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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

South Side braces for taxing-district decision

Posted By on Tue, May 8, 2012 at 3:52 PM

The South Side Planning Forum could decide tonight whether to advance a proposal to create a special fee for additional neighborhood services to city.

The 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, meets tonight at 5:30 p.m. in the cafeteria of UPMC South Side Hospital, 2000 Mary St.. Susie Puskar, neighborhood outreach coordinator of the South Side Neighborhood Improvement Steering Committee, says the group is expected to vote tonight. The board will allot 40 minutes to public comment, and 20 speakers can sign up on a first-come, first-served basis.

If the forum votes in favor of the proposal, "they will then petition city council to begin the legal process that allows each property owner to have a vote," says Puskar. "Ample opportunity remains for public comment if that occurs."

Neighborhood planners outlined the subsequent process at an often-contentious March 13 planning forum meeting.

Known as a NID, the proposal 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 has met with opposition from residents and business owners, and they haven't been shy about making their feelings known: A walk through the South Side turns up numerous signs in windows and storefronts that read "NID" with a Red X through it.

At the March 13 meeting, residents in attendance decried everything from the voting process itself to arguing it was just another tax to pay for trouble caused by the large number of bars in the neighborhood.

"We all know this is double taxation!" one resident yelled. "We don't need to waste taxpayer money."

Other residents contended they had collected enough signatures from property owners in the proposed zone to squash the plan before it even heads to city council. Puskar says neighborhood planners, however, want the community input process to play out.

"South Side has always been driven by the community process ... People are coming out to meetings and yelling, but we hear a lot from people who don't come to meetings and yell that are very much for [the NID]," Puskar says. "We want individuals to have the right to vote on the process, so that's why the process continues."

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