Updated: Dec 1, 2020
Photo by Lynne Deliman
By Jamie Wiggan
Despite technical issues cutting short its Nov. 10 virtual business meeting, McKees Rocks Council moved forward with motions lowering the town’s amusement tax rate, approving artwork for a saltbox decorating contest and accepting a resignation request from the code enforcement officer.
Slated for the top of the agenda, Kinsey Miller, a community forester for environmental non-profit Tree Pittsburgh, was unable to deliver her full presentation due to persistent audio issues.
Before exiting the call, Miller was able to outline her organization’s mission statement and pointed to data showing tree canopy loss in McKees Rocks during the last decade. She said she has worked with other municipalities across Allegheny County to combat urban tree deterioration.
President Paul Krisby apologized for the tech issues and tried to set a quick pace for the rest of the agenda items, which were also hampered by continued sound quality problems. He asked Miller to return in the future to finish her presentation.
“I think it’s a great idea, thanks for looking into this,” he said.
After agreeing to the terms in September and putting it out to advertise in October, council voted this month to amend its amusement tax rate to 5%.
Prior to the amendment, a 10% amusement tax law passed in 1983 existed on the records but has been enforced inconsistently in recent years. The tax applies directly to ticket fees charged for live entertainment events.
The recent arrival of the Roxian Theatre and other smaller music venues prompted council to revisit the old ordinance, where initial discussions turned heated. The lower rate approved this month reflects a compromise that was backed by all members of council.
Manager Ruth Pompey said she has been putting together a preliminary 2021 budget with no tax increases despite the continued economic headwinds caused by the coronavirus.
Pompey said income and expenditures will be balanced at around $4.503 million next year — about $145,000 lower than the initial projections for this year. Pompey said real estate revenue for 2020 has been better than expected in light of the pandemic, and revenue from garbage services had by November already reached the amount expected for the year.
Krisby said the borough was nevertheless feeling the pinch of pandemic-related business restrictions.
“We’re in the hole right now but we’re gonna do the best we can,” he said.
Hitting on a hot button issue after reported incidents of police racism and brutality dominated national headlines for much of the year, Councilwoman Leslie Walker recommended McKees Rocks police acquire officer body cameras.
“I think we should have the cameras,” she said. “I think it would make the officers more safe, and also it would make the community more safe.”
Chief Rick Deliman said he was happy to look into options but stressed the department also needs to replace its current vehicle cameras and suggested they be approached together.
Krisby said he would ask the borough’s contracted grant-writer, Kim Hileman of Dentons Cohen & Grigsby, to look into public funding options.
Council approved student and community submissions for coating the borough’s salt boxes with festive designs and picked out a winner for a $100 gift card donated by Councilman Chas Maritz.
Maritz said he was approached by Lynne Deliman and other community volunteers earlier in the fall and immediately supported the idea.
So far around 12 designs have been submitted. Bobby Thompson Jr., street department foreman, said there are a total of 18-20 saltboxes awaiting decoration, 12 of which were recently built by the department.
Two years after joining the borough as a full-time code enforcer in 2018, Tom McAllister has accepted a new position elsewhere. His resignation was formally approved during the meeting.
“Tom has moved on,” Krisby said. “We wish him well and we’ll look for a new code enforcer in the near future.”
The code enforcement officer works closely with the building inspector and is charged with ensuring commercial and residential property owners comply with local ordinances. Prior to hiring McAllister and Building Inspector John Stahl as full-time employees, the borough contracted corporate firm Building Underwriters Inspections to oversee this work.