Mayor provides updates on state of the city at Allentown meeting
Mayor William Peduto explained what's happening "Downtown" to Allentown residents at the March meeting of the Allentown CDC with Officer Nathan Auvil and Zone 3 Commander Karen Dixon in the background.
Mayor William Peduto visited the March Allentown CDC meeting at the Allentown Senior Center last week to provide a few updates about what was happening "Downtown."
He began by saying when the latest class graduates from the police academy, the city will have more than 900 officers. The most police officers in the city since 2002.
The additional officers will allow the city to bring back "community oriented policing" in 18 neighborhoods this year the mayor revealed. Details still have to be worked out, but preliminary plans call for each council district to have two neighborhoods in the pilot program.
After the current police academy class graduates, another is planned to keep the number of officers over 900.
"Our goal is to get well over what the number is to be out of Act 47 next year and then look at the possibility of creating a seventh police zone," he stated.
"What would that mean? That means that we would have a zone that would be Downtown, South Side, North Shore, Strip District. Entertainment. Night time. That means on Thursday, Friday and Saturday night you don't have officers leaving Zone 3 to be down on the South Side and you have them staying in the neighborhoods," he said to applause.
Mr. Peduto also noted the city has the most fire fighters since 2003 and the most paramedics since 2004.
The city has brought back the EMT program is planning to create a training academy within the bureau itself in addition to a training academy at Pittsburgh Westinghouse through Public Safety.
"We're teaching kids how to become police officers, fire fighters, medics starting in 10th grade. No suburban school has it," he continued. "We gave them a fire truck, we gave them an ambulance and as soon as I get the engine out of the car, we'll give them a police car."
When the students graduate they'll not only have a diploma, but also an EMT certificate and will be put on a career path, he said.
Four years ago, when he first took office four years ago, Mayor Peduto said the budget for street paving was $7 million, the following year it was $12 million and last year $14 million, this year it will be $15 million.
"We're still not where we need to be, but we're getting close, and we're still financially good," the mayor said.
With the city in good financial shape, he said plans are to go to city council for authorization to borrow addition money for capital improvements for the next two years. The administration is also working with the state in order to apply to be out of Act 47 by the end of this year.
"The prognosis is pretty good right now for the city's financial health," Mr. Peduto said.
He turned his attention to the city's youth summer employment program. In 2015 they employed 600 kids for the summer, but had to turn down two kids for every one that was hired.
Last year, through partnerships with Allegheny County, corporations and foundations and a commitment from City Council, 2,000 kids had summer jobs, not only in city projects but also with corporations and community organizations.
Starting this year, kids in the summer employment program will also get financial literacy instruction and a bank account in their first month of work.
The mayor acknowledged work of the Hilltop Alliance and the rapid change E. Warrington Avenue has undergone in the past several years; The new businesses that have moved in and the city's only "Goth coffee shop."
"But seriously, it's like watching this happen very quickly. We want to take that and replicate it in neighborhoods throughout the city," he said.
Many main streets in city neighborhoods are just empty buildings, "buildings that we own," he continued. The mayor asked those in attendance to imagine how a business district in those neighborhoods could be revitalized if a new store owner could receive a micro-grant to help pay their rent while they get established.
Currently, the Hilltop Alliance has been operating a program in Allentown where a new business could have up to half their rent paid for a year to move into the E. Warrington Avenue business district.
Moving on, the mayor talked about the 17,000 mostly vacant and abandoned properties the city owns.
"These are the properties we want to work with community organizations and non-profits to restore them to home ownership. We think if it's not too far gone, if we gave it to organizations and they take three or four within their own community, we'll be able to restore them enough that people can own and live in them for less than ten grand," Mr. Peduto said.
The goal is to work with neighborhoods, and their community plans, to see that these properties go to home owners and not people seeking to rent the properties out. Other properties could be kept "green" and used for parks in neighborhoods without parks or rain gardens to capture rain water and beautify the neighborhood.
Asked about any Hilltop specific programs, the mayor talked about the public safety initiative taking place in Knoxville. The initiative, similar to the Carrick Blitz, looks to identify the worst offenders in Knoxville neighborhood and use a coordinated effort with building inspection, public works and public safety to address and remedy the situation.