Senator Fontana spoke at a groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 11 for the Fort Willow residential project in Lawrenceville. Developers Alex Simakas and Walnut Capital are building apartments that will include a massive public space at the site of a 1930’s foundry.
Senator Fontana made opening remarks at the Homeless Children’s Education Fund Annual Summit on Nov. 13. The sixth annual Summit was originally created to raise awareness and spark collaboration to advance the education of young people experiencing homelessness in Allegheny County.
Disbanding of the Pittsburgh Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority
The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority (ICA) was established in 2004 by state lawmakers under Act 11 to assist Pittsburgh through tough financial times and ensure that residents receive the municipal services and public safety protection they should expect. The ICA was given legal authority to approve city budgets and more recently, the state gambling law gives the ICA exclusive control of over $10 million that Pittsburgh receives each year for hosting Rivers Casino on the North Shore. Currently, the ICA is withholding $12.8 million in gambling money until Pittsburgh implements an electronic payroll system and complies with several other demands.
With the city’s impressive economic recovery, I believe now is the time to terminate the ICA and restore the power to local taxpayers’ elected leaders. Pittsburgh has posted at least three consecutive balanced budgets and five-year financial plans. Under state law, this secondary oversight authority was supposed to end after seven years if Pittsburgh met these conditions.
Yet, that hasn’t happened because the ICA has conveniently insisted that it continues providing oversight because Pittsburgh hasn’t “technically” complied with their interpretation of the law’s mandated budget and planning goals. To add to the complexity, some from outside the boarders of the city have grown fond of their influential overreach into Pittsburgh’s financial affairs. Why should these individuals have a say in how our local government is run?
Now there are two avenues the state can proceed with to terminate the ICA. In September, I introduced Senate Bill 1024 (SB 1024) which would repeal the act that created the board and essentially disband the ICA. However, knowing the tedious process that legislation often faces in Harrisburg and looking for a means to expedite the dissolving of the ICA, I have also requested that the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), which oversees the ICA, use the authority given to them within statute to do such a task. I’m happy with whatever route is chosen, as long as the taxpayers are no longer tasked with paying the tab to keep this secondary authority in business.
Understanding the situation Pittsburgh is facing, Pennsylvania’s Auditor General Eugene DePasquale recently examined this matter and issued a thorough report that underscores the fact that the ICA has outlived its purpose. The audit also pinpoints numerous flaws in the 2004 law that established the ICA and calls for the immediate termination of the ICA in exchange for Pittsburgh’s promise to dump $10 million it receives annually from the state in gambling tax revenue into underfunded employee pension plans.
While I do not dispute the ICA’s role in helping the city emerge from financial problems, there is no longer any realistic need or justifiable reason for this agency to continue its unnecessary oversight operations – at taxpayers’ expense. I feel that the auditor general audit is coming from a fair outside prospective and even his agency underscores the fact that the ICA has outlived both its purpose and need.
Pittsburghers should not have to continue to pay to keep this secondary authority in business. The fact that the city already has Act 47 financial oversight assistance makes the need for the ICA that much more dubious. While this oversight was tolerable while Pittsburgh needed the state’s input to avoid bankruptcy, it was never intended as a permanent arrangement. The need for a second layer of Harrisburg’s “help” has passed. It’s time for it to come to an end.
PHEAA Annual Report
As the Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), along with our Chair Rep. William Adolph, we were pleased to offer the following as part of PHEAA’s Annual Report:
The new Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program (RTSS) distributed its first funds in the fall of 2014-15. Thanks to a $5 million appropriation by the General Assembly in 2013-14, this program provides awards to high-achieving students whose annual family income does not exceed $110,000. PHEAA is administering this program with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). As with the Pennsylvania State Grant Program, PHEAA funds the administrative costs of the program at no cost to taxpayers.
In addition to funding the administration of the State Grant Program, it is a great source of pride to us that PHEAA has, yet again, supplemented the program with another $75 million in funding. From the 2011-12 fiscal year through the 2014-15 fiscal year, PHEAA has provided $275 million in supplemental funding to the State Grant Program. PHEAA’s Board of Directors committed another $75 million in 2015-16, helping to ensure the success of future students of higher education.
This meaningful funding could not be provided without the business earnings from PHEAA’s servicing activities conducted by American Education Services (AES) and FedLoan Servicing. PHEAA’s servicing loan portfolios could not continue to grow without positive borrower experiences, resulting from superb customer service. All of the pieces fit together to form the foundation for achieving PHEAA’s public service mission.
LIHEAP Program Opens
Beginning Nov. 2, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) has been accepting applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program helps low income families pay their heating bills. You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website. You can also pick up an application in my district offices or download one yourself from the DHS LIHEAP website. Completed paper applications should be returned to one of the Allegheny County Assistance Offices.
Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. The income limits for this season are as follows:
|For each additional person add
After your application is received you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive. Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider and will be credited to your heating account. Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat. For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.
DEP Encourages Winterizing of Homes
With colder, winter weather on the way, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is encouraging residents to stay safe and warm this winter by winterizing their homes which can keep you warmer while using less energy and costing less money. The DEP offers the following tips to keep your home running efficiently:
- Set back the thermostat. Each degree lowered can save up to 3 percent on heating. A programmable thermostat, which cost as little as $20 at a local hardware store, can be programmed to be setback automatically at designated timeframes, saving you more energy and money.
- Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and radiators regularly and make sure they are not blocked by furniture, carpeting or drapes.
- Weather-strip windows and exterior doors where you can feel air leakage. Check the bottom of the door to see if there is a gap. If there is a gap of a quarter inch or more, significant air can flow in and out of the house. Install a door sweep on the bottom of the door. Weather-stripping for the windows and doors is available in foam, rubber, vinyl and metal. For homes without storm windows, consider purchasing a window insulator kit. Install insulating drapes or curtains for windows that still feel drafty after weatherizing.
- Use the sunlight to heat your home by opening the curtains on south-facing windows during sunny days and close all curtains at night.
- Check the door to the attic to make sure it seals well and closes tightly. Some manufacturers make insulated attic covers.
- Do not heat unused spaces, other than as needed to prevent freezing of pipes. Close vents in unused rooms.
- If you have a wood stove, be sure to clean the flue vent and inside of the stove regularly.
- If you have a fireplace, reduce heat loss from the fireplace by keeping the damper closed. Install tempered glass and a heat-air exchange system that blows warmed air back into the room. Check the seal on the fireplace damper and ensure it is snug and add caulking around the hearth. It is a good idea to have a carbon monoxide monitor as well.
If you have a furnace, have it checked by a heating professional. This will make the unit more efficient and provide peace of mind that it is running safely. A heating professional should check the exhaust flue and venting to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Be sure to replace the air filter as directed to keep the air in your home clean and the unit running well. A properly maintained furnace can result in a 10 percent reduction in fuel consumption.
For more information about home winterization, please visit www.dep.state.pa.us.
Did You Know…
Did you know according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average Pennsylvania family consumes more than 10,000 Kwh of electricity and spends more than $2,000 per year on energy bills?
Slot Machine Revenue Increases in October
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board recently announced that revenue from the play of slot machines at the state’s 12 casinos increased by 3.5 percent in October compared to the same month in 2014. Gross revenue from slot machines was nearly $197.8 million in October, a 3.53 percent increase from the just over $191 million in revenue in October 2014. Tax revenue generated during October from slot machines was over $105.9 million.
Slot machines are taxed at 55 percent in Pennsylvania and directed as follows: 34 percent for property tax reduction; 12 percent supporting the horse racing industry; five percent is placed in a state economic development fund; and two percent goes to local governments that host casinos.
The state’s gaming industry employs over 17,700 people and generates an average of $3.7 million per day in tax revenue from both slot machines and table games. For more information on gaming in Pennsylvania and to read reports from the Gaming Control Board, please visit them online at www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.
Stuffed With Love For Thanksgiving
“Stuffed With Love” provides a free hot and delicious traditional Thanksgiving Day meal to people who really need them. On Thanksgiving morning, City of Pittsburgh police officers and volunteers will deliver these much needed meals to those who apply.
Meal requests need to be made no later than this Thursday, Nov. 19. If you are in need or know someone that could use help, please call the Community Relations officer in the appropriate city zone:
- Zone 1 – Officers Larry Crawford or Kim Stanley, 412-323-7201
- Zone 2 – Officers Dave Warham or Darius Jones, 412-255-2827
- Zone 3 – Officers Christine Luffey or Richard Oddi, 412-488-8326
- Zone 4 – Officers Shannon Leshen or Thomas Pauley, 412-422-6520
- Zone 5 – Officers Michael Gay or Karen McNeil, 412-665-3770
- Zone 6 – Officers Kenneth Stevwing or Julie Ott, 412-937-3051
Jingle Bell Rocks – Tomorrow Night!
The McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation is hosting Jingle Bell Rocks tomorrow night to provide an opportunity to discover the new emerging downtown district of Chartiers Avenue in McKees Rocks.
The event runs from 6 – 9 p.m. and includes live music performances and the lighting of the new Hollywood Music & Sound sign, photos with Santa, holiday readings by Mrs. Claus, horse and carriage rides at McKees Rocks Plaza, caroling, food trucks, and more. For more information on Jingle Bell Rocks, please visit www.mckeesrocks.com.
Last week, TreeVitalize Pittsburgh celebrated its 25,000th tree planting since 2008. Since that spring, TreeVitalize has planted 25,000 trees in neighborhoods, parks, business districts, and along trails throughout the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. TreeVitalize Pittsburgh, a partnership led by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy that includes the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Parks Department, and Tree Pittsburgh, has worked with 36 municipalities and 72 different city neighborhoods. Nearly 11,000 volunteers have contributed 31,440 hours of service for tree plantings worth approximately $683,200.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
|| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Tuesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Strip District (Mobile Office)
Pittsburgh Public Market
2401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Thursdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm