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Proposal would disband or sell county authorities

| Wednesday, May 5, 2010, 12:00 p.m.

An Allegheny County councilman is proposing to disband or sell the authorities that run county airports, sewage, sports venues and transit -- and using the money, instead, to protect against budget shortfalls.

Councilman Chuck McCullough introduced a resolution Tuesday night that would have council study whether the assets and functions of the Port Authority, Airport Authority, Alcosan and the Sports and Exhibition Authority could be sold to private contractors or absorbed into the county government.

"If we could sell these things, the money we get through that could be put into a rainy-day fund," McCullough said. "They put a drain on us, and they haven't brought in the economic development and the revenue they were supposed to."

McCullough introduced a similar measure last year, but it never got out of the Government Reform Committee, said Council President Rich Fitzgerald.

This time, though, McCullough is citing a warning from County Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty that the county last year relied heavily on one-time cash boosts -- selling property and tapping reserves -- to make up a $32.5 million deficit. The county could face even worse financial problems this year.

"They can spend all the money they want studying it, but at the end of the day it's a waste of taxpayer money because they don't have the power to disband," said Jeffrey Letwin, attorney for the Airport Authority and a member of the Port Authority's board of directors.

The Airport Authority would have to pay off about $500 million in debts, and its board would have to vote to dissolve itself, he said.

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