Allegheny County Council holding 2 budget hearings, no property tax hike next year | TribLIVE.com
Allegheny

Allegheny County Council holding 2 budget hearings, no property tax hike next year

Jamie Martines
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Allegheny County Courthouse on March 19, 2019.

Allegheny County Council held the first of two public hearings on the proposed 2020 county budget Wednesday, reviewing sections of the budget including county administration, health and human services, public works, facilities management and the health department.

The $1 billion budget was proposed by Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald in October.

Residents would not see a property tax increase under the 2020 budget plan.

With a county millage rate of 4.73 mills, the owner of a $100,000 home pays $473 per year in county property taxes.

Allegheny County property taxes were last increased in 2012.

“I feel like we’re in a good place, I think that they’re always tuned in to what’s going on,” said Council Member Paul Klein, D-Point Breeze, who chairs the budget and finance committee.

Council must vote to adopt a budget by Friday, Dec. 6.

The $959.8 million proposed operating budget is a $27.4 million, or 2.9%, increase over the 2019 operating budget of $932.4 million.

The proposed capital budget — which includes 61 infrastructure and capital improvement projects, money for the City-County Building roof, funding for roads and bridges as well as money for landslide and lateral support repairs — totals $100.1 million.

Council member Sue Means, R-Bethel Park, was the only Republican member of council in attendance Wednesday evening.

Means said that she was satisfied with the budget, calling it “well-balanced.” But she raised questions about adequate funding for training and recruitment for both county police and local fire departments.

She also pressed for more spending on repairs to existing infrastructure and roads.

“There’s a lot of attention to making something new, when maintenance is neglected,” Means said.

Council members Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin; Robert Palmosina, D-Banksville; Anita Prizio, D-O’Hara; DeWitt Walton, D-Hill District and Paul Zavarella, D-Plum, also attended the hearing.

County Manager William McKain highlighted two new departments that would be created by the proposed budget.

The Information Technology Department would handle computer, technology and website application needs previously overseen by the Department of Computer Services, which fell under the Administrative Services department.

“We talk with the council a lot about customer service, and we believe that technology is a component of that,” McCain said. He said the change will allow county departments to enhance their services and reach more residents.

The new information technology department will receive about $7 million, according to the budget proposal.

The proposed budget also expands and renames the Minority Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Department, which will be restructured as the Equity and Inclusion Department.

Among the department’s responsibilities will be conducting outreach to support women, minorities, veterans, people with disabilities and people who are members of the LGBTQ community.

Adding this department increases funding previously allocated for such initiatives by about 25%, according to the budget proposal.

“We just believe that it modernizes where we’re at today as far as inclusion and equity,” McCain said. “It just makes a lot of sense that we put our money where our mouth is and put resources in there to not only continue the great mission [Minority Women and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Department], but also in areas including outreach.”

Liv Bennett, D-Northview Heights, will be taking over the District 13 council seat in January.

“I think it’s a start,” Bennett said of the new equity and inclusion department. “I think as we get on the council, we can delve into how our investments are actually shaping our priorities around equity and inclusion.”

Incoming council members Bethany Hallam, D-Ross, who will hold one of the at-large seats, and Tom Duerr, D-Bethel Park, who will replace Means of District 5, also attended.

“I recognize that the most important power that the county council has is the budget every year, so I think it’s really important that we’re here, together, as the incoming freshman county council members as a show of force,” Hallam said.

Duerr noted that he, along with Bennett and Hallam, will be responsible for working with the proposed 2020 budget when they step into office in January.

“I know that we’re going to be really interested in delving in there and seeing what good we can do over the next year,” Duerr said.

No one spoke during the designated public comment period during the hearing Wednesday.

Council members will hear budget pitches from representatives from the district attorney, sheriff, court of common pleas, treasurer and controller’s offices Thursday at 5 p.m. in the Gold Room of the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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