He's no Grinch: Fitzgerald is just prioritizing county spending

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The holiday throngs who thrill to the annual Celebration of Lights at Hartwood Acres know a thing or two about the popular event.

They know that cars carry their passengers through dazzling nighttime displays (with more than 2 million lights). They know that the family-friendly cruise is also a big charity fundraiser ($160,000 last year to the Woodlands Foundation and Salvation Army's Project Bundle Up).

But most people probably don't know that Allegheny County taxpayers have picked up a growing part of the bill for the Celebration of Lights as private sponsors have withdrawn their support. Last year the county covered most of its $1.5 million cost.

With a tight county budget -- after a 21 percent increase in the property tax rate, during a hiring freeze and with a reserve fund slipping below $6 million -- it's entirely understandable that County Executive Rich Fitzgerald decided to withdraw public funding.

The Celebration of Lights, which attracted 170,000 visitors last year and has grown in popularity over two decades, deserves corporate sponsorship and poses a prime marketing opportunity. With Allegheny County stepping aside, the private sector has a chance to fill the void and, in so doing, delight wide-eyed children, their parents and others who enjoy the colorful displays.

This early chunk of coal in Pittsburgh's Christmas stocking may be a sign of more to come as the county cuts other costs to maintain support for essential services. While the holiday lights may lift people's spirits, even Santa would agree that entertainment is not a core county function.

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