Pittsburghers can count on our corporate and political leaders to close the year with a bounty of gifts for their friends. Unfortunately, their gift-giving fervor doesn’t include everyone:
●Once again city government passed on securing revenue from the myriad non-profit corporations that enjoy public services—public safety, infrastructure, urban conveniences, public parking and recreation– without paying taxes on their physical assets. Around forty per cent of Pittsburgh property goes untaxed while the properties’ owners ride free. The current mayor has shut down the former mayor’s feeble legal challenge to non-profit status in favor of … doing nothing. The gift that keeps on giving to non-profits.
●City Council ended the year in a generous mood—
a. It awarded a million dollars to the Massaro Corporation to help them calculate maintenance and determine potential sales of property owned by the city. Apparently no one in the city’s rather large work force has the time to inspect the properties or show them to real estate agents. To help us understand the crying need for this service, Councilman Gilman likened it to an “oil change.” Got it?
b. In the same spirit, City Council voted to add $12,000 to the staff appropriations of each of the nine city council members and $375 per month to each member’s personal auto reimbursement. While at it, they voted to give Mike Huss a raise of $14,524. Huss was the public safety director during the massive corruption scandal that rocked the Pittsburgh Police Department. While the scandal was on his watch, Mr. Huss only received a light slap—a demotion to assistant director. Apparently, in the holiday spirit, Council voted to forgive and forget.
c. Intent upon raising revenue to support its projects, Council decided to charge a landlord “rental registration permit” fee. Before we could celebrate the idea of charging the big developers of luxury apartments who enjoy tax abatements and public subsidies, Council decided to make the fee regressive. The mayor’s chief of staff—guided by his developer pals—convinced Council that it would be better to charge mom and pop and their boarding house $65 per unit while charging luxury apartment landlords renting over a hundred units only $45 per unit. A nice gift for the gentrifiers!
●In need of a new superintendent for the Pittsburgh Public Schools, the former and current school board presidents proposed that the board hire a nice man who they met at a conference to head the search. Armed with little more than immediate impressions, they nonetheless convinced the board to offer a contract ($100,000) to the nice man. Thanks to the diligent research of Post-Gazette writer Clarece Polke we learn that Brian Perkins is indeed a learned and nice man, but with virtually no experience as a talent scout for a top position in a major urban public school system! Happy holidays Mr. Perkins!
●After threatening a tantalizing examination of the practices of county authorities, County Controller Chelsea Wagner decided to present her fellow politicos with a gift by backing off her legal challenges to the blocking of performance audits. As a long time insider from a politically connected family, she knows where the bodies are buried. But after humbling the county executive in the last election, she decided to put her abacus away and let the circus continue. Speaking of authorities, the Pittsburgh Stadium Authority gifted the Pittsburgh Steelers and their partners a fourth extension on the rights to develop land adjacent to the stadium. So the land will remain unsold, undeveloped, and untaxed for another year despite the fact that others are interested in developing it. Maybe its time for a performance audit!
●Finally, I had a dream that the Urban Redevelopment Authority would present a gift to the diverse East End community by converting the Hunt Armory (passed on to the city for $1) into a public recreational and educational facility much like the city of Santa Fe converted the old Fort Marcy into an asset of use to the entire community. I dreamed that the URA gathered the RAD board and foundation heads to gift the city with indoor basketball courts, a swimming pool, fitness equipment, perhaps a youth jobs center or job training facility, maybe other services of use to urban youth or even an affordable housing complex. But I forgot—this is the New Pittsburgh! I awakened from my dream to find that the URA chose between another Walnut Capital luxury apartment development and a private ice skating complex. Since the mayor and his chief of staff are avid hockey fans, the URA selected the latter. Realizing that hockey is about as popular with less affluent East End youth as racist cops, the developer promised a plan to create opportunities for “disadvantaged youngsters” to use the rink. Maybe they should integrate the Penguins games first. Thanks, URA—another gift for white suburbanites!