Pittsburgh council members request documents, audit related to park tax
Several Pittsburgh City Council members want to examine all agreements between the city and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy before considering how to deal with an estimated $10 million in annual revenue from a parks tax approved by voters earlier this month.
Council on Tuesday introduced two resolutions that would require the Mayor’s Office to turn over all contracts, agreements and leases with the conservancy and have Controller Michael Lamb’s office audit them. Members are expected to discuss the resolutions next week before a preliminary vote.
Council members Deb Gross, Theresa Kail-Smith, Darlene Harris and Anthony Coghill sponsored the resolutions. All had voiced opposition to the Nov. 5 ballot referendum, which asked voters to approve a 0.5 mill property tax increase on city residents starting in 2020. The measure won with 51.8% of the vote.
The anticipated revenue will go into a trust fund controlled by the city and be used exclusively for park improvements citywide. Mayor Bill Peduto, who supported the tax, has said the parks face a $400 million funding gap in deferred maintenance and improvements and an annual $13 million shortfall in maintenance funds each year. He said the city can’t handle that financial burden alone.
“The administration is happy to give council whatever documents we have,” Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty said.
Gross and Kail-Smith said they want to see all agreements the city has with the conservancy before considering future legislation involving the tax revenue.
“We want make sure council has final say on how any public tax dollars are allocated,” Kail-Smith said.
Coghill said the resolutions are not an attempt to overturn the tax.
“I reluctantly accept the count of the vote,” he said. “We’re were not going to be challenging the vote. We’re not going to try to recall the tax. We thought the prudent steps, first of all, would be to look at the cooperation agreements that the city has with the parks conservancy to make everything transparent and on the table because we’re going to be entering into a partnership with the conservancy.”
Gross said members also want to know if the conservancy receives any compensation from park users for events such as weddings held in park facilities.
Messages left with the conservancy were not returned.
“I think that we all understand that this millage will be collected and there will be revenue from it, but we don’t all have an understanding about when and how it gets expended,” Gross said. “These cooperation agreements are really about who’s doing what and who’s paying whom. If we all start with the same set of information, I think it will make the conversation a lot easier and the public can really understand the scope of work.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, [email protected] or via Twitter .