The three men who have held the seat of Allegheny County Executive are throwing their support behind a proposal to allow municipalities in the county to disincorporate and turn over operations to county officials.
A study out of the Institute of Politics at the University of Pittsburgh outlines a path for municipalities in Allegheny County to disincorporate that begins with local elected officials approving a referendum on disincorporation. If the voters approve, it would then be sent to the county council to accept the plan.
“No one would be forced to disincorporate,” former County Executive Dan Onorato said.
Currently a municipality can only disincorporate after going through at least seven years of Act 47 oversight. If the assistance provided under the municipal bankruptcy code fails, the municipality would dissolve and the state would take control of operating the local government.
Supporters of the disincorporation ideas in the report said the current system offers a poor solution.
“This is a great step forward,” former County Executive Jim Roddey said. “It’s one more thing… in the tool box that will allow communities to escape the problems that they have today and actually provide the kind of services that their citizens want and need.”
Pitt Institute of Politics chair Mark Nordenberg studied the issue at the request of the county executives and helped write the report supporting the concept.
“This gives the municipality control over timing and provides a municipality with the opportunity to say, ‘We’re heading in the wrong direction and before things get worse let’s consider what our options are,’” he said. “And this would be one of the options.”
Nordenberg said keeping control at the county level is better than moving it to the state. He added Allegheny County is the only county in the state that has its own police force, which makes it uniquely qualified for this proposal.
No legislation supporting the change has been introduced yet, but several lawmakers from both parties have expressed support.
Nordenberg added that Allegheny County has more municipalities than any county in the U.S. other than Cook County, Ill. Cook County, which includes Chicago has 132 municipalities within its borders. Allegheny County has 130 municipalities. At 5.2 million residents, Cook County is nearly five times as large at Allegheny County and is more than twice the size geographically.
In the past, attempts to encourage municipalities in the county to merge have failed. However, current county executive Rich Fitzgerald said he thinks the politics of the past might be fading.
“I think there is a mindset now that says, ‘Efficiency, how can we do more with less? How can we provide the services without having duplication?” he said. “There’s, in many ways, a new generation moving in that may think of things a little differently. So we’ll just have to see how this all plays out.”
There are 14 municipalities in Allegheny County with less than 1,000 residents and another 24 with fewer than 2,000. Supporters said they believe disincorporating some of those municipalities and allowing the county to provide police and municipal services could save money.
The study suggests that all authorities, school districts and entities such as volunteer fire departments not be included in the legislation.