Campaign 2013/South: Allegheny County council candidates agree on drilling benefits

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Allegheny County Councilman Bob Macey and his Republican challenger, Kenneth Peoples, agree on at least one issue: Allegheny County is in a prime position to benefit from natural-gas drilling on land it owns.

Local companies that produce coke, make steel and fabricate pipe already have picked up business as a result of drilling efforts, Mr. Macey said. Several municipalities in the Mon Valley have signed their own deals to sell Marcellus Shale drilling rights.

"Natural gas production will mean jobs and income for Allegheny County," he said. "I am for it."

"There are safe and environmentally feasible ways to extract natural gas," Mr. Peoples said. "But I don't like it when the government finds a new revenue source and dumps the extra funds right back into the budget." A portion of any money the county receives from gas drillers should be used to reduce the county's property tax rate, he said.

Mr. Macey added one stipulation. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has proposed selling gas-drilling rights under Deer Lakes Park. Any drilling deal should be approved by county residents who live nearby, he said.

The two candidates are vying for the 9th District council seat in the southeast corner of the county. Mr. Macey, 64, who has served on council since 2006, lives in West Mifflin. Mr. Peoples, 41, lives in White Oak.

Mr. Macey, a graduate of McKeesport High School, was a steelworker for almost 15 years at U.S. Steel's Duquesne plant. After the mill closed, he earned an associate degree in business management from Community College of Allegheny County and qualified as a state-licensed damage appraiser.

Until his recent retirement, Mr. Macey worked for Century Heritage Federal Credit Union in West Mifflin as director of business development and community relations. He has four grown children and is divorced.

Mr. Macey was charged in December with driving under the influence in Venango County and was admitted into an Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or ARD, program for first-time offenders.

"I went to classes, paid fines and restitution, and attended [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings," he said. "I went through what every other citizen would have to do." He said he has had no relapses.

Mr. Peoples is a graduate of Hempfield High School. He has taken college-level courses in firefighting and emergency management at Saint Vincent College and several community colleges.

Mr. Peoples, who is single, works as an emergency medical technician for White Oak EMS and Jefferson Hills Area Ambulance Association. He also sells real estate through the Howard Hanna Wilson Baum office in McKeesport.

He said that tax-and-spend policies approved by council were driving residents out of the county.

He pointed to the 1-mill property tax increase that Mr. Macey and his Democratic colleagues voted for in 2011. It was the first millage increase since the county adopted an executive-council form of government and it raised the county levy to 5.69 mills. That number, however, was readjusted downward to 4.73 mills for 2013 in response to the higher valuation on real estate as a result of court-ordered reassessment.

"The county has got to stop spending money like fools," Mr. Peoples said. His example of county extravagance was a new restroom built in 2011 in White Oak Park that cost almost $300,000.

County officials said one reason the project was so expensive was that it required digging under Route 48 to connect toilets and sink drains to sanitary sewer lines.

But Mr. Peoples was not convinced.

"I think I could have outfitted the entire park with composting toilets for the price they paid for one facility," he said.

The tax burden on county residents includes more than just the property tax increase, Mr. Peoples said. The county also has imposed a drink tax and collects an additional 1 percent sales tax to pay for sports facilities, parks and cultural amenities.

The drink tax and the Regional Asset District tax put county businesses at a disadvantage, encouraging people to travel to neighboring counties to make large purchases or to dine out, he said.

"If I needed a new lawn tractor, I probably would go to Westmoreland County and buy it," he said. "We have a great way of scaring off businesses and residents."

Mr. Macey said he was running on his record of service and accomplishment.

He said he was proud of his efforts to set up and support the county's FireVEST scholarship program, in which volunteer firefighters get free tuition and books at CCAC while they study toward an associate degree. In return, they must agree to a five-year commitment serving with one of the county's more than 200 fire companies. The program has served as a model for similar efforts elsewhere.

Mr. Macey said he pushed for expansion of the "adopt-a-highway" program to cover county as well as state roads. Volunteers from clubs, educational institutions and businesses get together to do street cleanup projects.

Mr. Macey said he also was proud of his pivotal vote to approve the county's human relations act. That bill, passed in 2009, forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and employment.

If he is elected to another term on council, his goals would include bringing more economic development to the Monongahela and Youghiogheny valleys and reducing crime.

Mr. Macey said he would like to see the county support a centralized booking center within his council district. Such a facility would bring more police cars into the area, and their presence would deter crime, he said.

He also pledged to push for consideration of the Mon-Yough area as the site for a relocated 911-emergency dispatch center.

Communities in District 9 are Dravosburg, Duquesne, Elizabeth Township, Forward, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln, McKeesport, North Versailles, Port Vue, South Versailles, Versailles, West Mifflin and White Oak.

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184.


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