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Wilkinsburg residents say city of Pittsburgh should focus on its own problems

Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council held a public hearing at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA on Thursday evening to discuss the city’s proposed annexation of Wilkinsburg. This is the second hearing on the new proposal, with the first being in West End.

Most speakers opposed the proposed annexation, saying the city needs to focus on its own issues like blight, crime and its school district.

Councilor Ricky Burgess, whose district borders Wilkinsburg and includes the Homewood neighborhood, presented a PowerPoint that claimed Wilkinsburg is predicted to be bankrupt by 2028, which many speakers disputed.

Renee Dolney, a Wilkinsburg resident, said the presentation presented was created by the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation, which Dolney claimed has an agenda for the annexation.

She said if the issue is put on the ballot it will fail because a majority of its residents oppose annexation.

"We don't see how the argument that the city is going to save is us wrong, we have blight but it's not this bad," she said. "You [the city] can't handle what you have."

Burgess said the presentation was created by a consultant contracted by the WCDC, but that city council is working on creating its own document to present.

Bernie Wetzel, also of Wilkinsburg, said he supports annexation.

"In Wilkinsburg we've lost 10 percent of our population, we continue to have more and more vacant houses and more businesses exit the borough," he said. "... I would urge you to look at the facts about Wilkinsburg."

David Tessitor, also a borough resident, opposes the plan.

"The city has neighborhoods that need attention and aren't getting it," he said. "Turning it over to the [Urban Redevelopment Authority] isn't going to help Wilkinsburg."

Tessitor suggested that, rather than having the city annex the borough, Wilkinsburg should look at Allegheny County for help.

Councilors Theresa Kail-Smith, Erika Strassburger, and Burgess were the only council members present.

Kail-Smith said she was concerned about the proposal because of how it could impact her district.

Burgess said Wilkinsburg residents' property would be "significantly worth more" if a merger was to take place.

"Overnight because of the decrease in property taxes every property in Wilkinsburg will be worth more money," he said.

Burgess also said the city has established a committee to study the annexation and are awaiting at least two borough councilors to join it.

Earlier this year, city council voted to oppose a proposed annexation with Wilkinsburg, saying they needed more time to make a decision.

Council is set to hold another public hearing in the city, and two more meetings will be held in Wilkinsburg.