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Allegheny

Bill to let Allegheny County municipalities disincorporate could hit snag in Harrisburg

| Tuesday, May 22, 2018, 7:15 p.m.
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.
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.

Three statewide local government organizations oppose a proposal to allow municipalities in Allegheny County to disincorporate, which could put the bill in jeopardy.

It's not clear whether Rep. Mark Keller, chairman of the House's Urban Affairs Committee, will put the bill up for a committee vote.

“The local government associations are against the concept of it, and we heard them, so I think we need to have a further conversation on what their perspectives are, where they think we can make the bill even better and get everyone on board ... before there would be a committee vote,” Keller said Tuesday after a public hearing on the bill.

Keller also wants to provide time for members to read testimony that was submitted but not presented, and for members who were absent to read all testimony, he said.

Municipalities that disincorporate, if voters approve, would rely on the county for government services, taxation and representation.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and former county executives Dan Onorato and Jim Roddey introduced the idea a year ago . On Tuesday, they made the pitch to the committee in Harrisburg.

“This gives them an option that if their borough council or supervisors decide to put a question on the ballot, that they would then be allowed by referendum to have the people decide if they want to be a part of the county,” Fitzgerald told the committee.

When the trio introduced the idea, they said disincorporation would be open to all of the county's 130 municipalities. The bill now includes a provision that limits the option to municipalities with populations under 10,000.

That eliminates the option for municipalities such as Wilkinsburg, where county officials had reached out to gauge interest , as well as Penn Hills, McCandless, McKeesport, Monroeville, Moon, Mt. Lebanon, Plum and West Mifflin.

State Rep. Dom Costa, D-Stanton Heights, sponsored the bill in the House. State Sen. Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, sponsored a similar bill in the Senate, where it has been awaiting consideration by the Local Government Committee.

The Pennsylvania Municipal League, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Commissioners and the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors all oppose the legislation, according to representatives who testified Tuesday in front of the House committee.

To help struggling municipalities, lawmakers should instead update state laws on taxation and merging, which present legal and financial obstacles for struggling municipalities, said Amy Sturges, director of governmental affairs for the Pennsylvania Municipal League and Pennsylvania State Association of Township Commissioners.

“Local tax law is still operating under the perspective that people live, work, shop and dine in one municipality,” Sturges said. “That was the model in 1965, but it's not the case today.”

Sturges also took issue with disincorporated municipalities having their local bodies of elected officials dissolved and being left with the existing debt.

“Residents will likely find they're paying more for less in the end,” Sturges said.

Melissa Morgan, legislative and policy analyst for the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, raised concerns about a provision in the bill that says a “district advisory committee” would be created, composed of three members who are residents of the municipality and appointed by county executive with approval by county council. They would hold at least four public meetings a year.

“The committee would serve as a buffer between those who are deemed worthy of making decisions and those who actually live there,” Morgan said.

The idea of the committee is to give residents of a disincorporated municipality a way to give input to someone beyond their county council representative, said Amie Downs, county spokeswoman.

After hearing the concerns, Fitzgerald stressed to the committee that disincorporation would not be forced, but would be the choice of the residents living there.

“To me, that's what democracy is about — giving people the choice, and right now, they don't have that choice,” Fitzgerald said.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tclift.

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