Spirited NID meeting in South Side
Another spirited public meeting on the proposed formation of a Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) within the South Side Flats was held on Oct. 24, with many of the most vocal attendees opposed to the NID attending.
In an improvement district, property owners agree to a self-imposed annual fee for services which supplement those provided by the city, such as a security team, park maintenance, improved parking signage, and more.
The fee and services are determined by the NID plan which is approved by property owners within the district. NIDs dissolve after five years unless renewed.
The proposed service area for the district is from South 9th St. to South 29th St. excluding several properties zoned for industrial uses.
In August, 2900 opinion surveys were mailed to property owners in the Flats soliciting responses to questions related to priorities for South Side's future. The response rate for a direct mail piece was a very high 27 percent.
As to whether a South Side NID should be formed, 58 percent of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed.
The NID's short term goals would be: safety, cleaning, strategy for parking management, and prove effectiveness. Its long term goals would be parking manage-ment, improve public perception of South Side, marketing and special events, and beautification of neighborhood.
Under the draft plan, the proposed allocation of a $1 million annual budget would be: $400,000, safety; $200,000, cleaning; $200,000, parking management and public space improvements; $50,000 marketing and communications; $50,000, community planning; and, $100,000 administration.
Objections from Oct. 24 attendees included paying for something taxes should cover; the unaffordability of a million dollar annual budget; disdain for another level of bureaucracy; and the 40 percent rule.
The 40 percent rule refers to the mailing of a final plan to property owners within the proposed district at the end of the process. Property owners will have 45 days to register their disapproval of the proposed NID in writing, as required by law.
If less than 40 percent of all property owners disapprove at that stage of the process, the NID can be formed.
Those who supported the NID at the meeting cited creating a voice in community affairs; the desire "to see something happen" to combat crime and filth; and the need to "work together."
The Steering Committee's next step will be to meet the first week of November to decide how best to proceed.
The public meeting drew about 100 people to the UPMC Mercy South Side Outpatient Center cafeteria. A similar event was held at the same site on Oct. 12, during which survey results and a draft plan were introduced.
Both meetings were conducted by the South Side NID Steering Committee, comprised of South Side business owners and residents.
The Oct. 24 public meeting featured the presentation of an updated plan based on Oct. 12 feedback and late-arriving surveys. The updated plan included the addition to the NID district of the South Side branch of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and the Oliver Bath House.
On the financial front, the updated plan lowers the millage on owner-occupied residential property from 3 mills to 2 mills, and caps the monthly rate at $40 regardless of assessed value.
As with the Oct. 12 draft plan, seniors who qualify for Allegheny County's property tax rebate program (Act 77) will be exempted from NID fees.
Otherwise, based on a millage rate of 2, an owner-occupied residential property with an assessed value of $63,200 would pay an annual fee of $126, or $11 monthly.
A residential rental property with an assessed value of $57,400 would pay an annual fee of $230, or $19 monthly based on a millage rate of 4,
A commercial property with an assessed value of $143,600 would pay an annual fee of $862, or $72 monthly based on a millage rate of 6,
The millage rates are based on today's assessed value.
In the question-and-answer session, a South Side resident complained about paying for something his taxes cover. He also said he could provide workers from a halfway house he oversees adding the resident-participants need to perform community service hours.
Neighborhood outreach coordinator Susie Puskar said the city is not permitted to cut services to communities in NIDs. The improvement district will also take volunteer cleaning services.
An attendee said she did not like the 40 percent rule, to which Ms. Puskar said she should call her state legislators.
Another attendee asked if a slumlord owns 20 properties, and does not express his opposition to a NID in writing, then they will be counted as 20 yes votes?
The answer is yes.
An attendee commented seniors who are property owners should not get a vote if they are excluded from payment.
Ms. Puskar will check with the law department.
"You want to take a million dollars out of this neighborhood," said an attendee.
A resident favoring the NID said she disagreed with referring to it as a tax. "We have to work together to continue what we've begun," she said.
Another resident and property owner said the NID should be tried for five years to see if they like it. Noting the district lost a police station and hospital recently, "We need a voice," he said.
Questioned who is liable if one of the NID's private security officers is shot, Ms. Puskar said the NID will carry insurance.
A resident suggested having bar patrons pay a $1 cover charge because they are the people who cause most of the problems. Ms. Puskar said the proposal could not be enforced, bars couldn't be forced to turn over a cover charge.
"You should hold businesses more accountable," the resident said of the bars which bring hundreds of outsiders into the neighborhood, with robberies and parking problems ensuing.
Asked what happens in a NID if residents and business owners refuse to pay, Ms. Puskar said NID districts have the ability to lien property.
A Slopes resident who patronizes Flats' businesses asked if those living outside the NID can voluntarily contribute to it financially.
Ms. Puskar said yes.
The steering committee's timetable is to present a NID preliminary plan to the South Side Planning Forum on November 8. However, they may choose to postpone the presentation if they feel more time is needed to prepare the plan.
If there is a consensus among forum organizations to proceed, the plan would next go to city council, followed by a public hearing and the mailing of a final plan to property owners within the proposed district.
Those with questions about the proposed improvement district, or who want to schedule a group meeting to learn more about the plan, may contact Ms. Puskar at 412-481-0651, extension 11, or visit the Steering Committee website at www.ssimprovementdistrict.com.