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Mayor's Office Introduces Legislation That Would Put Parks Tax Into Effect

Ariel Worthy
90.5 WESA
Councilors Anthony Coghill (left) and Deb Gross introduce their proposed bill for the parks tax in January.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto's office introduced legislation that would officially authorize the city to begin levying a half-mill property tax increase that voters approved last fall.  The bill is part of a process that has been simmering in City Council over how best to pay for improvements to the city's long-neglected park system.

Council is already considering one bill to collect and spend the $10 million in revenue the tax is expected to generate. Councilors Anthony Coghill and Deb Gross drafted the measure, which would split the money equally across all nine council districts. It would also give council control of the trust fund that will spend the money.

But last week in a legal opinion, the city Law Department said nearly the entirety of the ordinance is unlawful and "nearly every provision conflicts with the Charter in some way." It said the bill could not be brought into compliance with the law.

Coghill said he will amend his bill and meet with the Law Department this week to discuss their opinion. But he said he still fully supports splitting the parks money nine ways.

That's a different approach than the one offered by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, which mounted a campaign in favor of the tax last year. The Conservancy said the tax should target parks with the greatest need, especially those in neighborhoods with high percentages of poverty and people of color. District 9 Councilor Ricky Burgess has criticized Coghill's bill.

"I understand how certain council people may feel," Coghill said of Burgess. But the Conservancy's list of top-priority facilities has a dearth of parks from his own South Hills district, which could mean his residents will see little immediate return on the investment of their tax dollars. "The whole point is I want equal disbursement. And then we are to be, per district, equitable with it."

Peduto says the conservancy's approach is the fair one.

"Equity is not equal distribution; equity is based upon where the need is, the resources being provided," Peduto said on Friday. "I couldn't agree to a plan that would simply take a pool of money and divide it nine ways based on political boundaries."

The Conservancy declined to comment. The tax won't be collected until the city passes some form of legislation. If council passes legislation within the next couple of weeks, some on council say the tax could be imposed in the spring.

Correction: This story was updated at 11:06 a.m. Tuesday to correct a description of parks-tax legislation introduced by Mayor Bill Peduto today.