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Allegheny County executive reveals 'vision team' recommendations

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 12:03 p.m.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on Thursday released a 710-page advisory report with more than 300 wide-ranging proposals to improve county government and life for residents.

Some he's doing. Some he won't do, he said.

A year ago, Fitzgerald formed a dozen volunteer committees to brainstorm about county government, economic development, transportation, public health and safety. Almost 300 civic and business leaders contributed.

“Some (proposals) I probably won't do. Some I might disagree with,” he said at a Downtown news conference.

For example, Fitzgerald said he opposes a recommendation for a ballot referendum to institute a dedicated county tax for parks and trails.

Fitzgerald did not say which ideas he might pursue. He said he and County Manager William McKain would talk with department and authority heads.

Fitzgerald moved aggressively during his first 14 months in office to change county departments and agencies. He orchestrated ousters of the late Dr. Bruce Dixon as health department director, Steve Bland as Port Authority's transit chief and Brad Penrod as Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO.

“I don't understand the motivation of Fitzgerald, especially as a past president of County Council. He should know the issues and have plenty of ideas,” said Robert P. Strauss, professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

Among recommendations Fitzgerald supports: The report said the county should work with neighboring ones to create a regional transit authority.

“I think it would eliminate a lot of duplication of services,” Fitzgerald said, noting Gov. Tom Corbett's plan to boost transportation funding by $1.8 billion a year would require agencies to study consolidation and implement cost-saving measures or expect less state funding.

Fitzgerald said he supports looking for ways to reduce or eliminate property taxes, replacing them with another source of money. One option could be expanding the state sales tax to some exempted goods and services, the report said, noting Pennsylvania is the only state that doesn't tax non-cigarette tobacco products. Another option could be imposing a personal income tax, within Allegheny County or regionally, the report said.

The transit and property tax proposals would require legislative support in Harrisburg, Fitzgerald said.

“We have already implemented many of these initiatives,” Fitzgerald said, citing as examples a deal to allow natural gas drilling at Pittsburgh International Airport and to create a county facilities department.

Tom Fontaine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com.

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