Pittsburgh’s Budget and Nonprofits
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto recently introduced his $505.9 million budget which includes a proposed 0.5-mill real estate tax hike to help cover a $35 million shortfall projected for 2015. The real estate tax increase, on average, will cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $40 more a year. The mayor hopes that this increase will plug a $7.3 million revenue hole that came about after the previous administration adjusted the millage rate following preliminary numbers from the last county-wide reassessment.
I’m sure this has been a difficult decision for the mayor and in the coming months, City Council will be tasked with either approving or changing the spending proposal. However, balancing budgets will continue to be an ongoing problem for the city and I feel as if nonprofits should no longer receive a free ride at the expense of Allegheny County homeowners.
Last year I re-introduced Senate Bill 143 (SB 143), that would require non-profit organizations that own real property to pay taxes on the assessed value of the land only (not building), with the first $200,000 of land value being exempt from taxation to protect smaller nonprofits. The exemption would apply to all property owned by the organization, not per parcel.
The current local tax system is patently unfair, stagnates economic growth, hurts our local real estate market and is literally taxing families from their homes. While no one is disputing the good that our city’s corporate nonprofits do in terms of the jobs they provide and the economic investment they have garnered, we cannot continue to provide them a free pass when it comes to shouldering their fair share of the tax burden for funding public services. After all, corporations and companies across our state continue to make record profits while homeowners are forced to make difficult financial decisions to make ends meet.
The time is now for these organizations to start contributing to the fiscal climate many of our neighborhoods are facing. While I support the mayor’s proposal based on its transparency and fiscal necessity, there are other sources we need to tap into. Pittsburgh and many other cities in Pennsylvania deserve a reliable and predictable nonprofit tax plan to help sustain the growth many regions are experiencing or will be in the near future. The way to achieve this is by making these so called nonprofits more accountable to the people and the communities they are intended to benefit.
Lack of Oversight in Marcellus Shale Industry
In late July, Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a year-and-a-half-long performance audit covering the Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) regulations of the oil and gas industry from 2009 to 2012. Overall, auditors found eight major issues and made 29 recommendations to improve their oversight.
DEP has gone from overseeing four natural gas fracking wells in 2003 to 6,225 in 2012. Although DEP employees continue to fulfill their duties of trying to protect the environment and residents, these professionals face growing challenges in properly monitoring the industry. The audit found that the agency needs more staff, operates under a 25-year-old inspection policy, does not have a uniform policy to track the disposal of drilling waste water, keeps a disjointed record-keeping system, and uses an antiquated website that is not user-friendly to the public.
For example, eFacts is a database collection system that is used to track permits and enforcement actions by facility. Since eFacts was intended to be used as a tracking system only, not a record retention system, a user can only tell if DEP inspectors visited a gas well, but not any details about the inspection. DEP began using this internal system in 1994 and created a public version in 2002. In January 2012, DEP added the Oil and Gas Compliance report, which is more accessible but based on the same flawed data.
The audit found that inspectors have been using generic codes, written prior to unconventional drilling, to enter data instead of specific violations. eFacts would need about 450 more codes to replace the existing antiquated codes to truly reflect the actual regulatory language. This lack of a modern information technology system has resulted in inconsistent and disorganized records which made it hard for DEP to dispense timely records to the auditor general’s office. So much so that the audit was originally supposed to be released in January or February of this year and instead there was a six month delay in the release.
Another inconsistency and evidence of the lack of a reliable collection system was discovered by the Pittsburgh Post Gazette when they requested information on how many private water wells have been damaged, contaminated or have had a flow reduction related to natural gas production. DEP released an early version of collected data in July to the PG which demonstrated 209 entries qualified under this request. By the time DEP posted its official lists to its website on August 28th, the number had grown to 243, a number that reflected new determinations DEP had made and old determinations that had been overlooked during its first search of its files.
Aside from the audit, I find it alarming that this is the first time records have been released by DEP on contaminants in private water supplies over the past seven years. Under Act 13, which took effect January 1, 2013, the law states that DEP shall publish on its website, a list of confirmed cases of subterranean water supply contamination that result from hydraulic fracturing. Although Act 13 does not have a time frame for when this information must be released, I think the department has had plenty of time to get the records together, especially when such records are fundamentally essential to the health of state residents.
Since every resident has the right to clean drinking water and should know as soon as possible when there is possible contamination, I introduced Senate Bill 592 (SB 592). My bill would require DEP to provide the water test results to homeowners for all parameters that they have accurately measured using their normal procedures. In 2012, DEP was under scrutiny in Washington County because they only revealed the results of eight possible contaminants even though DEP tested for 24 contaminants. Many individuals feel DEP intentionally leaves out the complete set of test results. My legislation would ensure homeowners get the complete analysis of accurate information about their water supply.
SB 592 would also require DEP to post the water test results online in an aggregate method when testing for contamination due to drilling in the Marcellus Shale. My legislation would not only make water test results more transparent across the state, but at the same time, mechanisms would be put into place so that the confidentiality of homeowners’ water supply will not be compromised.
Homeowners should have the access to the most up-to-date information at their fingertips so that this generation and future generations can take steps to remain healthy. As the audit has suggested, it does not appear that DEP is failing to protect the environment, but rather not taking the proper action and lacks resources to inform the public on how the agency is looking after the environment. And when that occurs, the agency begins losing some of its credibility. I feel that SB 592 would make the drilling industry more transparent and hold both the company and DEP more accountable for their actions or lack of action. After all, water is essential for life and we must make sure there are standards in place to keep our water free from contamination.
Captain Sean M. Ruane Memorial Highway
In June, Act 103 was signed into law. This act officially designated a portion of Route 51 in Kennedy Township as the Captain Sean M. Ruane Memorial Highway. Captain Ruane, a Kennedy Township native, who bravely served the United States Air Force in tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, was stationed with his wife and son in England where he was killed in a tragic accident in January.
On Saturday, October 4th, I will be joined by Captain Ruane’s parents, Marcia and Michael Ruane, at the Kennedy Township Municipal Building to unveil the new sign that will be prominently placed on Route 51 to designate the Captain Sean M. Ruane Memorial Highway. The unveiling will take place at 10 a.m. inside the Commissioners’ meeting room. All are welcome to attend.
Nothing can replace such a terrible and unexpected loss. I hope the renaming of this busy roadway to the Captain Sean M. Ruane Memorial Highway will help to serve as a lasting reminder of the great sacrifices and risks our heroes in the military, like Captain Ruane, endure in their defense of our nation.
Student Aid Guide
As Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) Board of Directors, I want all students and families to know that PHEAA’s annual Pennsylvania Student Aid Guide is available online. The free Student Aid Guide is Pennsylvania’s most complete financial aid publication and is a great resource for finding everything students and families need to know about the financial aid process and paying for higher education. The Guide also offers in depth information on the need-based Pennsylvania State Grant Program.
The online version of the Guide is available at www.pheaa.org. It is interactive and includes links to web pages of particular interest including:
- How to qualify for grants and scholarships and other “free” aid that does not need to be repaid
- Types of loans that are available to students and their parents to help pay for their education
- Career planning tools and access to checklists, timelines, applications and forms that families will need to apply for and receive financial assistance
The Guide offers tools to help students and families create a student budget that estimates annual expenses and provides helpful resources and contact information. Anyone without internet access should contact their high school counselor who can order additional hard copies of the Guide or visit a local library with internet access.
Did You Know…
Did you know the average cost at a public Pennsylvania college or university in 2014-15 is $13,239?
PHEAA Job Fair
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is hosting a Job Fair to fill full-time, entry-level positions for Call Center Representatives/Loan Counselors at its Parkway Center facility, located at 11 Parkway Center in Green Tree. The Job Fair is scheduled for Wednesday, October 8th from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. in Suite 110. Representatives from PHEAA’s Human Resources and FedLoan Servicing departments will be available to provide information about employment opportunities, answer questions and conduct on-site interviews.
As Vice-Chair of PHEAA’s Board of Directors, I was pleased to announce the opening of this new Customer Service Center last fall. With the help of skilled workers from right here in western Pennsylvania, this Customer Service Center is helping PHEAA continue to provide the best possible customer service to millions of student loan borrowers throughout the region, the Commonwealth and the nation. These workers, and this facility, help PHEAA service its growing portfolio of federally-owned student loans for nearly six million borrowers.
For more information on the Job Fair and to learn more about available positions, or to submit an application online, please visit www.PHEAA.org/jobs.
Voting Registration Deadline
Anyone not registered to vote who wishes to vote in the November 4th General Election must complete a voter registration application by this Monday, October 6th. You can obtain an application at any of my district offices. Applications can also be downloaded by visiting www.votespa.com.
Completed applications can be returned by mail to the Allegheny County Division of Elections and must be postmarked by October 6th in order to be processed prior to the November 4th General Election. You can also register by completing an application in person, no later than October 6th, at the Division of Elections office. The location of the Allegheny County Division of Elections office is listed below. For any questions related to registering to vote, please contact 412-350-4510.
Attn: Voter Registration Services
Allegheny County Division of Elections
542 Forbes Avenue, Room 609
Pittsburgh, PA 15219-2953
Additionally, anyone wishing to request an absentee ballot can pick up an application at any of my district offices or download one by visiting www.votespa.com. Please note that all completed absentee ballot applications MUST BE RECEIVED in the Division of Elections office NO LATER THAN 5 p.m. on Tuesday, October 28th.
Underage Drinking Awareness
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (LCB) recently announced its annual Alcohol Awareness Poster Contest. The contest is a creative way for students to depict the positive alternatives to underage drinking, such as getting involved in sports, playing games or volunteering in communities to name a few. It is open to all Pennsylvania students in kindergarten – 12th grade, including those who are home-schooled or in private or parochial schools.
The designing of posters by students sends an important message to their peers. Approximately 50 outstanding posters will be selected by a panel of judges and the LCB will contact the winning artists in early 2015. Winners will be recognized at a ceremony in Harrisburg during Alcohol Awareness Month.
Entries must be postmarked no later than November 21st. For more information about submission dates, guidelines and prizes, please click here or visit www.lcb.state.pa.us.
8th Annual NAMI Walk
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Southwestern Pennsylvania is hosting its 8th Annual NAMI Walk this Sunday, October 5th at the Waterfront in Homestead. The festivities begin at 9 a.m. with the walk beginning promptly at 10 a.m.
The family-friendly event features complimentary refreshments, music, activities for children, entertainment, and a 5K walk along the scenic Steel Valley Trail along the Great Allegheny Passage. There is no fee to register but fundraising is encouraged. All funds raised support NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania in its mission to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness through recovery focused support, education, and advocacy.
For more information or to register, please visit www.namiwalks.org or call 412-366-3788.
The Pittsburgh Pirates finished their home schedule last weekend with a 1-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers before playing games in Atlanta and Cincinnati to finish the regular season. In addition to qualifying for the post-season for the second consecutive season, the Pirates set a single-season attendance record in 2014. The Pirates drew 2,442,564 fans to 81 home games surpassing the mark of 2,435,867 that was established in 2001, the first year of baseball at PNC Park.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
|| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
524 Pine Hollow Rd
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216