The first post-election campaign finance reports show the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy spent more than $800,000 in cash and in-kind contributions in its bid to get voters to support a parks tax. That number includes a last-minute $19,000 mailing sent out by the conservancy in the final days of the election season.
Spending for the parks tax initiative totaled $937,118.77, with the majority of contributions coming from the conservancy itself. Other groups include the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project, which had donated to the initiative previously, and new contributions of more than $30,000 from the Nine Mile Run Watershed Association. The watershed includes portions of Frick Park.
Voters narrowly passed the ballot measure in November. The levy will raise property taxes by .5 mills, or $50 per $100,000 of a property’s value. Supporters of the tax, such as the conservancy, said that Pittsburgh’s 165 parks require major financial investments for long-needed maintenance and improvements. The tax is expected to bring in $10 million in new revenue annually.
Critics have said the tax is yet another financial burden falling on the shoulders of taxpayers, while large, tax-exempt nonprofits in the city, such as UPMC, won’t be affected. There had been some opposition spending against the parks tax but it's unclear who backed that initiative.
Taxpayers already pay an additional levy to support the Carnegie Library system, a tax voters passed by similar ballot measure in 2011. Notably, contributions for the library initiative was roughly $330,000 in total, according to annual campaign finance reports – that’s a third of the total for this year's parks tax initiative.
Financial backing for a 2018 ballot measure that would have provided funding for early childhood wellbeing and education initiatives topped $1 million, but was rejected by voters.
Pittsburgh City Council must pass legislation in order to collect the parks tax, and has yet to do so. Council had planned to pass that legislation by January 2020. However, councilors who have expressed skepticism over the tax introduced legislation that would examine past contracts and agreements between the City of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.