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Allegheny County officials push proposal to allow municipalities to disincorporate

| Thursday, May 11, 2017, 11:30 a.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Former Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey (middle left) current county Executive Rich Fitzgerald (middle) and former Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato (middle right) along with other county officials present a proposal that would let municipalities to disincorporate at the Allegheny County Courthouse, Downtown, on Thursday, May 11, 2017.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald joined his two predecessors Thursday to introduce a report that he said is the first step toward passing a state law that would allow municipalities to disincorporate, if voters approve, and rely on the county for government services.

During a news conference in the Allegheny County Courthouse, Fitzgerald and former county Executives Dan Onorato and Jim Roddey said 38 states already allow municipalities to turn control over to county governments.

Allegheny County has 130 municipalities, more than any other county in the country aside from Cook County, Ill., Roddey said.

Critics say having so many boroughs, townships and cities creates redundancies that waste taxpayer money. Proponents contend that local control allows voters to deal easily with elected officials and local government employees to fix potholes, change laws and allocate taxes.

“We have communities that can't get anyone to run for mayor, can't get anyone to run for City Council,” Roddey said. “They're just too small and too poor to have those options.”

Officials have been discussing the idea with municipal leaders, and many are interested, Fitzgerald said. He declined to identify them.

Fitzgerald said he hopes to see legislation introduced in the state Legislature by the end of the year.

Currently, financially distressed municipalities can apply to the state to disincorporate, but the proposed law would allow any municipality in the county to disincorporate.

Under the plan, an unincorporated area “would become an entity of the county” and the county executive and county council would have the ability to “perform any function in the governing and administration of the area.”

The main services provided by the county would be public safety and public works, officials said.

It would also give the county taxing powers.

Any municipal debts would continue to be the responsibility of the taxpayers of the former municipality. The county would not take on the debt, according to the proposal.

“Not only does Allegheny County have an extraordinarily large number of municipalities, but there is great disparity between them — in terms of size, population, and the economic bases upon which they rely to responsibly deliver municipal services,” said former University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, who worked on the report.

The county's largest city, Pittsburgh, has more than 300,000 residents, while the smallest has just 63, Nordenberg said. Forty have less than 2,000 residents.

Disincorporating would not affect school districts, volunteer fire departments or water authorities, officials said.

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