Fitzgerald: No Allegheny County tax increase

Budget proposal includes study of rapid bus line


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If Rich Fitzgerald gets his way, Allegheny County property owners won't pay a penny more in county taxes next year.

The county executive's 2014 budget proposes spending $817 million, 2 percent more than this year. But as he presented his plan to county council Tuesday night, Mr. Fitzgerald said he was proud to hold the line on taxes, which have remained steady 11 out of the last 12 years.

"This county is the only county in the country that has had an increase in property values every year for the past five years. And I think stabilizing property taxes has been a big part of the reason we were able to achieve that," he said.

Mr. Fitzgerald's zero-mill-increase budget bumps spending in the solicitor's office, which needs more staff to continue its countywide canvass of nonprofit properties.

It also has hefty increases for the county's emergency services division, which has lost telephone fee revenue as residents abandon land lines for cell phones.

Most other departments saw a modest increase, including Controller Chelsa Wagner's budget, which was controversially cut last year.

But one of the most talked-about proposals was a $1 million allocation for a study of a rapid transit bus line connecting Oakland and Downtown, a pet project of Mr. Fitzgerald's. Several council members praised the plan, saying investing in transit will spur on additional private development.

"It's good to see this happening," said Jim Burn, D-Millvale.

Of course, Mr. Fitzgerald has to pay for all this. To do so, he says he is balancing his spending increases with a patchwork of new revenue sources.

On Tuesday night, he announced plans to outsource portions of Boyce Park's ski operations to a private company, freeing up county workers to help out elsewhere. He'd also like to expand the skiing season, doubling it to 80 days or so.

Together, the changes at Boyce would give the county an extra $300,000 a year, he said.

The executive also is pursuing fee increases -- the county has already considered increases worth more than $1 million -- and selling naming rights for county properties, including park pavilions.

The budget seemed relatively well received by council. But their true intentions will play out in the next few weeks, when the council committee on budget and finance begins its review.

Committee chairman William Robinson, D-Hill District, didn't speak after Mr. Fitzgerald's presentation -- but certainly will have a lot to say.

He has called on his colleagues to find $50 million to store away in a rainy day fund, an amount that almost certainly won't be possible without a tax increase.

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Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497. First Published October 8, 2013 1:59 PM


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