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Pittsburgh Residents Won't Pay Parks Tax ... Yet

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh property owners won't see a new parks tax added to their tax bills just yet. Although first-quarter property tax bills are set to go out to owners next week, the city has yet to pass the legislation necessary to collect the tax, which voters approved in November in an effort to fund parks improvements across the city.

The half-mill tax is set to cost property owners an extra $50 for every $100,000 in assessed value. But Pittsburgh City Council must first pass legislation creating a trust fund to hold that revenue, and a spokesman with Mayor Bill Peduto's office said Pittsburgh City Council won't see legislation next week.

"The first quarter property tax bills are already going out the door ... we can't put the tax in there," said Tim McNulty. "At the earliest that we could implement tax would be for the second quarter bills starting in [the spring]."

McNulty said the administration is working on two pieces of legislation: one to create the trust fund, and another that will spell out how the money will be spent and organized. 

The tax will provide bedrock support for city parks improvements: The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, which advocated for the tax, has said it hopes to match that public funding with additional contributions from the private sector. Last fall, Conservancy president Jayne Miller said she expected tax collection to begin in January.

The Conservancy largely declined comment on the delay Thursday, though in a statement it noted that parks improvement projects were already underway around the city.

"We look forward to our continued partnership with the City of Pittsburgh and working to restore all 165 of Pittsburgh’s parks to excellence," the statement said.

In the meantime, a new look on Pittsburgh City Council may mean the tax faces more scrutiny ahead.

District 2 Councilor Theresa Kail-Smith, who was publically critical of the tax before and after last year's vote, was chosen as city council president last week. And she said that when she handed out new committee assignments to council members earlier this week, she did so partly on the basis of who would use their post to examine the proposal.

She named Anthony Coghill to the Department of Public Works, Ricky Burgess to Parks and Recreation, Deb Gross to Intergovernmental Affairs. All three have publicly been skeptical about the tax.

"I made sure I put people in those areas where the parks tax money will come through and how it will be spent," Kail-Smith said. 

Council has also requested an audit from the City Controller's office to take a closer look at the city's dealings with the Conservancy. The controller's office said it doesn't know how long the audit will take.

Kail-Smith said she couldn't be sure when the tax hike would be added to the bills, though she allowed the city could be ready to collect the tax by February.

"I don't want to hold me to that... that was preliminary conversations," she said. "I mean it could be two months, it could be six months, it could be next week. I don't know yet."