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Municipality faces revenue shortage

| Sunday, Oct. 7, 2001

There are a lot of projects missing in Penn Hills' five-year capital improvements program, and the lack of revenue will mean there is little chance they will be added in the near future, according to officials.

In the package that was approved by council last week, there are basically no long-term plans for street paving, sidewalk replacement and storm sewer repairs.

And because it's an election year, there has been little discussion of raising revenues by increasing taxes, floating bond issues or other means.

'This year's capital program sends one message loud and clear,' municipal planning director Howard Davidson said of the 2001 capital improvements budget, which totals about $3.4 million. 'We are currently out of local revenue.'

As a result, most of the projects that remain through the year 2006 and total more than $16.7 million are being funded by state and federal grants. Most notably, they are:

  • The Jefferson Heights bridge improvement, slated to receive $1.3 million

  • The library building fund of more than $1.25 million - $250,000 of that in the form of a private cash donation that arrived last week

  • Assorted park and playground improvements totaling $765,000 in Keystone State grants

  • Improvements to senior citizens' centers with a $183,000 grant from Allegheny County

  • The projected $7.5 million arriving over the next six years in Community Development Block Grants through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This funding must be targeted at low- to moderate-income areas, slum/blight conditions, senior citizens or emergency relief efforts.

    'Future councils will have a tough task of finding a source of additional revenue while citizens continue to demand a hold on tax increases,' said Davidson, who was advocating a bond issue for capital improvements last year.

    Davidson noted that outside of the Community Development Block Grant program, sidewalks have been eliminated from the future capital improvements program. Some of the money that was set aside for sidewalks was transferred to complete the $3 million public works garage, which was dedicated this summer, Davidson noted.

    'In times such as this, we often cast aside or delay projects for new parks, sidewalks, and building improvements,' Davidson said. 'But in this case, we are also talking about no funding for street paving, storm sewer repairs or sanitary sewers.'

    Mayor William DeSantis said the municipality is trying to get back on track with a street paving program that operates on a 10-year rotation between resurfacing. But as it stands right now, it is sometimes 20 years or more between paving on some Penn Hills streets.

    Members of the Penn Hills planning commission also are concerned about the lack of funding for capital improvements.

    'What we're being told is that we don't have any money and we can't do anything,' said planning commissioner Trent Griffith.

    Looking over the year-by-year projections for capital improvements in Penn Hills, planning commission chairman Al A. Papa Jr. lamented that, 'as we get out a few years, we start seeing a lot of 'zeroes'' in the individual line item categories.'

    Tom Jewell can be reached at tjewell@tribweb.com or (412) 380-8516.

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