A blight of dollars: Let's not trash the landscape for county revenue

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At this time of year, Allegheny County parks are decorated with tall, colorful structures. They're trees, and they are a park amenity, lining the trails, framing the picnic shelters and setting the boundaries of golf courses and athletic fields. It would be a shame if the living decorations were overtaken by tall structures of a different sort, a proliferation of cell phone towers.

Yet County Executive Rich Fitzgerald proposed and county council approved a measure Tuesday to allow leasing for communications towers on as many as 61 pieces of county land, including 45 tracts in parks. The towers could bring annual payments of up to $1.9 million and reduce dead spots in emergency dispatch systems, but to the possible detriment of nature.

Although the county must find ways to cut expenses and increase income, opening park land to widespread use for cellular towers could detract from the parks' scenic beauty if officials aren't careful.

If Mr. Fitzgerald signs the measure as expected, the only thing that stands in the way of cluttering up the parks' landscape is very careful monitoring of potential leases. Mr. Fitzgerald promises that the implementation will be tasteful and that public input will be welcomed as individual proposals go through the local zoning approval process. Even so, interested parties should be vigilant.

At least council did not advance another problematic proposal, one that would have opened up 38 other county parcels for billboards.

The county executive's third revenue-producing proposal, also adopted by council, was a good idea. The ordinance increased charges for filing mortgages and deeds with the department of real estate, which could raise an estimated $11 million next year. Starting in January, a flat fee of $150 will be charged for recording deeds and mortgages, simplifying the process and bringing the rate up to date.

Keeping its fee schedule current is a necessary undertaking for the county. Turning the county parks into repositories for cell towers is not.

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