Government & Politics
2:48 am
Wed January 23, 2013

Exec. Fitzgerald Gives 'State of Allegheny County' Address

During his annual 'State of Allegheny County' address Tuesday, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced the first-ever enforcement of a 2007 law that requires the owners of tax-exempt properties to prove to the county that they are deserving of nonprofit status.

If even some of the county's 27,000 tax-exempt properties began paying up, that could mean a large new revenue stream for the county.

"On a logistics basis, it might be very difficult [to review tax-exempt status]. It might take a very long time to do that," said Fitzgerald. "There may be some spot-checking. There also may be some refusals of the tax-exempt status, particularly if they don't meet all five qualifications under the state test that grants tax-exempt status."

The idea was met with approval from most, if not all, of the County Council members. Letters of notice to the property owners should be sent out soon.

During the same address before council Fitzgerald said he wants to meet with state-level leadership on the issue of mass transit funding. He said last September's rescue package to avert cuts to the Port Authority of Allegheny County only passed because of union concessions, but more dedicated state funding would be needed to avoid cuts this year. The executive said he still wants to explore the idea of a multi-county regional transit system to save money.

"I think it makes sense for us to consolidate with the other counties around us, who have their citizens coming into downtown Pittsburgh every day on their own buses," said Fitzgerald. "I think there's out-of-the-box thinking -- naming rights, other opportunities for revenue to come in, park and rides. There's things that we're working on."

Many Council members questioned Fitzgerald about the rising costs for healthcare and necessities in the county jail, which required a $70.8 million budget for 2013. The executive said he's working on lowering healthcare costs and implementing alternative housing programs, but he said part of the issue lies in the state's power to change mandatory sentencing guidelines.