Pittsburgh voters will be asked for tax increase to fund city parks
Pittsburgh voters Tuesday will be asked to approve a half-mill property tax increase that would exclusively fund improvements to city parks.
Proponents say the measure is necessary to fill a $400 million funding gap in deferred park maintenance and improvements and an annual $13 million shortfall in maintenance funds.
Critics call it a backdoor tax that will place more of a burden on overtaxed city residents.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who supports the campaign spearheaded by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, said the city’s capital budget cannot possibly fund everything that’s needed in the parks.
“We made a commitment that over the course of the next dozen years that we want to have a park within a 10-minute walk of every home in the city of Pittsburgh,” he said. “If we are to do this through the city’s budget, it will never get done. Plain and simple.”
City Controller Michael Lamb, who has opposed the tax from the onset, said Pittsburgh should first seek payments in lieu of taxes from large nonprofits and look to spend budget surplus money before asking residents for a tax increase.
“Clearly, there are infrastructure needs in the parks,” Lamb said. “We have a lot of infrastructure needs across the city. I don’t see how we can ask our taxpayers to contribute more when we haven’t closed a deal with our large nonprofits.”
Peduto has sought to reach a deal through his OnePGH plan with the city’s major nonprofits like UPMC, Highmark, University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University.
The tax increase would cost property owners $50 for every $100,000 of assessed value and is expected to raise about $10 million annually. The conservancy’s goal is to match that with private foundation funding, according to Peduto.
“I think it’s really up for the people to decide,” Peduto said. “Are our parks worth investing an additional $50 for every $100,000, and the fact is that those who say, ‘Just have the nonprofits pay it,’ there’s no authority to do that.”
The money would be held in a trust fund to be used exclusively for park maintenance, capital projects, repairs and programming.
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 half of the proceeds from the 1% sales tax in Allegheny County, collected in addition to the 6% state sales tax.
Under the plan, the parks would remain city property, and Pittsburgh would share management responsibilities through an existing agreement with the conservancy. Council would have oversight of all money expended from the trust fund.
All parks would be eligible for funding, but those with the most needs will receive the first attention.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .