MERGER? Pittsburgh study prompts caution from local leaders



Bordering the City of Pittsburgh, the above communities could be impacted by a study designed to ascertain benefits to city citizens of mergers of annexations with border municipalities.


-MUNICIPAL-


By Jamie Wiggan


Municipal leaders West of Pittsburgh have responded cautiously to a new city council bill calling for an exploration into merger possibilities with surrounding communities.


The bill, passed Jan. 25, authorizes council to investigate whether mergers or annexations with surrounding towns, public safety departments or school districts “would be the desire of and in the best interest of the Citizens of Pittsburgh.”


Officials from Crafton, Ingram and McKees Rocks – which all share a border with Pittsburgh – say they have not yet received communication from the city. None expressed much optimism at this point in the process. “I think it would be a real hard sell to the community,” said David Flick, McKees Rocks mayor, adding, “There’s nothing wrong with thinking about options…I would be in support of any positive outcomes that would benefit the people who live here.”


Crafton Mayor Coletta Perry said borough officials had discussed the city bill in the days following its passage but were opting to “take a step back” and await further communication from the city.


According to Pittsburgh Council President Theresa Kail-Smith, the aim is to create a template for framing future discussions about mergers and consolidations, particularly in terms of gauging public preferences. The bill was prompted by a contested effort from a non-government entity to join Wilkinsburg with Pittsburgh, which now looks unlikely in the near future.

“There should be a process in place, so if anyone would want to merge, this would be the process,” said Kail-Smith, who represents a swath of the city’s western neighborhoods including Sheraden, Elliott, West End Village and Crafton Heights.


Kail-Smith said annexing boroughs near her district could potentially boost the city’s often-neglected westside with more residents and resources, but she said she would wait to see the outcome of the investigation before arriving at a conclusion.


“I think I would like to look at the numbers and evaluate what that would mean for the city,” she said.


She said council committees – including parks and recreation, public safety and human resources – would each conduct their own research and report back on their findings.


Public safety is frequently raised as a discussion point in merger conversations, especially as volunteer fire departments struggle with shrinking funding and membership.


Ingram borough has contracted with Pittsburgh for its fire service since 2016, but Council President Sam Nucci said this is as far as his community is interested in partnering with its city neighbors.


“We have zero interest in any annexation or merger talks,” he said. “We have the best of both worlds with [the Montour School District], low taxes and professional fire service.”


Kail-Smith said customary mergers or partnerships like the Ingram-Pittsburgh fire contract will be explored as part of the investigation.


Under Pennsylvania law, if a city council – like Pittsburgh’s – approves an annexation process, residents of the community in question get the final say through a ballot referendum.


Pittsburgh last annexed an entire municipality – Overbrook Borough – in 1930, and added several small land parcels during the 1940s and 1950s.


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