South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Mt. O. now appealing, winning real estate assessments in boro


Last updated 8/29/2019 at 8:30am

The Aug. 19 meeting of Mt. Oliver Council began with President Amber McGough congratulating borough manager Rick Hopkinson on his being named one of the 30 Under 30 awardees by the Pittsburgh Business Times.

The Aug. 9-15 issue states: “The winners of the 2019 30 Under 30 awards were selected based on some pretty impressive accomplishments at work and at nonprofits they support …

“… Rick Hopkinson serves as the first borough manager for Mt. Oliver Borough and played an important role in revitalizing economic development there.”

Five council members attended the awards dinner at the Ace Hotel Pittsburgh in East Liberty on Aug. 15.

Next, the public safety report for July was delivered by Mayor Frank Bernardini.

There were 688 total calls for service, and 42 drug arrests, the latter for the seizure of marijuana, crack cocaine, heroin, and drug paraphernalia.

A robbery occurred in the 100 block of Brownsville Rd. on July 22, with money taken.

There was one DUI arrest.

The K-9 unit was used 34 times, including for drug searches, arrests, park-and-walks, targeted patrols, and a tracking. Fourteen warrants were served by the police department.

The police responded to two commercial alarms and 6 residential alarms.

Regarding abandoned vehicles: four were posted; 19 warnings were issued; and one vehicle was towed.

Parking Enforcement wrote 104 borough tickets, while the Police Department wrote 13 borough tags. There were 40 state citations issued for parking violations.

The total collected for payment of fines for tickets issued in July was $1,305. The total paid in magistrate ordered fines was $345.

Borough police also conducted more than 78 traffic stops.

All police equipment is operating properly.

The total miles on all police vehicles for July was 3,914 miles. Vehicle maintenance and repair totaled $111.85. Officers will be attending elective training over the next several months.

Regarding nuisance properties, the mayor said with three people appointed to the Nuisance Property Committee, it was time to start listing properties.

“We have an ordinance in place to deal with these properties,” he said.

Mr. Hopkinson asked solicitor Jessica Crown if there was something else the borough could do about nuisance property repeat offenders. He said that, currently, these offenders receive a notification, are scheduled for court, then pay the fine or cut the grass, if that is the offense, right before court. The cycle continues to repeat itself.

Ms. Crown said this is a problem across municipalities, and she would look into Mr. Hopkinson’s request.

“I want to see something happen to these people,” an attendee said.

The mayor suggested an addition to the nuisance property ordinance.

On another issue, Mr. Bernardini said he does not believe any municipality that donates confiscated drug money to the county should have to beg for equipment.

Police chief Matt Juzwick said the borough is required by law to turn the money over to the district attorney’s office, which uses the funds to support drug enforcement.

The mayor said the borough has asked for more cameras, but which has not yet been addressed by the county. But he will continue to pursue the matter.

Next, in the fire report for July read by Mrs. McGough, there were 50 total incidents, of which 32 were for EMS and 18 were fire related.

The average response time for the Mt. Oliver Volunteer Fire Company from dispatch to arrival, with lights and siren, is 5 minutes 21 seconds for EMS, and 2 minutes 25 seconds for fire.

The average response time for all calls is 4 minutes 42 seconds.

Mrs. McGough said there are five new fire company members. She also announced the Red Cross wants to do a blitz on smoke detectors in the borough. More information to come.

In the planning report, the borough will have to advertise for a new member upon the submission of the resignation of Deana Wuenschel. Last month, she said she must resign from the Planning Commission as she and her husband are moving out of the borough.

In the treasurer’s report, 76 percent of the property tax for 2019 has been collected so far, or $653,308. The total due is $861,780.

Mr. Hopkinson said he attended 35 tax appeal hearings so far this year. Most have been owner appeals. In the vast majority of cases, the borough was able to provide sufficient evidence to retain values.

The borough is also filing its own appeals and winning the cases.

Some examples he gave are: a Stamm property increased from $140,000 to $305,800; an Elizabeth property increased from $3,500 to $48,100; a Holzer property increased from $7,000 to $43,700; and an Onyx property increased from $14,900 to $48,100.

Just from those four cases, the borough will see an additional $3,784 in new tax revenue annually.

Mr. Hopkinson said he is planning on doing dozens in 2020 whose values are grossly out of line with the fair market value. 

In the finance report, Councilwoman Tina Reft said $2,300 was paid for signs ordered for eight streets.

“We’re blitzing Mt. Oliver and doing one section at a time,” she said.

In the code enforcement report for July, Councilman Aaron Graham reported there were 104 violations.

There were eight hearings in front of District Magistrate Richard King.

Sixteen rental licenses were issued for 20 units, and 37 rental applications were mailed out for licenses expiring Aug. 31 (88 units).

Seven occupancy permits, two building permits, and one zoning permit were issued.

In the public safety report, Councilman Justin Viale reported a Civil Service test would be conducted the next day for a full-time police officer.

He also reminded attendees to lock their car doors as break-ins are occurring throughout the borough.

In the public works report for July, Councilman Dave Lowe reported routine facility maintenance was conducted, like emptying trash, cleaning/sweeping, and re-stocking supplies at the borough building. TVs, tires, and debris were picked up throughout the borough.

Pot holes were patched around the borough. Faded and damaged signs continued to be replaced.

In Transverse and Ormsby parks, workers emptied trash cans/spot swept three times per week. Grass maintenance was performed in both parks.

In sanitary/storm sewer maintenance, inlets were cleaned throughout the borough. Six dye tests were performed.

In the question-and-answer segment which concludes meetings, a resident asked why attendees cannot ask questions during meetings when an issue arises, but must wait until the end.

She said questions should be permitted at the same time as council’s discussions. She wants to comment “when an issue is fresh,” she said.

The solicitor said it is to keep meetings orderly.

Mrs. McGough said it will stay like this unless council changes the process.

To a question of whether Verizon can erect poles anywhere, the solicitor said the issue is addressed in the borough’s new zoning code. However, current poles are grandfathered in, meaning they are exempted from the new rules.

The matter arose in response to a 30-foot telephone pole in the middle of a sidewalk.

To a question of whether the problem of thefts from cars will be put on Facebook, Chief Juzwick said he has posted such news on-line in the past, and it will definitely be in the next borough newsletter.

Next, a resident commented on the pending Auberle Family Healing Center, site of the former Mt. Oliver School building.

Under Auberle’s substance use disorder program proposed for placement in the borough, families impacted by a caregiver’s addiction will move into one of the facility’s apartments for four to six months with treatment focused on all family members challenged by that addiction.

The resident said Auberle and Action Housing officials agreed about security, fire, camera, and gate systems.

“We have to make sure they live up to all the promises,” he said.

Mr. Bernardini has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the plan, stating the police department is overloaded with all of the drug activity in the borough. He is also concerned for public safety as numerous school busses drop off students by the Hays and Ormsby intersection, or very near the proposed facility.

He said $1.8 million was paid to the owner to purchase the building.

He also said government taxpayer money will be used to bring the building up to code.

“It is just another example of how your tax dollars are spent on these non-profit organizations,” he said.

The meeting concluded with a resident complaining about all of the drinking of beer and smoking weed he observes in Transverse Park. He said youths are also trying to destroy the animal habitats there.

He was told to call 911 when these activities are occurring.

Councilman Nick Viglione said such behavior has been going on for 30 years in the park.

The resident also helps clean up the park.

The next council meeting will be on Sept. 16.


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