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 msn.com
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 www.mtlebanon.org, 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.
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."
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.
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.