Allegheny County Council passed two ordinances on Tuesday that have the potential to raise $13 million without increasing property taxes.
The first measure, expected to produce an additional $8 million to $11 million annually, boosts the fees the county's Department of Real Estate collects for recording deeds and mortgages. It also raises some charges for filing bonds, commissions and subdivision plans.
The second bill permits the leasing of county land for as many as 61 communications towers. If all the towers are built, the county eventually would collect as much as $1.9 million annually in rent, county manager William McKain told council. The county and local municipalities also would be able to fill in "dead spots" in "911" and emergency-dispatch systems once the new towers were built, he said.
Each mill of property tax brings in about $54 million to the county, making $13 million in potential revenue equal to about one-quarter mill.
Both measures were proposed by county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and were amended by council. The most significant change was council's elimination of provisions that would have allowed leasing of county land for additional billboards. Five residents, including former county commissioner Mike Dawida, spoke out against that proposal.
The ordinances passed with bipartisan support. The bill to lease county land for cell towers passed unanimously. The new schedule of higher recording fees drew support from all 11 Democrats and three of four Republicans on council.
Councilman Matt Drozd, R-Ross, voted "no." He said he would not support the real estate fees unless he got a written guarantee that any additional money raised would be set aside to cover existing county expenses. Council voted down an amendment proposed by Mr. Drozd.
Revenues raised by both measures will go into the county's general fund.
Several council members praised the Fitzgerald administration and county department heads for proposing new sources of money. "We have to look at creative ways to raise revenues," Councilman Vince Gastgeb, R-Bethel Park, said. "We are looking to avoid raising taxes on people," Councilman John DeFazio, D-Shaler, said.
Mr. McKain asked council for quick action on the real estate fees so any new revenues could be reflected in the preliminary budget the Fitzgerald administration will propose next month. The new fee schedule will go into effect on Jan. 1.
The $150 flat filing fee replaces a more complicated system where the recording charge depends the number of pages and the number of parties named in the document. The current base fee is $78.
Several members of Scenic Pittsburgh, a non-profit organization that seeks to monitor and regulate "visual detractors," urged council to eliminate provisions from the cell-tower ordinance that would have allowed the county to lease more of its property for billboards. Mr. Dawida is executive director of the organization.
More billboards would be bad for Allegheny County's tourism and business images, Nichole Huff, Scenic Pittsburgh's communications director, said. "Nobody ever came here and said, 'My what a beautiful Motorola ad,' " she told council.
Len Barcousky: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1159.