Pittsburgh city council focuses on several issues

Parking receipts dispute, new revenue sources, mayoral race are top priorities

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Pittsburgh City Council this year will continue to wrestle with parking revenue, parking enforcement and other lingering issues, experience the turbulence of a mayoral race and see the departure of at least one member.

Council members Theresa Kail-Smith, Natalia Rudiak and R. Daniel Lavelle face re-election this year. Councilman Bill Peduto's term is up, too, but he's foregoing a re-election bid to challenge Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. At least three candidates have lined up to succeed Mr. Peduto on council.

Last January, Corey O'Connor began his first year in office and Darlene Harris retained the council presidency with the unraveling of an old alliance and the formation of a new one.

"As a council, I think we got along pretty well," Mr. O'Connor said. "There weren't too many 5-4 votes."

In a presentation last week, Councilman Ricky Burgess, the finance chairman, said 2012 yielded "a new spirit of cooperation" among council members, Mr. Ravenstahl and state overseers. Indeed, one group of overseers, the Act 47 team, has asked state officials to lift the city's financially distressed status and end its work.

There are signs of tension on council, however, and the looming mayoral race could increase the strain.

Mrs. Harris and Mr. Burgess have criticized Mr. Peduto for suggesting the city abandon the idea of enforcing on-street parking meters at night. Mr. Peduto said nighttime enforcement would hurt small businesses and enrich a parking authority that's been unwilling to turn over as much revenue as some council members want.

Council has delayed nighttime meter enforcement until July 1 while it continues to press the parking authority for money it says is needed to help offset the diversion of $735 million in parking tax money for a pension bailout.

The parking tax money will be taken from the general fund over 31 years. The annual diversion is $13.4 million through 2017, then jumps to $26.8 million through 2041.

This year, the city will receive about $507,000 in parking meter revenue, $2.6 million in parking authority subsidies and $7.6 million in parking court revenue. Council members have said they want as much as $9.3 million in subsidies from the authority, partly because of on-street meter rate increases that began taking effect in 2011.

Council also will seek revenue from other sources.

Mr. O'Connor anticipates the return of a proposal to sell advertising on and in public buildings, while council, state overseers and other officials also will push for bigger contributions from tax-exempt nonprofit groups.

Mrs. Harris had begun her own work on the issue before the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, a state-appointed oversight board, last fall ordered Mr. Ravenstahl to convene a task force on nonprofit contributions.

The authority had ordered the task force formed by the end of 2012. Mr. Ravenstahl issued invitations to prospective members but has not yet announced appointees' names.

Critical neighborhood issues -- development, management of entertainment districts and blight removal -- also will have a prominent place on council's agenda.

Council voted 5-4 last year to create a special zoning district in the Strip District for Buncher Co.'s proposed Riverfront Landing development. Councilman Patrick Dowd had led the fight against the legislation, saying he objected to the potential for gated drives in the development and to what he described as insufficient public access to the Allegheny River.

While losing the zoning battle, Mr. Dowd continues to block legislation that would create a tax-increment financing plan of up to $50 million for Buncher's development. Resolution of the financing question will be a key issue this year. Meanwhile, Mr. O'Connor said, a tax-increment financing plan could be floated this year for another big project, redevelopment of the LTV site in Hazelwood.

Councilman Bruce Kraus will push for implementation of a plan to better manage the bar and restaurant scene on the South Side, Downtown and in Oakland and Lawrenceville, and Mr. Burgess will advance legislation to systematically acquire and repurpose thousands of vacant, blighted and tax-delinquent properties. Mr. Burgess has said that legislation will be part of a broader agenda to control blight.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548


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