Fitzgerald talks assessments at Slopes meeting
March 20, 2012
A presentation by county Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald on property assessments and mass transit highlighted the March 13 meeting of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association.
City Councilman Bruce Kraus, and Chuck Half from the Mayor's Office, also spoke briefly.
The meeting began with the news residents within the Elm Street project area can apply for a façade improvement grant. Its purpose is to help homeowners with visible repairs or improvements to the exteriors of their homes, such as brick, porches, and railings.
As a grant program, it matches a homeowner's investment dollar for dollar.
The grant program is administered by the SSSNA for the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), which receives state funding for the program.
In news of the new community garden at Bandi Shaum Field, because it is city property, anyone interested in signing up for a garden plot there may do so at: http://www.pittsburghpa.gov/publicworks/gardenplots/.
The planting day will be Sat., June 2, from 9 a.m. to noon.
On March 26 at 6 p.m. at the Brashear Center, a community gardener open meeting will be held on how to plan, grow, and more.
In news of StepTrek 2012, its tentative date is Sat., Oct. 6.
In his remarks, Mr. Half said community meetings such as this one provide a great opportunity to convey timely information, and to receive input from residents to carry back to the Mayor's Office. In addition to reviewing the city's plans for the upcoming St. Patrick's Day parade, he said the state's neighborhood blighted property act, or Act 90, is on-going.
In his brief presentation, Mr. Kraus said it was "so refreshing" to see so many new faces at the meeting, referring to the eight new Slopes residents in attendance.
Regarding the controversial, proposed South Side Flats NID, he said everyone wants the same thing, but sees different routes to obtaining it.
In a NID, property owners agree to a self-imposed annual fee for services which supplement city services, like a security team and street cleaning.
While supporters view it as a means to secure quality-of-life services in light of the havoc wreaked by bar patrons, opponents call it double taxation.
He called the on-going process of community meetings on the issue "democracy in action."
Mr. Kraus said other cities have had success in managing such entertainment areas. One means is through the Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI), which the city will shortly be engaging in a contract to deal with the effects of the South Side bar saturation.
The non-profit RHI promotes cooperation among those involved in hospitality, safety, and community development groups. The RHI's approach is communication, cooperation, consensus, commitment, and collaboration among stakeholders.
A public hard-hat tour of the library will be held on May 5 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. The hat will be provided.
In other local news, a fence is up on the Riverfront Park off-leash dog exercise area, which he hopes is open by early summer.
The hope is also the renovated Market House will open in late May or early June.
In his talk, Mr. Fitzgerald said a series of town hall meetings will be held to assist homeowners with the 2013 court-ordered reassessment.
All meetings begin at 7 p.m., and no registration is required.
See http://www.alleghenycounty.us/townhall.aspx for the meetings schedule.
The good news is property values are going up. But the assessment also penalizes owners for improving their property.
No other county has to do this, he said, which puts us at a disadvantage in attracting new residents.
The issue arose years ago as poor neighborhoods were over-assessed and rich neighborhoods were under-assessed.
But the system is not working, he said, as assessments rose 22 percent in Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon, and 75 percent in Rankin.
About $11 million of taxpayer dollars are being spent on this, which is money that could have been spent on improvements to roads, bridges, and more, he said.
Regarding mass transit, he said Port Authority Transit (PAT) came about in the early 1960s because many independent companies could not make it profitable for themselves, and exited.
Over the last few years, there have been many service cuts, while 94 percent of ridership has been maintained.
PAT's annual budget is $350 million, with most coming from the state government.
There is a $65 million shortfall between now and 2013; if it is not closed, there will be another 35 percent cut in service.
An efficient mass transit system is needed to grow an efficient economy, he said.
The next SSSNA general meeting will be May 8 at 7 p.m. at St. Paul's Monastery.