IssuesPA

July 31 2010

As huge generators of economic growth and the two largest governments in the 10-county region, Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh require special attention for functional and structural reforms to benefit the region.

The better the coordination among these two governments, the more effective the development and execution of a regional agenda for economic growth and quality of life will be.

A History of Reform

Effective governance has been a goal of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce since the early 1900s, the Pennsylvania Economy League of Southwestern Pennsylvania since the 1930s and a priority of the Conference since its inception in 1944. As long ago as 1950, the Economy League recommended a comprehensive overhaul of municipal and county government operations to eliminate service duplication and optimize operations.

Although the Economy League, the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and the Conference have worked together over the years to try to encourage such changes, there is still a long way to go. With a number of obstacles standing in the way of reform, including a resistance to changing the status quo, structural and legislative changes take a long time to accomplish.

Large Steps Forward

In spite of the challenges, the Conference and its Affiliates have worked successfully to bring about a number of major government reforms in recent years through research and analysis, working with regional partners to advocate for policy reform, and drafting legislation, including:

  • The establishment in 1995 of a tax-base sharing mechanism, the Allegheny Regional Asset District. Raising the Allegheny County sales tax from 6 to 7 percent, the extra 1 percent is split between reduction of local taxes and funding for regional assets such as stadiums, museums, parks, libraries and cultural groups.
  • The 1998 Home Rule Charter of Allegheny County. It replaced three county commissioners with a county council and a county chief executive. The Charter acts as a local constitution, allowing the county to adapt its practices and operations as it sees fit without seeking permission from the state. Learn more about the Charter on the Allegheny County Web site.
  • The reform of row offices in 2006. By a 3-1 referendum vote, Allegheny County reduced the number of elected positions from 10 to four. Filling the consolidated positions by appointment is saving money and increasing operating efficiency.

The Current Climate: City/County Cooperation

The lack of consistent cooperation between them presents a significant challenge to the region’s economic development. However, many opportunities exist for cooperation to streamline these operations.

In 2006, the Conference and the Heinz Endowments sponsored a trip to Charlotte, N.C. – the first-ever joint fact-finding trip taken by senior county and city officials. The delegation learned firsthand about that region’s 35-year history of consolidating the services of the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato and City of Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl publicly stated their support for working together to enhance our local government. In November 2006, they established the Citizens Advisory Committee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of City-County Government. In April 2008, the Committee released its recommendations on how the County and City should work together more efficiently and effectively and address city/county structural consolidation. The report recommended: 1. the City and County further intensify existing functional cooperation; 2. they formalize that cooperation by signing a “cooperation compact”; and 3. the question of structural consolidation should go before the voters at the earliest appropriate time. The entire report may be read at www.pitt.edu/news/citycountyreport.pdf.

Supporting the Committee

Having researched government operations and consolidation models for many years, the Conference and Affiliates support the Citizens Advisory Committee by serving as an ongoing informational resource, providing relevant research and analysis as requested on issues of consolidation, including reports on other city/county consolidation models. View the Economy League report on other consolidation models: A Comparative Analysis of City/County Consolidation (PDF file).

Regional Benchmarking

The Citizens Advisory Committee asked the Conference to plan and lead its July 2007 fact-finding trip to Louisville, Ky. to learn about the structural consolidation of the City of Louisville and Jefferson County. The goal was to learn firsthand why and how the Louisville Metro consolidation was planned and implemented. Chief Executive Onorato and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl traveled to Louisville with the Committee.

Beginning to Work Together

In October 2007, Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh announced the Western Pennsylvania Energy Aggregation Program, an effort to create what could be the largest energy purchasing initiative in our region’s history and reduce energy costs for taxpayers. Learn more about this initiative.

In January 2006, Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh announced two joint initiatives which are improving government efficiency and producing savings for taxpayers:

  • a joint purchasing agreement, which applies to commodities such as road salt, computers and office supplies
  • a joint telecommunications purchasing contract, projected to save $4.5 million

The groundwork for these agreements was laid as part of the Conference’s City/County purchasing consolidation initiative in 2003 that recommended merged purchasing functions as a critical initiative. Other functional consolidation opportunities, such as parks and space utilization initiatives, are being researched.

Allegheny Conference  |  Contact Information

Pittsburgh Regional Alliance  |   Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce
Pennsylvania Economy League of Southwestern Pennsylvania

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