South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

County council members talk about consolidation on Slopes


Allegheny County Council President Rich Fitzgerald was the featured speaker at the June 10 meeting of the South Sides Slopes Neighborhood Association.

He was joined in addressing the group by county Councilwoman Amanda Green, who was appointed to council three months ago. City Councilman Bruce Kraus, an attendee, also contributed to the discussion.

Regarding the possibility of a future city-county merger, Mr. Fitzgerald said county Executive Dan Onorato and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl "embraced the idea of doing this."

The issue was spurred by the recent Nordenberg report on the future of the region.  It was prepared by a committee led by University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg.

Mr. Fitzgerald said he supports a merger, if it is done "in the right way." The two major issues for him are economic development, and that the cost of local government "is higher than it needs to be."

A merger is estimated to save $38 to $40 million annually.

But a major hurdle will be the city's $768 million debt. Suburbanites will not vote to take on that debt, said Mr. Fitzgerald.

City and county residents must approve a merger for it to take place.

The state legislature would determine how the new government is structured.  School districts would be not be part of a merger.

The city and county already share costs, he said, such as through the one percent sales, or the Regional Asset District Tax to support regional assets like the zoo and museums.

Ms. Green said a benefit to a merger would be in economic development: the increased population would move our region into the top 15 areas in the country.

Regarding the controversial 10 percent drink tax to help fund public transit, Mr. Fitzgerald said that without it, property taxes would have to be raised.   The property tax has stayed unchanged since 2002.

Ms. Green said an increase in the property tax could lead to more foreclosures.

Mr. Fitzgerald said the drink tax is expected to raise $40 million this year. The county must invest $28 million in the transit system or else lose the system.

An advantage of the drink tax is it allows for the collection of money from people living elsewhere but drinking within the county such as with out-of-town college students who also pay the tax when they purchase alcohol in a bar here.

Mr. Kraus said he did not see a plan in the Nordenberg report but rather "a color brochure of suggestions."  He said he fears that efficiency in government is about "amassing power."

He is also worried about poor minority neighborhoods losing representation in a merger.

To an attendee's complaint that the drink tax funds support an ineffective and wasteful Port Authority Transit with declining ridership and increased routes,  Mr. Fitzgerald agreed that there are problems, including exorbitant pensions paid to past executives.

But if the county doesn't pay the $28 million toward the system, it would shut down as the federal and state funding would end.

To a suggestion of dissolving PAT and allowing private enterprise to compete, Mr. Fitzgerald said a new director has made the system "more market-oriented," such as by "cutting out a lot of empty busses."

In Slopes news, President Brad Palmisiano asked attendees to inform the SSSNA of new residents so a "welcome basket" could be delivered to their homes.

To a question of why the city zoning board uses outdated maps, Mr. Palmisiano said he continually alerts zoning members to the error but to no avail.

The Greeley and Barry Street WPC Gardens were planted over the Memorial Day weekend.  About 58 volunteer hours were expended on the effort.

The Shelly-Stella streets area has experienced a rash of break-ins lately.  Neighbors have set up an email connection to share information with one another.

Bev Boggio announced that Mr. Kraus will be the honorary chairperson for StepTrek 2008.   Local artist Johno Prascak will be the featured artist.

The eighth annual, non-competitive, self-guided walking tour of the Slopes will be held on Sunday, Oct. 5, from Noon to 4 p.m.

She also said that Mr. Prascak's new work, "Colors of Carson Street," will be unveiled on June 18 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mantini's Wood Fired, 1209 East Carson St. Small and large prints will be available for purchase, with Mr. Prascak signing any upon request.

All proceeds will benefit the programs of the South Side Local Development Co.  The organization commissioned the work to coincide with the Pittsburgh 250 celebrations and the June 28 Tour of

Pennsylvania bike race through the South Side.

In other news, Mr. Kraus said he met recently with police Chief Nate Harper.

Mr. Harper said two community meetings will be held — one on the Hilltop, and one on the Flats — to introduce new Zone 3 Commander Catherine McNeilly, discuss area crime, answer questions, etc.

In his Elm Street report, Rev. Don Ware said the committee is seeking professional services for South Side Park, including identifying and creating a management plan for park hydrology and invasive species, GIS/GPS mapping of trails, and noting wetlands and natural assets.

He also said the Pius St. memorial has been repaired.

The Elm St. committee will be spending about $50,000 to repair steps. A scrim will be installed shortly at the Monastery/Brosville gateway garden. 

An "ice man" will be checking out the Neville Ice Arena to advise what steps should next be undertaken.

The next SSSNA meeting will be the annual picnic on July 8 at 7 p.m. at the St. Paul of the Cross Retreat Center.


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