Monday, November 28, 2005

Traffic Calming Meeting for Ward 1

Commissioner Barbara Logan will discuss Mt. Lebanon's Traffic Calming Program and answer questions from residents concerning traffic problems. The discussion will center around the area of Mt. Lebanon in the general area of Bower Hill Road, Beverly Road, Arden Road and the surrounding and connecting streets.

Where: Children's Reading Room, Mt. Lebanon Public Library
When: Wednesday, November 30 at 7:00 PM

All are invited and encouraged to attend.

For more information, contact Bernie Pike at fourpikes at
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Threat of Terror?

According to the P-G, an abandon briefcase left outside Molly Brannigan's was blown up by the Allegheny County bomb squad on Sunday. I'd be interested to learn whether there was a perceived terror threat, or was this merely standard operating procedure for the authorities?

UPDATE: The Trib has more coverage of the incident. Though it is still not clear why the briefcase was perceived to be a threat, or who notified the police of its presence on Washington Rd? Is this a case of overreaction? I am inclined to think so, but it's all mere speculation until we get more information.
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Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lebo: Business Improvement District

The November 2005 issue of Mt. Lebanon magazine included an innocuous-sounding description of something called a "Business Improvement District," which funds various marketing and maintenance programs for commercial districts, such as the Washington and Beverly Road areas in Mt. Lebanon. Apparently, one or more BID proposals are being discussed for Mt. Lebanon.

Read the piece -- which I've copied below -- and before you agree that it sounds like a good idea, ask yourself: If Mt. Lebanon residents were asked to vote on an increase in their local taxes to support marketing and maintenance for the Washington Road business community, would that tax pass?

My answer: Of course not. Then what's going on with this Business Improvement District proposal? I'm intrigued by how carefully the article does not use the t-word, but it sure sounds like a tax to me. And when I see a new tax proposal, I wonder: Who has the power to pass the tax, and who would be paying the tax? Mt. Lebanon residents, who have the most to gain from a more attractive retail community, neither pass the tax nor pay it. Owners of retail real estate in defined zones tax themselves by forming a BID. But it's a curious sort of ballot: a mere 60% of the property owners have to agree in order for the tax to pass, and silence, in the face of the proposal, signifies assent. If 100% of the affected property owners agree, then there is no problem, at least not for current property owners and merchants, but if fewer than 100% agree, then the tax strikes me as a least a little unjust. If I'm a (hypothetical) small business owner who is out there aggressively marketing my business, why should I have to underwrite marketing plans for my neighbors who aren't doing anything to help themselves?

Moreover, who pays? Mt. Lebanon property owners and merchants do, but at least some of them don't live in Mt. Lebanon. Their customers pay, via higher prices, and at least some of them also don't live in Mt. Lebanon. Importantly, would-be new business owners and property owners pay, and at least some of whom may be discouraged from moving to Mt. Lebanon by being forced to subsidize BID improvements. Is it fair, then, for the taxpayers of Mt. Lebanon who, sensibly, wouldn't pay for this stuff themselves, to allow the BID process to be used to extract a tax from those who don't live here? I'm skeptical; though I understand that PA law authorizes the BID process described in the magazine, the more democratic thing to do would be to run improvements through the Commission, so that indirectly at least, the taxpayers and voters of Mt. Lebanon could have a say in the matter.

The reason that this may matter is this. I'm *not* suggesting that residents should pay increased taxes in order to build a nicer retail district. Instead, residents might conclude that Mt. Lebanon would be better off with a *lower* tax structure for attracting new businesses.

One last note: I may be wrong about all of this, and Mt. Lebanon merchants and property owners may already believe that the BID concept is one worth pursuing. Is that right?

Over the past two years, business owners along Washington and Beverly Roads have reorganized themselves into active business associations, reaching out to new businesses on the street, creating new opportunities for promotion (like Washington Road’s First Friday street fair) and electing new, generally young leadership with high expectations for success.

However, fewer than half the eligible businesses in each district pay the annual dues that fund the associations’ programs and activities, even though everyone enjoys the same benefits. One way to remedy this imbalance is to create a business improvement district (BID)—a clearly defined geographic area in which all property owners agree to assess themselves the expenses of an annual promotional or improvement program. In the past, both Washington and Beverly roads financed their streetscapes through BIDs that allowed for special assessments but became inactive after the projects were completed because of a “sunset” provision in the charters that allowed for their expiration after five years.

Interest in reviving the BID concept in Mt. Lebanon’s commercial districts has been gathering steam. In September, Mt. Lebanon’s commercial districts office invited Bill Fontana, executive director of the Pennsylvania Downtown Center, to speak to a group of Washington Road business owners about revitalization and the important role a business improvement district can play in creating a thriving downtown. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are provided for by state law and allow property owners to assess themselves to pay for commonly defined needs of the business district, as decided by a steering committee. Each BID defines these activities, which can range from promotion to district maintenance to consumer marketing and business recruitment, and everyone is assessed a fair share of the cost required to carry out the common goal.

Mt. Lebanon has been designated as a 2005 “achiever” by the National Main Street Center of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). This means that while Mt. Lebanon was only recently designated an official Main Street community, we had previously achieved many of the goals set forth by the program. Mt. Lebanon’s proactivity also moves us closer to the top of the list for future Main Street revitalization funds, says Fontana. Incentives like last year’s matching grant façade rehabilitation program—low-interest loan programs, sidewalk rehabilitation, plantings, snow removal, litter control, coordinated sales, promotions and improved signage throughout the district and other extras “with no government strings attached,” he says, are all possibilities offered to BIDs through the Main Street program and the Pennsylvania DCED.

If a group of business and property owners decides to form a BID, it consults with the municipality to finance a work plan. A steering committee decides the BID’s budget—how much is needed—and the property owners pay a pro-rated portion of the fee, which can be based on square footage, a percentage of assessed value, or benefits to the property owner. The group then informs property owners in the district and holds two public hearings to craft revisions and review objections. These have to be submitted within a specific time frame. If 40 percent or more of the property owners submit written objections, the BID is defeated. If the BID passes, the agreed-upon fees are binding, and lienable by state law, and the BID remains in place for a minimum of five years.

The Mt. Lebanon Partnership, the new community development corporation established last April, would implement BID funds, which average $250 to $300 per property owner. To learn more about BID legislation, go to, and click on “Commercial Districts.” To share comments or questions about the idea of a business improvement district on either Washington or Beverly Roads, contact Mame Bradley at the commercial districts office: 412-343-3412.

Note: I went to, and I clicked on "Commercial Districts." I didn't see anything labeled "Business Improvement Districts" or "Proposed BIDs" or anything similar. What am I missing?
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Friday, November 25, 2005

Mt. Lebanon High School marks 75 years of theater

Last week, the P-G had a nice story about the high school celebrating the theater department's 75th anniversary. If you're a former thespian (or theater techie) and would like to make sure you get an invitation to the Theater Department Reunion this spring, drop Mrs. Schreiner an email at cschreiner at
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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Lebo: Election Update

In the Links at right, I've taken down links to the (now-concluded) campaigns for School Board and Commissioner, and added links to candidates for the 42nd House District seat currently occupied by Tom Stevenson.
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Monday, November 21, 2005

Lebo: News Update

I've been traveling, and I missed some things. Over at Aldo Coffee, Rich has the news:

Mt. Lebanon Light Up Night (How was it?)

Passing of Tony Caruso

Disappointment over Blog-Lebo's "Blogger account required" comments rule

And more updates than I can link to about Aldo's excellent menu and entertainment!
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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Taxes Expected To Rise But Not Millage

Article regarding the upcoming budget and the proposed increase to the earned income tax:

Link -
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Friday, November 11, 2005

Scout Survey Analyzes Central Business District

Interesting article regarding an Eagle Scout's project to analyze Mt. Lebanon's Central Business District:

Link -
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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Final Paper Street Reading of 2005 - Next Week

If you haven't had the chance to attend any of Paper Street Press' readings yet, your last chance for the 2005 season is next week.

Writers Kristin Kovacic and Jim Ray Daniels will be reading from 7:00-9:00 PM on Thursday November 17, 2005 at The Coffee Den, 1082 Bower Hill Road (next to St. Clair Hospital).

Kristin Kovacic is the editor of Birth: A Literary Companion. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in many periodicals, including, Brain, Child Magazine, Puerto del Sol, The Cimarron Review, Gulf Stream Magazine, and Third Coast. Her work has been recognized by the Academy of American Poets, and she is the recipient of fellowships in poetry from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She teaches in the M.F.A. writing program at Chatham College and in the literary arts department of the Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. She appears in the Fall ’05 issue of Paper Street.

Jim Ray Daniels’' most recent work includes Street, a collection of poems and the photos of photographer and Carnegie Mellon professor Charlee Brodsky, and Dumpster, an independent feature film he wrote and produced, both of which appeared in 2005. He is the author of eight books of poems, including Show and Tell: New and Selected Poems which was a finalist for the 2004 Paterson Poetry Prize. His second book of short stories, Detroit Tales received a bronze medal for the 2004 ForeWord Book of the Year. In addition, he has edited or co-edited four anthologies of poetry, including Letters to America: Contemporary American Poetry on Race and American Poetry: The Next Generation. He wrote the screenplay for "No Pets," an independent feature film directed by Tony Buba, and wrote "Heart of Hearts," a one-act play produced at the 13th Street Repertory Theater in New York. He has received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and two from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His poems have appeared in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry anthologies. He is the Thomas Stockham Baker Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. He appeared in the Spring ’05 issue of Paper Street.
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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Lebo: Sporting News

This coming Friday, the Mt. Lebanon High School football team plays McKeesport at Canon-MacMillan in the WPIAL Quad A Semifinals. Congrats on making it this far, and good luck Friday night!

But the football team is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to Lebo athletics. In the Comments, please post accounts of the highlights of the Fall season -- team and individual performances, across all sports, from varsity to club. I suspect that there are a few proud parents, coaches, and fans out there. Let's hear it.
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Lebo: Now Get to Work

Congratulations to the winners of Mt. Lebanon's elections yesterday:

It appears that Mark Hart, Alan Silhol, Dan Remely, and Josephine Posti were elected to the School Board, and it appears that John Daley defeated Ty Ely to earn the Ward 2 seat on the Mt. Lebanon Commission. At least, those are the unofficial results reported in this morning's news and on the Allegheny County website.

Getting elected, of course, is the easy part. Now you have to govern. Rest assured that while the citizens of Mt. Lebanon who voted for you will have your back, you have a lot of skeptics. And even your supporters will be watching more closely than ever to make sure that you're holding up the taxpayers' end of the bargain. For our new School Board members: No mucking around in staffing minutiae. Let the professional educators get all the children of the District the education they deserve. From the Board, we want some real fiscal accountability.

For all of you who promised more transparency in School Board and municipal operations and decision-making -- which is to say, all of you -- this blog will remain open both for your efforts to communicate with the town, and for taxpayers' efforts to communicate with you. You're all welcome here.
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Sunday, November 06, 2005

Lebo: Blowing His Own Horn

A recording project by Lebo resident and Symphony trumpeter Neil Berntsen is profiled in this piece in today's Post-Gazette.
The setting is a basement recording studio, one sunny afternoon this past August. Berntsen is sweating the details, trying to match his phrasing with that of a previously recorded track in a piece for multiple trumpets.

Bernstsen was the other trumpeter -- and would eventually be all the trumpeters in this ensemble piece. The idea was to see just how far technology can go in enhancing music-making.

"It has been an enormous project," Berntsen says. "I knew it would be big, but I didn't realize the scope of it. The final disc will be 70 minutes, but if I add up all the parts I play, it is five hours and 56 minutes to record! It is like putting out six CDs."


Buy this recording, and Neil's recordings with the Pittsburgh Symphony Brass (perfect for Christmas!):
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Lebo: Election Heats Up

With two days to go before Tuesday's school board election, undoubtedly the candidates are moving heaven and earth to get out the vote.

Apparently, there is also a get-out-the-vote effort underway on behalf of a non-candidate.

Friends tell me that they received an email message proposing a write-in vote for Ron Hoffman, the former President of the school board who was defeated in last spring's primary. The message didn't come from him, and even if the message is authentic -- and I have no idea whether it is -- it sounds to me like a "Draft Ron Hoffman" campaign rather than something that he might organize himself.

Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday's vote, I've been hoping that the result will allow the municipality to move beyond a lot of the bitterness that we've seen locally over the last year. Maybe that won't be the case.
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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Lebo: New Budget Pending

The P-G summarizes the new proposed Mt. Lebanon budget.
The $38.5 million plan, revealed Tuesday, calls for millions in increases and new expenses, including $384,000 in additional pension contributions; $200,000 to beef up the fund balance; and $335,000 in increased staff health care costs, including $234,000 for a new medical trust fund to ensure retirees' health care can be paid in the future.

Increased fuel and utility bills will cost an additional $123,000, road salt costs will increase $42,000 and negotiated labor wage raises are $262,000 more than 2005 levels.

To balance the budget, Municipal Manager Stephen Feller has suggested increasing the earned income tax rate 0.1 percent, which would bring the rate to 1.4 percent, including the 0.8 percent share that goes to the school district. The increase would cost a household with Mt. Lebanon's median income of $61,000 an additional $61 next year.

How does this affect tax rates?
So [Manager Stephen] Feller has suggested the commissioners agree to increase the property tax millage from 4.57 mills to 4.91 mills -- then immediately roll it back to 4.57 mills to fulfill the requirements of the charter. That would be a paper transaction that would have no effect on residents' property tax bills.

Mr. Feller acknowledged some people may say that proposal isn't what the Home Rule Charter intended but he said he prefers raising the earned income tax to increasing property tax. The municipality did the same thing in 2003 when the earned income tax was increased another 0.1 percent, and some residents complained.

The earned income tax increase would generate about $984,000 in revenue, although only $787,000 would come in before 2007 because of the filing deadlines.

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Mt. Lebanon's deer population

The Trib has a story on plans to cull the deer population in Mt. Lebanon.

Anyone have any thoughts on a possible cull?
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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Lebo: Election Coming

This is another reminder that next Tuesday, November 8, is election day. In Mt. Lebanon, there are six candidates for four spots on the School Board. Five candidates have information on the web, and links to their sites (Jo Posti, and the four candidates running together as the "Value in Education" team) are on the right side of this blog. In addition, there is a contest for Commissioner for the Second Ward, where John Daley (who has a website, also listed to the right) is running against the incumbent, Ty Ely.

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