As with all aspects of life, things must evolve and change over time. Models that worked in the past may not work in the present or the future. The key is to recognize this and change with the times so that you are not consigned to the past.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what is happening with Allegheny County ?s local government structure. Allegheny County has a 2010 Preliminary Census figure of 1,223,348 spread out over 130 municipalities. Of course, the City of Pittsburgh is the largest entity with a population of 305,704. That leaves a population of 917,644 to be divided up among 129 other municipalities, for an average of 7,114. The actual range of population covers the spectrum from 42,329 for Penn Hills to 70 for Haysville.
Each of these municipalities has a staff of some sort and equipment to maintain, no matter how small or large they are. These municipalities have utility bills, pension payments, health insurance costs, and infrastructure to maintain. Not all of them have police forces to pay, as some are using the Pennsylvania State Police to patrol. In 2012, local municipalities no longer collected their own Earned Income Tax in-house. Rather, it is being done on a county-wide basis, with greater efficiency at less overall cost.
At what point will we say that enough is enough with this outdated form of government ? I ?m not advocating a full absorption of all municipalities into Allegheny County, which is a form of government that Indianapolis has done. What I ?m proposing is a realignment of municipal boundaries into governmental bodies with an attempt to have at least 30,000 residents. It is at this figure that a municipality can appropriately staff the office with a full-time manager and office support staff, a good-sized Public Works Department, and a robust in-house Police force. There is enough of a tax base to support all of these functions and at a proper level.
In recent years, we have seen that some local municipalities are no longer able to support themselves properly. Kilbuck Township has turned most of its core governmental functions (public works, police, township administration) over to Avalon Borough. If Kilbuck is not performing these functions, then what is the point of still existing as a municipality ? Most of Kilbuck ?s recent problems stem from the failed grasp to obtain a commercial tax base by approving the ill-advised Walmart development. By only seeing revenues and ignoring the unstable soils and steep slopes, Kilbuck Township helped cause the massive landslide that blocked Route 65 and endangered the adjacent railroad tracks. If Kilbuck were in a more stable financial position, they may not have felt pressured to pursue a risky development in order to obtain revenues.
A second recent example is Wilkinsburg. In the past few years, they have moved to merge their fire department in with the City of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has already been handling Wilkinsburg ?s trash collection and now there is talk of exploring a merger of the police department. Again, I ask what will be left for Wilkinsburg to do as a local government?
Many opponents of municipal consolidation mention the loss of community identity when one municipality is absorbed into another. How would Wilkinsburg, as an example, be different than any other neighborhood with the City of Pittsburgh, such as Oakland, East Liberty, or Lawrenceville ? All three of these neighborhoods could be their own governmental bodies, but they are established neighborhoods that still have their own identities. Life would not be much different for a merged resident. In fact, the level of service may be better, as some of the struggling municipalities in the County have either severely cut back services to be provided to residents or eliminated them all together. At the end of the day, residents want their local government to pave roads, protect them with a police force, pick up garbage, and plow snow in the wintertime, and if their current municipality does not do it adequately maybe a merged entity would.
To that end, the following is a plan to reduce the 130 municipalities in Allegheny County into a somewhat more manageable 22 municipalities. As a rule of thumb, I tried to maintain a minimum threshold of 30,000 residents into the new entity, but it was not always possible. I also attempted to merge municipalities with relatively similar economic backgrounds or common transportation linkage.
THE NEW PITTSBURGH
City of Pittsburgh + Dormont + Mount Oliver + Homestead + West Homestead + Wilkinsburg + Rankin + Braddock + Swissvale + Edgewood + Stowe + McKees Rocks + Millvale + Etna + Reserve + Sharpsburg (est. pop 381,546)
THE NEW NORTH HILLS
Marshall + Bradford Woods + Franklin Park + Pine + Richland (est. pop 44,153)
McCandless + Ross + West View (est. pop 66,333)
Shaler + Hampton (est. pop 47,120)
West Deer + Indiana (est. pop 19,024)
THE NEW ALLEGHENY VALLEY
Fawn + Frazer + Harrison + East Deer + Tarentum + Brackenridge + Cheswick + Springdale Township + Springdale Borough + Harmar (est. pop 32,992)
O ?Hara + Fox Chapel + Blawnox + Aspinwall (est. pop 18,028)
Oakmont + Verona + Plum (est. pop 35,903)
THE NEW OHIO RIVER
Avalon + Bellevue + Ben Avon + Ben Avon Heights + Emsworth + Kilbuck + Glen Osborne + Aleppo + Haysville + Glenfield + Neville (est. pop 22,195)
Sewickley + Sewickley Hills + Sewickley Heights + Bell Acres + Ohio + Edgeworth + Leet + Leetsdale (est. pop 15,953)
THE NEW WEST HILLS
Moon + Crescent + Corapolis + Findlay (est. pop 37,562)
Robinson + Pennsbury Village + Collier + Bridgeville + Kennedy (est. pop 33,915)
THE NEW SOUTH HILLS
North Fayette + McDonald + Oakdale + South Fayette (est. pop 30,192)
Mount Lebanon + Upper St. Clair + Bethel Park (est. pop 84,679)
Jefferson Hills + South Park + Pleasant Hills (est. pop 32,303)
Crafton + Ingram + Thornburg + Green Tree + Rosslyn Farms + Carnegie + Scott + Heidelburg (est. pop 40, 835)
Baldwin Township + Baldwin Borough + Castle Shannon + Brentwood + Whitehall (est. pop 53,662)
THE NEW EAST HILLS
Penn Hills + Monroeville + Pitcairn (est. pop 74,009)
Churchill + Wilkins + Chalfant + Turtle Creek + Wilmerding + East Pittsburgh + North Braddock + Braddock Hills + Forest Hills + Wall (est. pop 33,364)
THE NEW MON VALLEY
Glassport + Liberty + Port Vue + Lincoln + Elizabeth Borough + Elizabeth Township + West Elizabeth + Dravosburg + Clairton + Forward (est. pop 39,150)
West Mifflin + Duquesne + Whitaker + Munhall (est. pop 38,555)
North Versailles + Versailles + White Oak + McKeesport + East McKeesport + Trafford (est. pop 41,524)
The issue of school districts would be thorny. It is impossible to merge municipalities, keep a certain population threshold, and maintain school district boundaries. Residents in the current delineated municipalities would stay in their current school district; it’s not as if there aren’t streets in Allegheny County already that one side of the street goes to one school district and the other side goes to another school district.
There would be a loss of jobs associated with this plan. Police routes that may border adjacent municipalities may be blended together. Perhaps the merged municipalities would need a few less public works employees. There may not be a need for multiple police chiefs, unless some would be willing to become a captain. Some of the job loss can be achieved through attrition, with the rest through layoffs.
The management side of operations would be streamlined, as well. There would not be a need for multiple municipal managers, engineers, finance officers, and public works directors. But things would run more efficiently and work would not be stalled by municipalities that cannot afford to perform basic services such as paving roads or replacing roadway signs. These job losses through elimination of function duplication are the reason why the merged municipalities will have a better long-term chance to succeed.
There would be less municipalities fighting over the ever-shrinking pot of grant monies. Instead of a struggling municipality siphoning off funds to create a small skateboard park that it can ?t afford to maintain, imagine a more economically stable group of municipalities creating a right-sized park that appeals to all age groups. It ?s a more efficient way of divvying up the pool of money and ensuring that we can all live in stable communities.
This is an issue that will positively impact the future of Allegheny County for the remainder of the 21st century and needs to be discussed more honestly than heretofore.
It is up to you to step back and consider your position on this issue, then contact your local State Representative or Senator and ask for municipal consolidation legislation improvements to be seriously discussed in the Legislature.