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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

South Side fee proposal meets opposition at community meeting

Posted By on Wed, Mar 14, 2012 at 1:42 PM

A board of several South Side community groups are still mulling a proposal to create a special fee for additional neighborhood services. But many residents, it seems, have made up their minds against the notion.

Susie Puskar, outreach coordinator for the South Side Neighborhood Improvement District steering community, told community groups Tuesday "we are not calling for a vote" yet, based on public feedback and requests from city councilman Bruce Kraus.

Some 100 people were in attendance at the Brashear Association, which hosted yesterday’s monthly meeting of the South Side Planning Forum. Most residents were unhappy -- one crowd member charged that the fee proposal amounted to "double taxation" -- and some threatened vengeance on politicians who backed the fee.

The improvement district, also known as a NID, would assess an annual fee on residential and commercial-property owners in a proposed zone that runs between South 9th to South 29th streets, encompassing most of the area from the Monongahela River to the railroad tracks at the foot of the South Side Slopes. The additional assessment is expected to generate about $1 million for services beyond what the city provides.

The proposal is being mulled by the Planning Forum, which includes representatives from The Brashear Association, South Side Chamber of Commerce, South Side Community Council, South Side Local Development Company and South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association. But the decision would ultimately be in the hands of city council to even start the process, said Gavin Robb, an attorney representing the South Side Neighborhood Improvement District steering committee.

"This is the step before step one," Robb told the room. "The purpose of this is to get community to consensus to determine whether it's worth it to start the process at all."

If the forum agreed to pursue the plan, Robb said that by state law, city council would have to initiate the action with a vote. That would touch off a lengthy process, which includes sending letters to property owners and renters in the proposed zone with the plan and relevant documents. Public hearings would be scheduled, and there would also be a 45-day period where owners could fill out a ballot in objection. If 40 percent or more within the district file objections, Robb said, "The plan is defeated."

But Robb pointed out that under state law, if property owners don't vote against it, it's considered a vote for it. "If you don't file an objection, in the eyes of the state law, you don't object," Robb said.

Angry residents slammed that process, and asked the board to squash the plan.

"I worked at the polls for 32 years and if someone didn't come out to vote, I didn't give the incumbent that vote," shouted one angry resident.

Resident Michelle Berard said she and others have collected the signatures of 1,200 property owners, which she said makes up 40 percent of the owners in the proposed zone, who opposed the plan. She, and a handful of other residents, contended that should be enough for the planning forum to lay off the plan. But, if they don't "if we have to go to council, as sure as I'm standing here, we will defeat you."

Those opposing the plan are meeting at 1889 Café, 2017 East Carson St., at 5 p.m. Thursday, said owner Demo Kephaloginis. "We're going to have to show up in force to beat this," he added.

City councilor Bruce Kraus, who attended the Tuesday meeting, said he has been meeting with city and neighborhood planning officials to ask them to "pull back for a minute. Take your time before making an ultimate decision."

"What you see here is democracy in action," Kraus said. "The community process can be intense."

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