Monday, August 18, 2008

Pittsburgh Council Talks Merger

There were many questions but few answers as Pittsburgh City Council took up the issue of a proposed merger of the city and Allegheny County.
Council members had questions, in fact some of the invited guest witnesses had questions. Those with the answers….the main proponents of consolidation, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, County Executive Dan Onorato, and University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark Nordenberg who headed a study commission on a merger did not attend.
Barbara Ernsberger chairs the Pittsburgh Democratic Committee. She said supporters have given no good reason why the other municipalities are not involved. She says that means the Pittsburgh area would not be speaking with one voice if the other 129 municipalities are not included. Ernsberger also says the proposed consolidation does not address the city's debt and unfunded pensions.

Tim Stevens’ group, the Black Political Empowerment Project, has yet to take a position on the proposal, but he’s says any merger must take into account the impact on minorities especially concerning political representation and participation in any new joint police force.

Grant Irvin, policy director for the Group "10,000 Friends, an anti-sprawl, sustainable development organization, says the key issue is not whether the city and county should merge, although that might be the solution, but rather how to provide the best services to citizens. He says officials need to ask 5 questions: 1) what is the most effective way to provide services; 2) what is the most equitable way to pay for those services; 3)what inter-government systems must change in order to provide quality services; 4) what obstacles are preventing delivery of the services; and, 5) who should be "at the table."

Councilman Jim Motznik says he supports consolidation but on one big condition: all school districts in the county are joined…and all municipalities as well
The mayor and county executive wanted state lawmakers to okay a measure to permit a ballot question on the issue in November of next year. But legislators say more research is needed…and in the meantime the city and county should look at consolidating planning commissions and economic development departments.

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