, according to the tax claim bureau.

So why would Murray Street standout, Harrah wondered. He provided a copy of the check Cadle made out on Aug. 29, 2009, to the Luzerne County Treasurer in the amount of $541,795 for the tax sale. He also forwarded the email he sent Crocamo on June 18 to support his argument.

“If we had bought 46 Murray Street the check would have had to be for approximately $562,795,” Harrah said in the email.

Furthermore, why would the bureau continue to list delinquent taxes from 1995, Harrah asked. Back taxes owed on properties listed in the 2009 free and clear sale would have been wiped out, he contends.

A fire-damaged property on Murray Street in Wilkes-Barre is at the center of an ownership dispute and the focus of a neighboring property owner who wants it torn down.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_Murray-St.rotated-1.jpgA fire-damaged property on Murray Street in Wilkes-Barre is at the center of an ownership dispute and the focus of a neighboring property owner who wants it torn down. Jerry Lynott | Times Leader
Neighboring property owner wants it torn down

By Jerry Lynott

[email protected]

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.

Reach Jerry Lynott at 570-991-6120 or on Twitter @TLJerryLynott.