A study seventeen months in the making is recommending that Pittsburgh and Allegheny County merge in order to increase efficiency and sustain the region economically. Both Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato say the report clearly shows that merging is essential for regional growth and prosperity in the future.
Ravenstahl says that despite the incremental gains Pittsburgh has made over the years, he has come to realize that drastic, bold change is now necessary. Onorato also came out in favor of the merger, which would eliminate both his and the mayor's positions in a new, combined government. They both mentioned that on the historic 250th anniversary of the region, it was time to re-imagine Pittsburgh as a bigger, stronger community. Intially the merger would not get rid of Allegheny County's 129 other municipalities.
University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg says that anyone who looks at the numbers can see that a merger is vital to the regions survival. He summarized the report's three recommendations as follows:
1. The county chief executive and mayor should further intensify existing efforts to achieve higher levels of efficiency through functional cooperation.
2. The city and county should enter in to a formal "cooperation compact" to ensure continued sharing of services and to make sure those efforts remain a long-term priority.
3. At the earliest appropriate time, put the question of the merger before the voters.
Onorato and Ravenstahl stressed that a combined government and re-calibrated population would boost Pittsburgh's profile on a national level, making it an economic development destination and eligible for more federal dollars.
Questions about the legal process of changing the county and city governments remain, including what role Harrisburg, the county and the city would have in making the merger a reality. There are also economic concerns, such as how the legacy costs associated with Pittburgh city workers and retirees would be covered in a joint government.
Ravenstahl pledged to start lobbying lawmakers in Harrisburg for support of the merger by the end of the month. He says he hopes to have a referendum for the merger on the ballot by 2009.
The complete report can be viewed here: www.pitt.edu/news/citycountyreport.pdf