Friday, March 30, 2007

Mt. Lebanon’s Don Kelly Makes The Pirates

The Pirates' opening-day roster will have some local flavor, as Don Kelly today was told he made the team. Kelly, of Mt. Lebanon, got a spot as a utility infielder when veteran Jose Hernandez was reassigned.

Kelly, 27, signed as a minor league free agent in November, after spending six years in the Detroit Tigers organization. He was a NAIA All-American at Point Park University.



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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

MLFE Needs Your Help

I know that I'm not the only MTLHS grad that reads this blog, so I thought I would share this little tidbit of information I received in an email today from the Mt. Lebanon Foundation For Education:

As an alum of Mt. Lebanon High School, your opinion matters to us.

The Foundation has begun to reach out to all Mt. Lebanon Alumni to reconnect you to what is happening at your alma mater and to each other. One way that we are doing this is through this newsletter. We have also devoted a page of our website to you so that you may update your classmates on what has happened since graduation.

Our Foundation has the capacity to do more to help connect alumni with Mt. Lebanon School District and to each other. We'd appreciate it if you could help us think about ways that we could do this. Since we started sending this newsletter, some of you have emailed with suggestions about how we can help send information about reunions and other social events to your fellow alumni.

You are invited to join us to talk about the Foundation and how we might be able to provide more opportunities for alumni to reconnect to our schools and old friends. We are holding an informal meeting on Tuesday, April 17 at 7:00 PM at the office of Gatto Associates, Suite 14, 750 Washington Rd. in Mt. Lebanon. If you'd like to share your ideas or just learn more about the Mt. Lebanon Foundation for Education, please RSVP at 412.478.7743 or If you can't make this meeting but have ideas to share, you may call or email us with your suggestions.

We look forward to hearing from you and to working with you to better serve the alumni of Mt. Lebanon.


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Friday, March 23, 2007

Another Lance From The Trib

From today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Lance: To the Mt. Lebanon school board. It has voted to give a $6.1 million tax-increment-financing package to the developer of a very tony condominium project on land the municipality has held, undeveloped, for decades. Taxpayers have no business underwriting capital costs that should be borne by a private developer. Can we trust that Mt. Lebanon commissioners will reject this nonsense when they consider it? OK, stop laughing.


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Demand-Side Ideas for Mt. Lebanon

It's fun to speculate about ideas for new stores and restaurants on Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon, but the reality may be that existing foot traffic isn't sufficient to support many of these hypothetical shops.

Instead of these "supply side" ideas for Mt. Lebanon, how about "demand side" ideas? Specifically, build up the traffic. Stores, shops, restaurants, etc. may follow.

This requires a bit of investigation and a bit of coordination. The investigation might be this: There are three multi-story office buildings in "Uptown" Mt. Lebanon. What's the vacancy rate? What's the turnover rate? And how much does space currently cost? If the buildings are fully leased, then this idea doesn't get very far. But if they aren't . . . how about this:

Make Mt. Lebanon, and Washington Road in particular, the South Hills home of the start-up technology community in Pittsburgh. There are little companies all over Pittsburgh -- in Oakland, on the South Side, in the Strip, up in Wexford. What do little companies need? Inexpensive space, food for lunch and dinner, and access to a coffee shop with free wireless. If Mt. Lebanon has a surplus of office space, then building owners and managers -- and their lenders -- could discount their rents to get occupancy rates up and to help business across the neighborhood.* Folks who work at tech startups have boundless energy; work all day and all night; and need to eat and shop near where they work.

There are plenty of entrepreneurs and investors living in Mt. Lebanon already who could be approached to participate on the tenant side. Some of them are affiliated with Pittsburgh's leading tech development organizations, such as Innovation Works.

Discuss. Please.

(* Yes, I know that Mt. Lebanon once had a single tech startup on Washington Road:, founded by Mt. Lebanon guys, which has since relocated to Oakland. If it had company -- and tech startups gather in clusters -- maybe it could have stayed.)

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The "Right" Look for Mt. Lebanon

Should the Municipality of Mt. Lebanon take an active role in promoting development by businesses and stores that fit an "upscale" image and discouraging development by businesses and stores that don't?

Big cities in this country compete for scarce development proposals. Downtown Pittsburgh has to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up, and it has to work to solicit and cultivate development interest accordingly. But given the demographics of Mt. Lebanon and its adjacent communities, there can't be a shortage of businesses that would like to move in. (Can there? If I'm wrong, please point that out.) If that's true, should the Municipality actively "manage" the mix? It's one thing to enforce zoning rules (no porn shops near a school), but it's something else entirely to discourage the "wrong sort of development." The question has nothing specifically to do with the Washington Park proposal, but it's obviously related. The specific prompt comes from comments on earlier posts about the Dyke business across the street from someday-perhaps Washington Park. The building is clearly dated, and it's not consistent with an "upscale" image. But it's not a menace, and it's not a nuisance. Should that matter?

If I could wave a magic wand over Washington Road, I would relocate the medical offices that now have sidewalk frontage, or consolidate them in a single building (sidewalk access being important to older patients, I assume), and replace them with stores, more restaurants, and maybe another gallery or two. How about a fountain/drug store combination? A specialty bookstore that's open in the evening? A bagel store that sells real bagels? A toy store that sells the kinds of hands-on, imagination-enlivening toys that parents want their kids to play with (and that kids typically love), not the mass merchandised stuff available at and Toys R Us? How about a consignment/resale store for children's clothing? If I thought there was real life in the motion picture exhibition business, I'd want to throw in with some friends and put the Denis theater back together.

But I don't have a magic wand, and I'm content to express my view -- as we all can -- and then let what passes for the free market do its work. I'd let Dyke be Dyke, come what may (unless the building really does start to fall down, though there's no indication of that happening). I'd encourage the Municipality to be as welcoming and open for business as it possibly can be: any credible business (well-planned, managed, and funded) should be welcome here.

I'm not privy to what actually happens in the Municipality's offices; I'm not challenging or critiquing whatever the Commercial District Office does or does not do. What I'm curious about is what citizens of the town think that the Municipality should do.

Discuss. Please.

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Allegheny Institute on the Lebo TIF

The local free-marketeering Allegheny Institute is unhappy with both the Mt. Lebanon School Board and the municipality. Here's a taste of a long post from the Allegheny Institute blog, today:
The real problem is that local officials want to control who does the building and what type of residential development gets built. They do not trust the market to do the job. So, we have years of behind the scenes deal making to get a project done that suits the officials. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands in potential tax revenues have not been collected as would have happened if the property had been turned over to a developer and developed years ago.

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Lebo School Board Signs on to TIF

From the Tribune-Review:

The Mt. Lebanon School Board on Monday night approved a controversial tax-increment financing plan for a proposed luxury condominium complex.

The board voted, 6-3, to give a $6.1 million tax break to developer Zamagias Properties for the $42.8 million project at Washington and Bower Hill roads.

Board members Mark Hart, Jo Posti and Susan Rose voted against the plan, which moves to the Mt. Lebanon commissioners for consideration.

[MJM note: Hart and Posti were the School Board members of the TIF committee.]

The commissioners will have a public hearing on the proposal at 6 p.m. Monday and vote on the tax break in April.

At least one commissioner told the school board last night that he is in favor of the plan.

"It's important to move forward with this project," Commissioner John Daley said. "It's an important project."

If the commissioners turn down the tax break, Zamagias officials have said the project -- planned on a vacant strip owned by the municipal parking authority -- likely will not happen.

Under tax-increment financing, money that would have been paid as property taxes can be used for infrastructure improvements. The Zamagias project calls for the addition of 50 public parking spaces; a new park, plaza and bus shelter; and road improvements along Bower Hill Road.

"The issue at hand is whether we should divert tax dollars for elements of this project," Hart said.

He explained that he doesn't believe school tax dollars should be used for improvements -- such as building a turning lane -- which he sees as the responsibility of the municipality.

But board President Joseph Rodella and others who supported the plan said it is important to look at the increased revenues the project will bring the school district.

"It's a pretty difficult issue. ... We're a landlocked community with escalating costs," Rodella said.

An independent financial analysis by Janney Montgomery Scott said that the amount of money that would be pledged by the school board and municipality is reasonable because it represents new income rather than an existing revenue source and would not impact their budgets.

The report said that when completed, the assessment of the 1.71-acre site will increase $845,000 to $37.3 million and generate $20.7 million in tax revenue over a 30-year period.

Any revenue generated by increases in the property tax rate would go to the taxing bodies, not the project.

The 72-unit condominium complex would be built in two phases with a total of 14,000 square feet of retail space. Condo units will cost from $290,000 to $1.1 million.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

New Banners for Blog-Lebo

Blog-Lebo is getting a facelift and a little more color. Three new banners have been uploaded. Press F5 to reload, and you may see a different one. I included photos of some but not all of my favorite Mt. Lebanon signs.

These may stay, or change; more may be added. Because the light wasn't right this afternoon, I wasn't able to get photos of any of Mt. Lebanon's schools or churches, synagogues, or other congregations, or the library, and there are many more interesting signs in town than I could include here. Also, to protect personal privacy, I didn't want to take photos of homes without the residents' permission.

If you have a photo -- one that you've taken yourself -- that you'd like to offer the blog, please feel free to send it my way, and I may add it to the rotation. I'm using images that are 760 pixels tall by some fewer number of pixels wide.


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Thursday, March 15, 2007

MTLSD Music Program A Big Hit

In tune to the importance of music education, the Mt. Lebanon and Quaker Valley school districts were named among the Best 100 Communities for Music Education in America for 2007 in a national survey.

Thousands of teachers, school and district administrators, school board members, parents and community leaders representing communities in all 50 states participated in an Internet-based survey sponsored by the NAMM Foundation, its American Music Conference and a partnership of national associations working to promote the benefits of active participation in music and music education.

The Mt. Lebanon community strongly supports arts in the schools and that was a key factor in its recognition in the Best 100 said Mariann Fox, the district's supervisor of fine arts.


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Golf Course Gets Face Lift This Summer

The Mt. Lebanon Municipal Golf Course on Pine Avenue will have a slight face-lift just in time for its centennial celebration this summer. On Monday, Mt. Lebanon commissioners awarded a $332,000 contract to Frontier Construction Co., of Jones Mills, Westmoreland County, for Phase I of the golf course master plan.

According to Mt. Lebanon Recreation Director David Donnellan, Phase I will improve the drainage on the bunkers and greens, add new tees and bunkers, and make the fifth green more visible from the tee.


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Almanac on Lebo Boys' Basketball

This week's Almanac has a long story about the basketball incident. Joey David and the School District confirm the reason why no discipline was imposed on boys who attended a party where a number of students were cited by police for drinking: The incident didn't occur on school grounds.

That made me think: If "school property" or "school grounds" is the key concept, why was Shane Phillips disciplined for sending an inappropriate email to the coach? Did Shane use a school computer? Did the coach read the email on a school computer or using a school-supplied email address? If the email was personal-account-to-personal-account, then wasn't that email, too, something that didn't take place on school property?

Even if a school computer or school email account was used, that's a pretty flimsy pretext for the discipline. The problem wasn't inappropriate use of a school computing resource; the problem was the content of the message -- and the content was inappropriate regardless of where Shane or the coach was sitting, and regardless of what email account either one was using. The discipline was appropriate because of what the student did, not because of where he did it. For some reason, that rationale doesn't apply to the other students.

Am I missing something?

I'll post a link when The Almanac posts the story online. Right now, I can't find it.

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Deer Kill Stands At 29 Since Feb. 28

The municipal deer cull in Mt. Lebanon has been under way since late February with 29 deer killed and no reports of complaints or accidents. Mt. Lebanon Public Works Director Tom Kelley said sharpshooters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture were out in the municipality on three dates and killed the following:

Feb. 28: 14 deer taken, in Rockwood Park, McNeilly Park, the Mt. Lebanon Public Golf Course on Pine Avenue, and a municipal compost pile in Robb Hollow Park.

March 6: One deer taken, at Hoodridge Park off Connor Road.

March 8: 14 deer taken at Williamsburg Park and Rockwood Park. Five of those deer also were taken from the yard of a private residence off Bower Hill Road.


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Blue Devil Club Golf Classic

From the Blue Devil club:

Time to dust off the golf clubs, take a practice swing or two and get ready to grip and rip! The 13th Annual Mt. Lebanon Blue Devil Club Golf Classic will be held on Monday, May 7th at Chartiers Country Club. Lunch will be provided at 12pm and the event will start with a 1:00PM Shotgun. Use of the clubhouse and practice facilities will be available prior to the tee off. Golf will be followed by dinner and some cold beverages to help you forget about your first round of the year! Non-golfers are welcome and encouraged to join us for dinner at approximately 6:30PM. So, come out and join us for some golf, some laughs and the company of those who care about the many Mt. Lebanon High School athletic teams. Over the previous 12 years, the Blue Devil Golf Classic has been a vital source of funding for the Blue Devil Club, whose mission is to fund the financial needs of our scholastic athletes at Mt. Lebanon High School.

You can sign up to participate -- and/or to be an event sponsor.

Please direct questions to Dan Powell at 412-563-0491.


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Bottom Line TIF Analysis

In anticipation of the Mt. Lebanon School Board's upcoming vote (next Monday, March 19) regarding whether to participate in the Washington Park TIF, Bill Matthews has assembled the following quick guide to the proposal. As Deep Throat once said (in the movies, if not in real life): Follow the money.

Fundamental Question

Since June ‘05 a fundamental question regarding the TIF has been:

--- Will Zamagias Properties receive an excessive financial return on their investment?

Essentially: What dollars will they put in and what will they take out?

There is no argument Zamagias Properties should make money, otherwise there would be no point. However, if there is to be a public subsidy, the financial return should be sensible. Without a subsidy, the return should be unbounded. The analysis below, uses the developer’s projections from the March ‘07 TIF Plan. The model is also Zamagias Properties’ model, first used in June ‘05.

In other words, these are THEIR numbers in THEIR model. EXCEPT, the developer never calculated beyond “Total Potential Project Return (On Cost)” -- the developer never illustrated “Return on Equity”.

Bottom line: Zamagias Properties is using TIF to minimize their equity investment and generate an inordinate Return on Equity.

A more complete feasibility analysis by Bill can be downloaded here:

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Town Posts Developer's Report on TIF

A feasibility study for the proposed Washington Park TIF has been posted to the Mt. Lebanon website. The full text of the report can be accessed via this URL:

The report cost $20,000 to produce; half of that was paid by Zamagias Properties -- the developer. The balance was split between the Municipality and the School District.

The report contains many interesting statements. Among them is this:

As outlined in the Project Overview on page 3, the Project is primarily residential in nature. This is unusual for a Pennsylvania TIF financing. Most projects with associated TIF financings are primarily commercial, retail or industrial in nature. The preponderance of residential property in this Project creates some risks and produces some benefits versus other more traditional TIF financings.

· Once build-out is complete, there will be dozens of property owners in the TIF District instead of either a single owner or a handful of owners, as would be the case in an industrial park, a mall, or a corporate facility. This could potentially create problems should legal issues arise in the future (assessment issues,
tax payment issues, zoning concerns). The Taxing Bodies will have to negotiate with many owners instead of a single owner, which could increase the Taxing Bodies’ staff time and legal / financial resources devoted to such issues if they arise.
· Due to the residential nature of the Project, there will be no legal agreements between the property owners and the Taxing Bodies prohibiting the property owners from appealing their assessed values below the levels set forth in the TIF plan. This prohibition, common in single-owner financings, works to reduce uncertainty surrounding possible future assessment appeals. No such prohibition is contemplated for this Project, which creates the opportunity for possible assessment appeal issues to affect the TIF cash flows in the future. This risk would be mitigated on the Phase I debt by the Commonwealth Guaranty.

· Residential properties will by their nature generate ancillary incremental tax revenues (real estate transfer taxes, earned income taxes) that commercial, retail and industrial projects do not generate. These ancillary revenues are captured by the Taxing Bodies at a rate of 100% (none are pledged to the Project financing).
· Reliance on a single tenant / owner / taxpayer is reduced. By having 72 individual residential units (as well as several retail parcels), the concentration on the performance of a single tenant or owner (such as was the case in the Downtown Lazarus Department Store TIF financing) is therefore reduced.

Note that this section fails to articulate its central assumption: the proposition that 72 half-million dollar condominiums can and will be absorbed into the Mt. Lebanon/South Hills real estate market. Criticizing the lack of any evidence to support that assumption was a key point in Jo Posti's recent commentary.

The report is also quite clear in *not* stating that the project will be profitable only if it is supported by a TIF. In other words, the consultant could have asked (or could have been asked): Without a TIF, would Washington Park make a reasonable profit for the developer? The report chooses not to answer that essential question.

Update: The Almanac's story on Monday's meeting raises similar questions about the report.

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Underage Arrests May Double This Year

As the number of underage drinking arrests in Mt. Lebanon is on pace to double this year, the town's district judge worries that it's only a matter of time before someone gets killed.

"I want more cooperation. I want every parent to understand this is an epidemic and we're going to lose somebody," said District Judge Blaise Larotonda, who estimates that at least 90 percent of the town's high school kids either drink or use drugs.

"I'm tired of it. There is going to be a death," he said.


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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wienermobile hits Mt. Lebanon

The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is in the Pittsburgh area to participate in Saturday's St. Patrick's Day parade, and tonight it was in Mt. Lebanon -- just down the street from my house -- visiting a former Hotdogger (Wienermobile crew member) who lives in town! Some photos (the person in the second photo is my son):

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lebo School Board Member Jo Posti on the Washington Park TIF

Thanks, Bill, for sending along the full text of Jo Posti's remarks at last night's School Board meeting regarding the proposed Washington Park TIF. I've reproduced those remarks below.

The Board is scheduled to vote next Monday, March 19, on whether to participate in the proposed TIF. Jo Posti has been a school board member of the TIF committee.

Her email is You can send email to the entire School Board at

When we voted to participate in the TIF committee back in June, I voted “no,” explaining that my greatest concerns were process and policy. I was troubled by a process that excluded the District during the project discussion stage, asking us to help finance a development that we did not have the opportunity to help select. I was also concerned that we do not have TIF guidelines to direct our decision, only specifications of one particular project that we need to react to.

After participating in the TIF committee, I continue to have these concerns. There’s been much public debate over the TIF – debate that should have started, in my opinion, with the creation of TIF guidelines. While a TIF’s purpose is to provide economic development within a certain area, it is also an opportunity to provide a benefit to the community in exchange for the diverted tax dollars the project is financed with. Some of the public benefits a residential project like this can provide through policy are affordable housing, sustainable development through green building initiatives and an increased ability for District employees to live within the District. TIF guidelines can also spell out what level of increment a taxing body will entertain, a surcharge on any TIF to finance school projects and the mandate that the municipality provide increments for the taxes it levies but for which the District has lost right to, like parking taxes.

I am not against TIFs in principle. There are examples throughout the county of TIFfinanced projects that have made an economic impact in blighted areas. There are also examples of large-scale failures. A TIF is not at all a “sure thing” or “something that’s better than nothing.” In the end, a TIF does not solve all of a blighted area’s problems - market conditions and the free market play a role in the success of a TIF. For me, an understanding of the market demand for this project as well as our community’s market conditions was important in determining my support of the project since I did not have District policy to fall back on. If I wasn’t able to refer to our District’s collective values, I had to determine the project’s value to the community.

Unfortunately, the market study provided did not adequately present a case for units of this price point. Rather than describing current market conditions or illustrating a demand for housing that is more than twice the median sales price of homes in Mt. Lebanon, it was a historical analysis of similar housing sold in communities with similar demographics during recent years. The change in the scope of work from a two-phase project to a one-phase project with an option for a second phase does not affirm my confidence in the project. As a quality-driven organization, much of our decision-making rests on data and I need data that supports market conditions that demand half-million dollar units in Mt. Lebanon vs. housing priced closer to our median. The municipality itself has reported that our community lacks the level of affordable housing that would entice the employees of our largest employers – the school district, St. Clair Hospital and Asbury Heights – to buy homes within the municipality. Municipal officials have indicated that the high level of turnover at our health care facilities is related, in part, to the commuting challenges those employees face. As for the school district, I would like to help entice our employees to live in the District; this is something that I personally feel strengthens our community and enhances the connection our faculty and staff have with their students and parents.

Public improvements – while the elements financed by the TIF qualify by law, they do not, in my opinion, offer substantial public improvement that would warrant diverting taxes should the project be built. Many of the public improvement elements include in the TIF are improvements that would be made by any development, regardless of funding source. The Bower Hill turn lane is important to the community and while I’d be willing to help the municipality fund it, I’d also like to explore partnership opportunities that help the District accomplish its capital improvement goals, not just the capital improvement goals of the Parking Authority.

The delays associated with this project are unfortunate as this property has, in essence, been off the market for so long that it’s tempting to move forward in order to quit wasting time. However, I can’t overlook the fact that while the competing project had elements that would have qualified for a TIF, they were of the opinion that they could have moved forward with their project without one. That project would have developed the entire block, to Kenmont and Oak Way, rather than limiting development to what may just be Phase 1 of the Washington Park project. I do believe that this parcel can be developed without TIF financing if given the opportunity for the free market to work.

Allegheny County’s relatively short history in TIF projects has produced mixed results. In my opinion, this is due in part to their origins being largely developer driven rather than driven by the taxing bodies impacted. This results in precedent rather than policy. My fear is that our participation in this particular project would be a decision made not on data but because it’s the only offer on the table. Rather than believing that something is better than nothing, I need to be convinced that we haven’t limited ourselves or Mt. Lebanon’s ability to develop the entire block.

Another large concern is the impact Act 1 would have and for this we have neither precedent nor policy. We cannot predict whether our Act 1 referendum will pass in May and even the Janney report identifies it as an issue to which they have no answer. We would probably be the first TIF project in the County to see Act 1’s impact. Again, I need data to better analyze how much real estate assessed values may be reduced and how this would effect the District’s tax increment. Unfortunately, there’s nobody who can predict what that impact may be.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Mt. Lebanon School Board Meeting -- TIF Preview

The school board will hear a TIF presentation from Allegheny County on Monday evening (3/12). If you can make it, please stop by. The meeting begins at 7:30 in the High School Library. Or (and) share your thoughts with the school board at

Bill Matthews, who has been tireless in his efforts to explain what the TIF is about and to explain why it's a bad deal for the taxpayers, has circulated a summary of the current proposal. I've copied the main points of Bill's presentation below:

Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
Basics of the Zamagias Properties Final Plan

1) The Washington Park project includes 72 condominiums (projected average sale price of over $550,000), 14,000 square feet of retail space, associated parking and open space along Washington Road.

2) Condominium owners of the Washington Park project will pay their ordinary property taxes to the school district and municipality just like every other property owner in Mt. Lebanon.

3) A significant portion (72%) of their “incremental” taxes will be diverted and used to pay TIF funded project debt, in lieu of being used for education and essential government services. (Incremental taxes are calculated as the difference between taxes payable on the properties today and taxes payable after the development.)

4) No taxes will be diverted from Allegheny County. The project does not meet the County TIF guidelines and therefore the County will not participate in the TIF.

5) The TIF Plan indicates “net” TIF proceeds of approximately $4.6MM for Washington Park. However, to net $4.6MM for the project, approximately $6.1MM will be borrowed. Please see the allocation and use of TIF funds listed on next page.

6) The total tax diversion over the life of the TIF will approach $9,000,000, including principal and interest payments. 82.6% of the diverted funds will be from the school district.

Allocation and Use of TIF Funds
Washington Park Tax Increment Financing Plan
$ 1,651,122 - Parking Improvements
$ 1,301,251 - Public Park (Plaza fronting Washington Rd., outside storefronts)
$ 1,088,329 - Land Acquisition
$349,029 - Utility Improvements
$ 155,801 - Funded Soft Costs
$ 64,138 - Intersection Improvements (Bower Hill & Washington Road)
$ 4,609,670 - Total Project Uses

$568,514 - Debt Service Reserve Fund
$502,514 - Capitalized Interest
$160,000 - Miscellaneous Costs
$140,000 - Legal Fees
$61,000 - Issuer Fee (1% - Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County)
$57,951 - Underwriter’s Fee (0.95%)
$1,490,330 - Total Issuance Related Uses

$6,100,000 - Total TIF Borrowing

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Coach David's Side Of The Story

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published an article yesterday which contained the interview of Coach Joey David about the recent controversy regarding Shane Phillips' email to him. I thought it was important to link to this article as well since the article in the Post-Gazette only interviewed Shane's father and his side of the story.


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Thursday, March 08, 2007

MTLSB Presents Preliminary Budget

The school board presented a $71.8 million base preliminary budget on Monday that has a lower proposed millage hike than the budget it presented in January to comply with state Act 1.

The new budget calls for a 0.44-mill increase. The earlier budget called for a 0.85-mill hike.

Even the proposed 0.44 mill increase is a "worst possible number," said Finance Director Jan Klein.

She said she expects the amount of the millage increase to drop after the district gets formal retirement notices. She said 12 teachers and four administrators plan to retire, which will save money.

She said department heads were asked to make 5 percent cuts in their budgets from last year if possible, which is reflected in the budget total. There are $300,000 in program change proposals not currently included in the budget.

They are: Expansion of the foreign language program into fifth grade; the continued employment of a math/science facilitator for middle school; new elementary math textbooks; and a math facilitator to work with teachers to change curriculum to match textbooks. At its discussion meeting Monday, the board will get a list of proposed changes to the budget, Ms. Klein said.


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A Lebo Theme

The comments here about the basketball incident remind me of a bigger theme (which is good, because otherwise someone might change the topic to the unpublicized circumstances of the Mt. Lebanon girls' soccer coach leaving to take over the Peters team, and that's a comment thread I don't want to moderate).

The theme is something that runs through various events in Mt. Lebanon over the last couple of years: the student misbehavior/"character" things; the TASER incident involving the Carusos; even the TIF proposal for the Washington Park project. Word on the grapevine has it that the Mt. Lebanon Municipality is less than thrilled by some of the conversations and comments on this blog (notice Blog Lebo recently in Mt. Lebanon Magazine? Me neither.), so it even extends to the blogosphere. It's something that isn't unique to Mt. Lebanon, and it's not new to any of us, but I watch out for it as I watch the town because it rarely comes out into the open.

I'll call the topic "authority and priorities."

When should we -- citizens, parents, children, students -- defer to authority *simply because it is the authority.* Authority figures -- government officials, church leaders, teachers, parents, coaches, police officers, judges, and so on -- often act wisely, but sometimes they act stupidly, or selfishly, or out of ignorance. When an authority figure acts foolishly, what's the best remedy? Publicity? Appropriation of power? Resistance? Acceptance? Revenge? None of the above?

Context is everything. No solution is right for all circumstances. But how the question of authority is handled, or at least how the question of authority is debated, illustrates something important about the community's priorities. Do you think that the basketball drinking incident, and any possible discipline, should have been handled by the coach and his players inn face-to-face discussions and not publicized via email or in the media? That judgment reflects one sense of community priorities, and it says something about the importance of submitting to the coach's authority. Do you think that media publicity was legitimate and that second-guessing the coach's judgment is likewise fair? A different set of priorities emerges, and something else about authority. You can run the same set of questions through all kinds of issues percolating in town. What should the high school principal have done about the top-25 list? Should the police department release the TASER video? Should the school district support the TIF proposal? What is the responsibility of parents who make alcohol available to their teenagers and their friends? The basketball team is only one, recent example.

Why bother pointing this out? Because I think that it's important to keep in mind that despite the fact that the community values at Mt. Lebanon's foundation aren't always shared quite as widely or as deeply as we imagine. That's neither good nor bad, and it doesn't detract from the fact that for most residents, Mt. Lebanon is an extremely pleasant place to live, at least so long as people respect the fact that the town does house a diverse array of value-sets. (I'm also not suggesting that Mt. Lebanon is meaningfully diverse in any racial or ethnic sense.) That diversity just is what it is, as Gene Collier might say, and I think that it explains a lot of the differences of opinion that Joe and I and Anonymous (all of you, including the alleged wackos ;-) experience here.

UPDATED (3:10 p.m.): The timing couldn't be better: I just came across this illustrative story about authority and obedience -- in a different school district. Three 11th graders, all girls, were suspended for saying the word "vagina" during an in-school recitation of Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. The basis for the discipline? There was nothing wrong with the word itself; instead, the girls knowing violated the principal's pre-performance edict that they not use it, though he allowed them to perform the piece.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Good News in Mt. Lebanon

In a welcome respite from news of rampaging high school basketball fans, underage drinkers, and foul-mouthed emailers, here is what I hope is received as some good news from the Mt. Lebanon schools front:

I was honored to be among the parents and families in attendance tonight at the Cum Laude Society induction ceremony at Mt. Lebanon High School. I watched 99 soon-to-graduate seniors get recognized for extraordinary academic achievement in a demanding setting. Among them were my daughter, several of her good friends, and many other seniors who I've met over the years through sports, Scouting, and/or church. Dr. John Ambrose, one of the high school guidance counselors and a warm and generous man, was honored by his colleagues with an honorary membership in the society.

If some of commenters prefer that the schools not be blamed for student misbehavior, then consistency dictates that those schools not get credit for student success. I think that's wrong. Like any school system, Mt. Lebanon has its weaknesses, and there are families and students who've been let down, and let down badly. At its best, though, Mt. Lebanon turns out amazing graduates. The students themselves deserve most of the recognition they receive, along with their families. But Mt. Lebanon High School provides an environment in which these students thrive. For that, I give the school credit, and thanks.


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Underage Drinking and Lebo Basketball

I have no idea why this story is on the first page of the Post-Gazette sports section. Well, that's not true. I have an inkling. The Mt. Lebanon basketball coach looks like a fool, and the parent involved looks like he should be running the School District's character education program:

"Suspension for e-mail baffles Mt. Lebanon dad
Drinking incident overlooked, he says"

Ollie Phillips, the father of starting junior guard and co-captain Shane Phillips, provided the Post-Gazette a copy of an e-mail his son sent Feb. 25 to David, addressing the overall direction of the basketball program and an underage drinking party the night before. According to sources, several basketball players attended the party and one was cited by police for underage drinking. . . .

Nonetheless, Ollie Phillips supports his son's decision to send the e-mail.

"I am proud as hell of Shane after reading the e-mail," he said. "He stepped in and did the right thing. In my estimation, this is a situation where he acted as a leader, not in an insubordinate fashion."

Ollie Phillips made it clear that if David felt his son's e-mail was a violation of team rules, then Shane Phillips should have been suspended. But Ollie Phillips also felt that players who attended the party, and particularly the one cited by the police, should have been made to pay a penalty.

"I am with the coaches in regard to Shane. If they feel his e-mail crossed the line, they are well within their right to suspend him, and I can live with that," the father said. "But, if you are going to suspend a kid for [sending] an e-mail to a coach, how in the world do you not suspend ... kids for going to a drinking party and one of them for getting arrested there?


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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The Never Ending Saga of the Mt. Lebanon TIF

The Allegheny Institute published a new brief today regarding the TIF issue being discussed for the Washington Park project. It's available on their web site at the link below:


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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Deer Culling To Start Soon

Officials say it is only a matter of days until the deer-culling program in Mt. Lebanon begins. Public Works Director Tom Kelley said the municipality had received its permit from the State Game Commission and that staffers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture had identified locations to shoot the deer. They have begun to bait the area with the intention of beginning the shoot within the next week and a half, Mr. Kelley said.

Opponents of the $19,999 cull have organized, calling themselves the Coalition for Neighborhood Safety and Awareness of Mt. Lebanon. The group, which staged a demonstration in Bird Park last week, said it might file for an injunction with Common Pleas Court to stop the cull, but it has not done so. The group is worried that the shoot is not safe for people or pets and that shooters will be too close to homes, among other concerns.

The cull permit will allow 70 deer to be shot. The USDA estimated the town deer population at 90.



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Final TIF Proposal Submitted to Lebo

Zamagias Properties has submitted its final proposal for a TIF (tax increment financing) for the development proposed for the intersection of Bower Hill and Washington Roads.

The document is available online at the Municipality website. A link is a available on the "What's New" page at OR directly at the link below. WARNING - - It is a 41 page, 2.2 MB document.

The next step in the process is the Mt. Lebanon School Board meeting on Monday, March 12, when the Board will hear public comments about the proposal. If you want to have face-to-face input on the proposal before the School Board votes, then go to the March 12 meeting. The vote itself isn't until later -- March 19 -- but there will be no meaningful opportunity for public comment at the March 19 meeting.

In related TIF news, the Mt. Lebanon Commission voted to extend the deadline by which Zamagias must get this deal done.


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Notable in Mt. Lebanon

In today's South P-G:
Amy Karp, of Mt. Lebanon, was recently honored by the Agency for Jewish Learning for 10 years of service as director of the Pittsburgh Florence Melton Adult Mini-School.

Over that time, she has been responsible for recruitment of students and faculty, marketing, fund-raising and overall administration of the school. The mini-school is a global network of adult Jewish learning communities, with 60 sites in the United States, Canada, England, South Africa, Australia and Israel. The agency is a
beneficiary agency of the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh.


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Why Can't Lebo Be More Like Bellevue?

Fabulous coffee house? Bellevue has Affogato; Mt. Lebanon has Aldo's. [Update: Fixed the URL; sorry, Rich and Melanie!]

Top restaurant? Bellevue has Vivo; Mt. Lebanon hopes that Bistro 19 gets to that level.

Young people working tirelessly to energize local creative and entrepreneurial communities? Bellevue has the group behind 517521 (who are also behind Vivo, and Affogato), a building on Lincoln Avenue that includes the space that began as Thinktank space and that recently re-launched as the recently opened Creative Treehouse, "a haven for creative professionals in Pittsburgh and those traveling through the area. It will act as a creative and learning community for those seeking a place to gather with other professionals under one roof."

Mt. Lebanon has LEBO, which is hoping to throw a really big after-party on Washington Road next August, after families have finished enjoying a First Friday celebration.

Here's a suggestion that is worth a longer blog post someday: The LEBO group should do something meaningful, and that something is specifically this: Enough with acronyms and the faux "hipness" image. Take that youthful energy and blow open the Mt. Lebanon cocoon. Be concrete. Raise enough money to make the owner of the old Denis Theater an offer he can't refuse. Then renovate the building as a theater - performance - restaurant - bookstore space and make Mt. Lebanon the South Hills culture, creativity, and entrepreneurship destination that it can be. Don't relegate Mt. Lebanon to being the "Cranberry of 1920"; make Mt. Lebanon the Mt. Lebanon of 2007.

Link: Ruth Ann Dailey on Bellevue and other energized older Pittsburgh communities

Link: LEBO wants to make Mt. Lebanon "hip" for young people. (Here is a link to the LEBO site.)

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Renovations and Historic Preservation in Mt. Lebanon

Interest in preserving the architectural style of Mt. Lebanon houses has grown in the past 20 years, Mt. Lebanon Public Information Officer Susan Morgans said. Now that the housing market is booming in places such as Peters, Upper St. Clair, Cranberry and Franklin Park, people in Mt. Lebanon have had to figure out what makes their houses distinctive if they want to sell them in a competitive housing market.

Many of my favorite Mt. Lebanon renovations are houses that blend old and modern styles. (In fact, the old is only sort of old. Most of the 1920s and 1930s Mt. Lebanon homes were built by real estate developers, not custom home builders. Some of us live in "Tudor" houses, but we don't live in Elizabethan England!) The point isn't always to make the new "match" the old, but to find respectful complements.

Another link: Stewart Brand's How Buildings Learn
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