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Process and outcomes unfair: testimonial

Submitted by Paul O’Hanlon to WF, posted with permission. O’Hanlon shared this text verbally in a Pittsburgh City Council public hearing on December 4, 2021.

My name is Paul O’Hanlon, I live on S. Braddock Ave., just across the street from Pittsburgh. After living in the City for over 60 years, my wife fell in love with a house just across the border in Wilkinsburg and I’ve been a Wilkinsburg resident for the past 4 years. The house we purchased in Wilkinsburg has very high real estate taxes, that I can’t deny. However, the tax burden on the property was reflected in the sales price of the house. In effect, we got a bargain on the price because of the high taxes. Speaking in all candor, it would be extremely profitable to me if Wilkinsburg was annexed by the City, and if my taxes were lowered and my house not reassessed… but it wouldn’t be fair.

But, even though the current annexation proposal would be personally profitable to me, I don’t support this annexation effort, and I certainly don’t support holding a referendum in a Primary Election where voter participation is predictably lower, and where people not registered Democrat or Republican have little reason to vote. I question the motive and ethics of the proponents of this effort for proposing to hold a referendum in a Primary Election.

I don’t support the annexation effort because it offers no benefit to the majority of Wilkinsburg residents and it’s a terribly divisive issue. We’re told that annexation would improve things for the Wilkinsburg business district and would lower real estate taxes. This doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Number 1 – Look at Homewood, Larimer, West End, Sheridan, Elliot, Central Northside – the decline of neighborhood business districts is a regional or national problem. This isn’t just a Wilkinsburg problem. A case can be made that our business district is surviving better than some of these city neighborhood business districts.

Number 2 – the majority of Wilkinsburg residents are renters – who don’t pay real estate taxes. But renters do pay wage taxes, and the wage tax in Wilkinsburg is lower than Pittsburgh’s. Furthermore, our rents are lower than Pittsburgh’s. So, the annexation proposal would make things worse for the majority of Wilkinsburg residents . . . why would anyone support this proposal?

Finally, it’s worth noting that property taxes in Wilkinsburg haven’t been raised since 2004. School taxes peaked in 2012 and have been falling since then. The financial distress of Wilkinsburg isn’t something new. But the finances have been improving. What has changed is that Wilkinsburg has become a majority minority, majority Black community . . . Which makes this effort now, particularly divisive. A better use of our time and resources would be to work with Wilkinsburg renters to become homeowners and expand that tax base.

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