Senator Fontana greets chief executive candidate Rich Fitzgerald this past Friday, prior to a panel discussion on property assessments hosted by the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh as part of their Centennial Celebration.
My Priorities for the Fall Legislative Session
Last week’s News & Views outlined the PA Works Now proposal and highlighted my belief, as well as that of many of my colleagues, that creating jobs and improving our economy should be our number one priority this fall in Harrisburg. I remain committed to doing everything in my power to ensure that creating and retaining good-paying jobs is part of any discussion that we have at the state level – and pledge to work with my colleagues to accomplish that this fall in Harrisburg. I joined Senator Bob Mensch on PCN this past Tuesday to talk about our fall priorities. You can view the PCN Call-In Program here. That being said, there are two issues that are of great importance to my constituents and that we have the opportunity to address in Harrisburg this fall.
First, the court-ordered reassessment of Allegheny County continues to move forward. Earlier this month, Judge Wettick ordered that the assessments be completed in the city first in order to save the city and its schools as much as $2 million in short-term borrowing costs if not completed on time. The county must certify the updated values in the city by January 1st, according to the judge’s order. His rationale is that the city and the city school district operate their budgets on a calendar year and collect taxes by May. Suburban municipalities and school districts operate on a fiscal year and so pass their budgets in the summer months.
The county is asking Judge Wettick to reconsider his order. County Solicitor Mike Wojcik has said that if assessors are allowed to follow their original schedule, all taxing bodies could have aggregate numbers by January 15th. The numbers would be uncertified and preliminary, but would be accurate enough to allow all taxing jurisdictions to set their tax rates. If there are not changes made to the order, the non-city municipalities and school districts will not receive their property values until March or April.
Regardless of the Judge’s decision, the fact remains that the current property assessment system is increasingly inaccurate and, at some point, will become unconstitutionally non-uniform. It is why I have introduced Senate Bill 1280 that would impose a moratorium on court-ordered assessments through November 2012, or until the state acts on assessment reforms. A similar bill, passed by the state legislature in June, was vetoed by the Governor because it singled out just one county. My bill will apply to all court-ordered assessments in the Commonwealth.
People in nearly every municipality in my Senatorial district have written to me, with the same pleas we have heard from county leaders. They want the system fixed before they are burdened with huge property tax increases. A state-wide moratorium on real estate tax assessments will help these communities avoid the tremendous burden that comes with reassessment.
Our state constitution insists upon uniformity in property assessments, yet the mandate on Allegheny County creates inequities instead. In Allegheny County, municipalities have seen residents leave the area and move to neighboring counties which have lower real estate values and costs of living. Twenty-two counties have not completed inspection of properties since at least the mid-1980s. Each county differs in their property markets and assessment systems.
Just last year, the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee made recommendations to enhance the current system and also provide options to the legislature for major changes to the system. The House of Representatives currently has more than one task force developing uniform standards for reassessment contracts; a self-evaluation tool for counties to determine when a reassessment is warranted; and criteria and procedures for data submission, verification, and collection. A moratorium would avoid the negative effects of reassessment without a uniform, state-wide system while allowing the General Assembly the opportunity to address the deficiencies in the current system.
Second, the dispute between the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Highmark continues in our region. It has become very clear – particularly in light of the ongoing dispute between these two non-profits – that there are such organizations out there which have no concern at all about contributing to the common good or lessening the burden on government and taxpayers. Instead, it’s about their bottom line.
I introduced Senate Bill 1281 last week which would require all non-profits to pay on the assessed value of their land only (no buildings) and would exempt the first $200,000 of total land value. The exemption would not be on a per parcel basis, but would instead apply to all properties owned by the entity.
I recognize that many non-profits provide services that the government would otherwise have to perform and that many of these institutions are central to the revitalization of the communities in which they are located. My bill seeks to address the imbalance created by organizations where profit is clearly their driving factor. We see non-profits in the community buying up real estate and expanding, getting bigger and bigger while making decisions that actually harm our communities. Asking them to pay taxes on only their land value starts to address that inconsistency.
There are many, many other issues that Harrisburg should be focused on and addressing this fall – including imposing a Marcellus Shale impact fee/tax and beginning to move forward to fund our transportation infrastructure needs. With your help, we can keep leadership’s eye on the ball and insure that they are focusing on the issues that impact your daily life and that matter to you. As always, I look forward to communication with you on these and other issues that are of interest and importance to you – and welcome your comments.
Happy 100th Birthday, RAMP!
Last Friday and Saturday, I had to opportunity to celebrate with the Realtors® Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh (RAMP) the 100th anniversary of its founding. On Friday, I participated in a panel discussion on Allegheny County’s Property Reassessment along with County Council Member Vince Gastgeb and Allegheny County Chief Executive candidates Rich Fitzgerald and Raja. It was spirited and well-attended, and was followed by a Centennial Weekend Kick-Off Reception.
On Saturday, Realtors® gathered to “Celebrate Our Place in History” at the Heinz Regional History Center. I was proud to have the opportunity to formally present RAMP with Senate Resolution 189 which was unanimously adopted by the Senate last week, congratulating the organization on this milestone.
I have been a proud member of RAMP and can speak to their influence on my career and my industry in the Pittsburgh region. I am proud to have been able to join in their celebration of the organization’s past, present and future.
Thank you, Heidelberg!
On Saturday, I also had the opportunity to stop by the Borough of Heidelberg and participate in the 1st Annual Oktoberfest. Imagine my surprise when, as part of the festivities, I was presented with a key to the borough. Thank you, Heidelberg, for such an honor.
Fun fact - the original Oktoberfest was first held in October of 1810. Crown Prince Ludwig was married to Princess Therese – and the citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities. The festival quickly became an annual event in Munich and, today, lasts 16-18 days and hosts 5 million people each year. Heidelberg, of course, hasn’t been around since 1810. Founded in 1903, the borough is named for the city of the same name in Germany.
This is the borough’s first Oktoberfest – and I look forward to many more celebrations in the future as they strive to keep up with the 200+ year tradition in Germany. If their first one is any indication – it included live music including local bands, food, beer, crafters, children’s activities, hay rides and more – Heidelberg’s Oktoberfest is just as robust as the one in Germany and will soon be giving them a run for their money in Germany!
Offices Closed October 10th
In observance of the Columbus Day Holiday, all Senate offices will be closed on Monday, October 10th, but will reopen the morning of Tuesday, October 11th as scheduled.
Columbus Day commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World in 1492 and celebrates Italian-American cultural heritage. A federal holiday, Columbus Day is held annually on the second Monday of October.
Free Prescription Delivery Service
The Center for Pharmacy Services, which is operated by Duquesne’s Mylan School of Pharmacy, is now offering free prescription delivery and a $4 generic drug program. To transfer your prescriptions and take advantage of the pharmacy’s free delivery service, call 412-246-0963.
The Center for Pharmacy Services is a community pharmacy that serves both the public and the University community. It is located at 1860 Centre Avenue, directly across from Hill House. Staffed by licensed pharmacists, the pharmacy accepts Medicare/Medicaid and most major insurance plans, including CVS Caremark, and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. In addition to prescription services, the pharmacy also offers free health and wellness screenings, chronic disease management, immunizations, and much more.
Duquesne Law School Celebrates Its Centennial
Last weekend, on September 24th, the Duquesne University School of Law marked its 100th birthday with much fanfare and celebration, including hosting current U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as its keynote speaker for its Centennial Gala.
The School of Law opened its doors on Tuesday, September 25, 1911, holding its first classes in the George Building on Fourth Avenue in the City of Pittsburgh. In December 1913, Oscar G. Meyer became the first Duquesne University law school student to pass the state bar exam (he opened his own office even before graduation). In June 1914, twelve degrees were conferred and in September 1914, the entire first class passes the state bar exam.
One hundred years later, Duquesne’s Law School is respected regionally and has gained increasing national notice with its rank among the nation’s top 100 by Super Lawyers and as a “Best Value” by National Jurist. Thousands of men and women have passed through the doors of the Law School en route to distinguished careers – over 7,200 graduates are practicing in every field of law. That list includes two of my own colleagues in the Senate – Senator Jay Costa, Jr. and Senator Jane Clare Orie, both of whom boast a J.D. from Duquesne University School of Law.
I am proud to have offered Senate Resolution 176 in the Senate in September, a formal congratulation on the 100th anniversary of its founding and wish the Law School the very best in its coming years.
Judo Tournament to Benefit Area Youth Competing in South Africa
Watch area athletes compete in a judo tournament and you can help one North Side teenager take a major step toward fulfilling his dream of competing in the Olympics!
Devante Tiller, a June 2011 graduate of Oliver High School, recently won the USA Judo Junior Olympic National Championships and is preparing to compete in the International Judo Federation Junior World Championships in South Africa this November. The proceeds of the Zaffuto Fall Classic Judo Tournament will benefit Devante (visit his athlete Facebook page here), the South Hills Judo Club and the Allegheny Youth Development (AYD) Judo Program.
The Zaffuto Fall Classic Judo Tournament will be held Saturday, October 29th at Pittsburgh’s Oliver High School. More than 200 athletes and their families are expected to attend the benefit tournament. There are a variety of sponsorship opportunities available and registration fees start at $20. For more information and to register online, visit the Allegheny Youth Development website. You may also contact Brian Foltz at 412-766-5040 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Devante and am thrilled and proud of his accomplishments. He is a tremendous athlete and I wish him the best of luck in pursuing his dream of competing in the Olympics. Won’t you support Devante and AYD on October 29th?
Did You Know…
Did you know that Allegheny Youth Development has been helping to improve the academic performance and personal development of at-risk boys for the last 17 years? It does so through four core areas, including academic assistance; self-control development; sports, recreation and social activities; and Christian education courses.
Hollywood Theater Announces October Schedule
It’s that time of year – when things go bump in the night and we look for opportunities to scare and be scared. Hollywood Theater in Dormont does not disappoint. Their October schedule includes scary Halloween films like "The Birds," "Friday the 13th," and "John Carpenter's Halloween."
The Theater will be showing two brand new films October 5th - 8th: "Burke and Hare" directed by John Landis and "Tucker & Dale vs. Evil." The world premiere of "It Came from Yesterday" will also be shown on 3-separate days: Oct 14th, 17th, and 18th. On October 15th, the theater will host a Free Art Show in cooperation with Most Wanted Fine Art. Dormont artist Karen Larson is our featured artist, along with art and film that includes 50 more talented Pittsburgh and Dormont residents.
A very special evening is planned on October 21st as the theater screens "My Tale of Two Cities." It is hosted by Carl Kurlander and includes an appearance by Mr. McFeely from Mister Roger's neighborhood. Mr. McFeely (David Newell) will also be signing autographs and participating in a Q and A that evening. He will end the night with a sing-along of "Won't you be my Neighbor."
On October 28th and 29th, the Hollywood will be showing the 1960's film "Munster Go Home" with a special guest appearance of Butch Patrick. The Dragula car will also be there that evening. The month ends with another premiere, as Barnabus Bailey hosts a night of Halloween Horror that includes "Return of the Living Dead" and other surprises.
Check out their calendar for the full month’s schedule.
Aviation Art Contest
Students in grades 1-5 are invited to show off their creative side and submit a piece of artwork to PennDOT on the topic of aviation. PennDOT’s Bureau of Aviation is sponsoring the art contest to encourage children to display their talents and learn about aviation. The theme for this year’s contest is “Aviation’s Value to My Community.” There will be 22 winners statewide, with two winners from each division of PennDOT’s 11 districts.
Artwork should be submitted on 8.5-by-11-inch or 9-by-12-inch paper, unframed, unmated and unlaminated using acrylic, oil paint, felt-tip pens, indelible ink, soft ballpoint pens, watercolor or crayons. The back of each submission should include the student's name, teacher's name, grade level, county and school address and phone number. All work should be done by hand (there is an exception for children with physical challenges) and must be postmarked by October 14th. Send entries to: Bureau of Aviation, c/o Harrison Brooks, 400 North Street, Harrisburg, PA 17120.
Fall Sports Wrap-Up
On Friday, September 30, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette featured Chartiers Valley senior and girls’ volleyball team member, Stephanie Solt, as one of its Athletes of the Week. Congratulations, Stephanie.
Through the first month of the season, Langley’s Rajep Mukhammedov and Brentwood’s Josh Mackin are among the leading boys’ soccer goal scorers. After games played September 25, Rajep is tied for 6th with 16 goals and Josh is tied for 10th with 15 goals. Camille Redman, a member of Langley’s girls soccer team ranks 5th with 18 goals and Mia Chiatto of Bishop Canevin is tied for 14th with 12 goals.
Week 5 High School Football Highlights
- Wayne Capers rushed for two touchdowns and threw two touchdown passes, leading Chartiers Valley to a 36-10 over Belle Vernon. Taran Sifontes-Levine and Zach Chapman each caught a touchdown pass.
- Julian Durden rushed for 227 yards and three touchdowns, and returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in Montour’s 35-25 win over New Castle. Dillon Buechel connected with Darren Massey on a 90-yard touchdown pass.
- Matt Buckley threw touchdown passes to Cory Sevacko and Ricky Rogers in Keystone Oaks’ loss to Washington.
- Lenny Williams rushed for a touchdown and threw four touchdown passes in a Sto-Rox 38-0 win over Union. Dontez Ford, Kevin Hooper, Deaysean Rippy, and Jordan Latimer all caught touchdown passes.
- Chris Shortley connected with Spencer Hubsch on touchdown passes, the second coming in overtime, in Brentwood’s 20-19 win over Fort Cherry. Michael Hawrylak kicked the game-winning extra point. Michael Kish also caught a touchdown pass.
- Trevor George threw two touchdown passes and Nick Lang rushed for two touchdowns in Carlynton’s 28-0 win over Serra Catholic.
- Casey McCaffrey rushed for two touchdowns and Bobby Gustine rushed for a score and caught a touchdown pass in Bishop Canevin’s 26-20 overtime win over Springdale.
- Kevin Hart rushed for two touchdowns leading Seton La-Salle to a 28-0 win over Steel Valley. Luke Brumbaugh connected with Scott Orndorf on a 21-yard touchdown pass and Nick Sywyj also rushed for a touchdown.
- B.J. Lipke rushed for two touchdowns and Shawn Owens added one score in Cornell’s 20-0 win over South Side Beaver.
- John Girvin connected with Jake Abernathy on three touchdown passes in Northgate’s 31-0 win over Wilkinsburg. Alex Marusic also caught a touchdown pass and Joden Rocco rushed for a score.
(From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
For anyone interested in supporting their local teams in person,
here is a schedule for week 6:
Thursday, October 6
Friday, October 7
- Langley @ Westinghouse, 3:30pm
- Mt. Lebanon @ Baldwin, 7:30pm
- Chartiers Valley @ Thomas Jefferson, 7:30pm
- Central Valley @ Montour, 7:10pm
- Seton La-Salle @ South Allegheny, 7:30pm
- South Fayette @ Keystone Oaks, 7pm
- South Side Beaver @ Sto-Rox, 7pm
- Avella @ Carlynton, 7:30pm
- Chartiers-Houston @ Brentwood, 7:30pm
- Leechburg @ Northgate, 7:30pm
Saturday, October 8
- Mercyhurst Prep @ Oliver, 1pm
- Cornell @ Shenango, 7pm
The Borough of Crafton, which was incorporated in 1892, is named after James S. Craft. His son, Charles Craft, gave land to a local railroad for a station which helped contribute to the growth and development of the borough. He named the area “Crafton” in honor of his father.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana