Peduto pushing Pittsburgh-area shared services

Municipalities face similar problems

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Young Bill Peduto never forgot the snowplows. As a kid living at the edge of Scott, Pittsburgh's mayor-elect once watched Carnegie trucks barrel down his street with their plows raised, only to lower them and get back to work at the corner.

After all, heaven forbid they would plow snow in Scott.

Speaking before the Congress of Neighboring Communities (CONNECT) last week, Mr. Peduto pledged to put those days behind him, supporting efforts to share services among municipalities big and small.

"We're very proud of who we are and where our neighborhoods are -- we have some of the most beautiful parades in America because of all the police departments we have," Mr. Peduto joked. "It really does come to one thing -- how we deliver services to the people we represent. There are ways we can do it together."

It isn't easy in the famously fractured Allegheny County, which holds 130 independent municipalities within its borders. Some communities have banded together to form councils of governments -- bidding together on road salt contracts and the like -- but those efforts have always excluded Pittsburgh.

Enter CONNECT, which held its fifth annual legislative meeting Thursday in Oakland's Twentieth Century Club. A foundation-supported project within the University of Pittsburgh, CONNECT has worked since 2008 to foster connections between the city of Pittsburgh and its bordering municipalities.

"Our problems are basically the same," Mr. Peduto said. "We may just have a couple more zeros behind them."

Among this year's initiatives, the organization is pushing to form a multi-municipality land bank, which would acquire abandoned properties across several communities for later development. Pittsburgh is already pursuing its own land bank proposal, and CONNECT executive director Kathy Risko thinks a wider partnership could prove more profitable.

The congress also is concerned about upcoming sewer upgrades, suggesting the creation of a countywide wastewater coordinator position and a revamp of the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority board to better represent municipalities.

Over the past year, the group helped craft regional solar panel standards, using a U.S. Department of Energy grant to create a model solar panel zoning ordinance that can be adopted by local municipalities. In 2012, it wrote a model intergovernmental agreement template, removing a legal hurdle for smaller towns that want to work together.

But Ms. Risko is particularly proud of a new community paramedic program, which sends off-duty paramedics on social work missions to help out frequent visitors to hospital emergency rooms. Funded by a two-year grant from UPMC and Highmark, paramedics already have installed a ramp to help an overweight woman leave her house, among other cases.

The insurers have pitched the project as a way to cut medical costs in the long term.

"Give me until March, and we'll have the first round of data," Ms. Risko said. "If we're successful, we'd like to see this expand across the county, if not the state."

But some of the biggest gains in regionalization may come from partnerships between Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, cemented by the close political bonds between Mr. Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. Mr. Peduto already has promised to pursue joint bulk-purchasing agreements and to consolidate management of some parks; he'd also like to see a unified police academy at some point in the future.

"This place is changing in ways that I don't know that all of us know," said Mr. Fitzgerald, who sits on the agency's board. "Cooperation is really the hallmark of what we need to do."

Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.

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