Pittsburgh voters approve 0.5-mill tax increase to fund city parks
Pittsburgh voters on Tuesday approved a ballot referendum that will result in a 0.5-mill property tax increase next year to generate money for improvements in city parks.
With 392 of 402 precincts reporting, the referendum passed with 51.6% of votes counted, according to unofficial Allegheny County election results.
Jayne Miller, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, which spearheaded the initiative with Mayor Bill Peduto’s support, noted that the referendum received a majority of yes votes in seven of nine Pittsburgh City Council districts.
“I think this is more than just Pittsburgh parks,” Miller said. “I think this will improve the quality of life for every Pittsburgher in every neighborhood.”
The conservancy has said city parks face a $400 million funding gap in deferred maintenance and improvements and an annual $13 million shortfall in maintenance funds each year.
The tax increase will cost property owners $50 for every $100,000 of assessed value and is expected to raise about $10 million annually. The conservancy promised to match that with private foundation funding.
Miller said the goal is to raise $20 million annually.
The money will be held by the city in a trust fund to be used exclusively for park maintenance, capital projects, repairs and programming.
“The next steps now for us is to work with the city to negotiate an agreement for what role we will have in implementing this plan in partnership with the city,” Miller said.
Critics, including city Controller Michael Lamb and several council members, have called the campaign a backdoor tax that will overburden city residents. They suggested that the city fund park improvements with annual budget surplus money and seek payments from large tax-exempt nonprofits.
Peduto has said the city’s annual capital budget cannot fund the needed improvements in parks and playgrounds that have been neglected for years. The mayor has promised a park within a 10-minute walk of every home in the city and that the funding would make Pittsburgh a highly desirable destination for new residents.
Peduto’s Chief of Staff Dan Gilman tweeted that the referendum was a win for city children.
The biggest winner of the night will be children in neighborhoods across the City who will $10M a year invested in parks, playgrounds, and recreation centers. This will transform community assets that have been underinvested in for decades
— Daniel Gilman (@danielgilman) November 6, 2019
The city has 165 parks, including the Emerald, Frick, Highland, Riverview and Schenley regional parks that receive annual funding from the Allegheny Regional Asset District. RAD funding comes from one-half of the proceeds from the 1% sales tax in Allegheny County, collected in addition to the 6% state sales tax.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, [email protected] or via Twitter .