Filed Under: News || By
Category: News || By
City officials will probably modify McKeesport's $1,000 permit fee for digging up a street.
That's the word from Solicitor Jason Elash, who tells the Almanac the city is working on a fee that will still be higher than the old $180 cost, but lower than $1,000.
Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County --- which operates the city's water system --- has balked at paying the $1,000 fee, with its attorney last week calling the cost excessive and out of line with permit fees in surrounding municipalities.
By implementing a $1,000 fee, the city hoped to recoup the price of repaving streets damaged by utility crews; but because fees are supposed to reflect the cost of administering the permits, there's some question whether the higher charge would have withstood a court challenge.
. . .
A new ordinance --- currently being drafted --- will probably be ready for consideration at April's council meeting, Elash says.
That's why the city and Equitable Gas Co. negotiated a settlement over more than 600 holes drilled by its crews, he says.
The gas company's payment of more than $300 per hole will be more in line with the new ordinance being written, Elash says.
. . .
Equitable was particularly upset, Elash says, because many of its more than 600 openings were only a few square inches each. The company has been turning off gas service and capping lines that served abandoned houses now on the city's demolition list, he says.
"They weren't digging up the whole street," Elash says. "They were basically taking a core sample --- they would drill a hole, turn off the gas line, and then replace the same 'plug' they had removed."
. . .
No agreement appears imminent with Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, according to Elash and City Administrator Dennis Pittman.
The problem isn't just that MAWC won't pay the $1,000 fee, Pittman says.
"They didn't even pay the $180 --- they just ignored us," he says. "If they paid the $180 in protest, it's would be one thing, but if they just blow it off --- well, that's part of our angst."
. . .
Other "angst" is generated because the financially pressed city feels like utility crews are wrecking its carefully plotted street paving budget.
Pittman points to damage done to the intersection of Coursin and Beaver streets, where McKeesport Housing Corp. and other agencies are constructing new homes.
After the city replaced the wheelchair ramps and repaved the street, he says, the water authority dug up the macadam.
"Now it looks like the Ho Chi Minh Trail," Pittman says. "All of the effort we spent to put a crown on the street is lost. It's going to become a sinkhole, then the water won't run off, and it's going to create a pothole."
. . .
Elash says the city would be willing to consider an arrangement that allowed the water authority to perform many street openings at one price. But the authority, he says, countered that it wanted to open a certain number of holes at no cost.
Although the city wants to work with utilities, Elash says, it can't simply waive the fees altogether.
"We haven't gotten the same level of cooperation with the water authority as we got with the gas company," he says. "We're basically at a standstill."
Category: Obscure Ephemera || By
Category: General Nonsense || By
A trailer has been released for "Adventureland," the movie that filmed during October 2007 at Kennywood Park and other locations around the Mon-Yough area. (The scene in the restaurant, for example, was shot inside Jodi B's --- formerly the Plaza --- on Ardmore Boulevard in Forest Hills.)
It's a comedy about a college student who has to find a summer job and winds up working as a games booth attendant at an amusement park.
The editor of Tube City Almanac doesn't need to see this movie, because he lived it. He even worked for a couple of months at Bonanza, the shooting game where (in the trailer) one of the patrons throws up.
The movie, directed by Greg Mottola ("Superbad," "Undeclared," "Arrested Development"), opens March 27.
At least the Mon Valley will come off better in this movie than in another film debuting this year --- "The Road," which used Braddock and McKeesport as the setting for a post-apocalyptic nightmare.
Come to think of it, I grew up here during the '70s and '80s, so I lived that movie, too. I'm pretty sure this picture --- supposedly a still from "The Road" --- actually shows laid-off steelworkers from my street in Liberty Borough going out to get their government cheese in 1984.
(Tip o' the Tube City hard hat to Dan Speed.)
Category: News || By
Every time a utility digs up a street, a future pothole is born. And McKeesport officials think those utilities ought to bear the cost of repairing the damage.
Not so fast, says the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, which operates the city's water system. They argue that McKeesport's fee for what's known as a "street opening" permit is excessive, and they refuse to pay.
That's led to a running dispute has already seen Mayor Jim Brewster threaten to have an MAWC crew arrested for digging up a street without a permit, and the case could yet wind up in court.
. . .
City Solicitor Jason Elash said earlier this month that 80 citations have been filled out against the water authority and are ready to file with Magisterial District Judge Eugene Riazzi.*
MAWC solicitor Ken Burkley hopes that doesn't happen. "All of my dealings with the city have been very good, and we hope to keep it that way," he told the Almanac last week.
The city's permit fee was recently raised from $180 to $1,000. The amount hadn't been increased since 1983, officials said.
"An ordinance is a law, and they're not above the law," Brewster said at this month's council meeting. He called the authority "arrogant."
. . .
Although McKeesport is located in Allegheny County, water service to the city and several suburbs has been provided by MAWC since 1987. The Westmoreland authority bought the McKeesport Water Authority after a series of problems at the old treatment plant under the 15th Avenue Bridge, including contamination by giardia parasites that sickened 300 people.
There have been raw feelings between the city and MAWC lately; the water authority recently closed its office in Christy Park, which means repair crews are now dispatched from New Stanton, and customers must drive about a half-hour for face-to-face service.
"They snookered us when they took over the water business in the first place," Councilman Darryl Segina said.
However, city officials said the immediate problem is damage being caused to local streets by water authority crews.
Brewster counted 120 holes in Jenny Lind Street that he said were the result of MAWC work. "They're creating eventual potholes," he said.
. . .
But cities cannot use street opening permits to pay for street paving projects, Burkley argued. The fee, he said, should be dictated by the cost of administering the permit.
"It has to be directly connected to the cost of the municipality administering their police power," Burkley said. "There is no way the city of McKeesport can ever justify going from $180 to $1,000. If every community we served charged $1,000 for every street opening, we'd have to quadruple our water rates."
Other municipalities in MAWC's service area charge fees ranging from $50 to $200 per opening, he said. "I defy you to find any community that comes anywhere close to $1,000," Burkley said.
An unscientific web search found that Whitehall charges $60, while Crafton, Dormont and Fox Chapel each charge $50.
Blawnox charges $250, while Monroeville charges $25.
Several communities also assess a fee (generally less than $1) for each square foot of pavement disturbed.
. . .
In addition, some municipalities require utilities to post a refundable bond. In Pittsburgh, contractors must obtain $10,000 in insurance before opening a street.
Burkley said the authority would be willing to post a bond "that's reasonable and in line with other municipalities."
MAWC appears to be the only utility disputing the street opening fee. According to Elash, Equitable Gas Co. plans to open 600 holes this year as part of a gas line replacement program, and has agreed to pay the city about $205,000.
"They were willing to work with us," Elash told council this month.
Burkley said the authority is not willing to negotiate. "How do you reach a settlement on the cost of a police power?" he said. "It's got to all be the same."
. . .
The water authority is willing to coordinate projects with the city to make sure that any planned line maintenance is completed before a street is repaved, Burkley said.
And MAWC is willing to come back and fix any street repairs done by authority crews that aren't satisfactory, he said.
"We don't have bad relationships with the municipalities we deal with," Burkley said, "but we can't be a source of revenue for them ... I can't believe it takes 10 times as much to administer a street-opening fee than it does in North Huntingdon, Irwin or Jeannette."
Category: Pointless Digressions || By
Category: News || By
Category: News || By
The city is mourning the death of Patrolman Lee "Poo" Burke, who died Tuesday of complications from diabetes. Burke was 40.
A 10-year veteran of the city's force, was a McKeesport native who began work as a part-time patrolman in March 1998, according to Jennifer Vertullo in the Daily News. He had continued to serve until very recently.
For the past two years, Burke was law-enforcement coordinator for the city's "Weed and Seed" initiative and had helped with the department's community outreach efforts in schools and neighborhoods.
In June 2007, the McKeesport Healthier Communities PartnerSHIP named Burke "Shipmate of the Year." One of 63 community affiliates of the Pennsylvania Department of Health's State Health Improvement Plan, the MHCP honored Burke both for his work through the department and his volunteer efforts.
Category: History || By
Category: Cartoons || By
Category: News || By
Next Friday, a group of local women will gather at a local restaurant for a meeting in friendship and fellowship that's been held every month for 90 years.
They're part of a tradition that stretches back to 1919, when several "Negro housewives" from the city formed The Semper Fidelis Club to promote education, community leadership and civic improvement.
On Sunday, about two dozen members of Semper Fidelis gathered at McKeesport Heritage Center to discuss the group's origins and continuing legacy. The presentation --- led by current Semper Fidelis President Elaine Richardson and Treasurer Laura Green --- was part of the center's celebration of Black History Month.
"McKeesport occasionally gets a bad rap, but it's organizations like Semper Fidelis that make living and working in McKeesport so enjoyable," said city attorney Terry Farrell, president of the Heritage Center board.
. . .
The name --- Latin for "Always Faithful" --- was suggested by one of the founding members, Janey Garland, mother of well-known McKeesport photographer Percy Garland and mother-in-law of Hazel Garland, former editor of the Pittsburgh Courier.
Did the club borrow the name from the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps? Probably, said one of the longest serving members of Semper Fidelis, past president M. Jeanne Dix.
"But we've been just as faithful as the Marines all this time," said Dix, whose family has been involved with the group since the beginning. Dix's sister, Carrie Ann James, is also a member and past president; their mother and grandmother also were members of Semper Fidelis.
Green, another past president, said the club held its first meeting on Sept. 19, 1919 at the home of founding president Annie Marshall. Its bylaws called for the club to focus on religious, civic, educational and social programs for the city's African-American community. Dues were 15 cents per month.
Membership was limited to 35 people, Green said, "and there was always a waiting list."
. . .
Over the years, Semper Fidelis has raised money for many local causes, including UPMC McKeesport Hospital (where a room is named in the club's honor), Carnegie Library of McKeesport, the clock at the corner of Fifth and Walnut streets, Downtown, and the KaBOOM! playground in the Seventh Ward.
Money is generated through dues, bake sales, dinners and other activities.
Semper Fidelis also "adopts" a family each year, contributing food and clothing vouchers to an anonymous needy family originally chosen by Housing Opportunities and now selected by LaRosa Boys and Girls Club.
. . .
Perhaps its best known activity has been the annual Semper Fidelis scholarship awarded to the top two students of color at McKeesport Area High School. The scholarships were initiated by the late Frances Keith Newman, one of the first female morticians in Allegheny County and a pioneering businesswoman in the city.
The most recent recipients were first-place winner Rebecca Davis, a pre-med student at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, and second-place winner Gary Bush, a freshman at Hampton University in Virginia.
Past winners have included Bucks County Judge Clyde Waite and former state Supreme Court Justice Cynthia Baldwin; and the late Phyllis Garland, a New York magazine editor and Columbia University journalism professor.
. . .
A review of the club's activities from the 1950s through the 1970s reflects the civil rights struggles of the times. For years, Semper Fidelis sponsored an annual "race relations" or "human relations" tea.
Green pointed out items in the club's newsletters that noted the Daily News was finally going to move Semper Fidelis functions to the "Society" page with other (that is, "white") social clubs instead of segregating them by themselves. In 1957, the club sent a telegram to President Eisenhower, thanking him for sending in the 101st Airborne Division to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.
Semper Fidelis' early members were "black women of courage, vision and faith," Green said, "interested in improving themselves and improving the community."
. . .
These days, one of the club's biggest struggles is coping with the declining and aging population of the Mon-Yough area, and the lack of interest among younger women in joining social clubs.
"Many of us are kind of 'warriors' and have been out there for years, trying to get some new, fresh blood and new, fresh ideas into our organization," said Norine Jenkins, who chairs the membership committee.
Prospective members of Semper Fidelis must be invited to join the club. Sometimes they decline, Jenkins said, but most recognize that an invitation to join one of the city's oldest civic groups is an honor.
. . .
One of the program's highlights was the singing of Sherry Johnson of Trinity Church of God in Christ, Jenny Lind Street, who led the audience in "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing."
At the end of the afternoon, Johnson closed the program with a solo performance of "Great is Our Faithfulness" --- a last-minute change. She selected the song, she said, to reflect the group's name and mission.
On Thursday, Semper Fidelis will be one of five local charities that will receive a donation from the Mon Valley Inaugural Ball Committee, which last month held a dinner dance at Youghiogheny Country Club, Elizabeth Township, to mark the swearing-in of President Obama. A 90th anniversary banquet is slated for October, club officials said.
. . .
Disclaimer: The author is a member of the board of directors of McKeesport Heritage Center.
Category: Events || By
McKeesport Heritage Center helps mark Black History Month with a program celebrating "Semper Fidelis," a civic organization of African-American women from the Mon-Yough area that's celebrating its 90th anniversary.
Laura Green and other members of the group will host a presentation and discussion with reception afterward. The program is free and begins at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
Adjacent displays and scrapbooks featured at the Heritage Center this month highlight the stories of other persons of color from the McKeesport area.
The Heritage Center is located at 1832 Arboretum Drive in Renziehausen Park. Call (412) 678-1832 for more information.
Category: History || By
Does Allegheny County have a 131st municipality on O'Neil Boulevard?
Following up our story about the strange status of the house next to Founders' Hall Middle School, I spent several hours searching various legal and newspaper databases, looking for a copy of the court ruling that created White Oak Borough out of Versailles Township.
I don't have the full text yet, but I did dredge up an article from the Sept. 5, 1946, issue of the Post-Gazette which either sheds some light on the subject, or muddies the water even further.
According to this story, the parcel couldn't be included in White Oak, apparently because it wasn't contiguous to the rest of the borough. But the property owner --- Herbert Van Kirk --- didn't want to be annexed to the city of McKeesport.
Apparently the situation has been stalemated for the past 61 years, until the U.S. Census Bureau made an issue out of it. Only in Pennsylvania!
Tube City Almanac has asked the Census Bureau for comment. They are researching the issue and have promised to get back to me.
. . .
Two-Acre Township Waif of Versailles
Tract With One Home Pinched Off Whether Borough or Annexation Petitions Win
(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 5, 1946, p. 2)
Herbert S. Van Kirk is a modern day Robinson Crusoe who faces the ordeal of finding himself on a two-acre island in the sea of McKeesport. He proposes to call his island Van Kirk township.
This geographical predicament is imminent because of current actions in the reshuffling of Versailles township, where the Van Kirk family lived at 3524 O'Neil boulevard for many years.
The Van Kirk property, although surrounded by the city of McKeesport, is officially in Versailles township, but none of the current moves to liquidate the township includes the Van Kirk property.
Clear? Well, let's try again.
Things came to a head Tuesday morning when Versailles township residents filed petitions in Allegheny county quarter sessions court requesting the approval of incorporation into White Oak borough.
May Be High and Dry
If the courts approve a petition of the entire township to become White Oak borough, Mr. Van Kirk will be left high, dry and lonesome as the only remaining part of Versailles township.
If, on the other hand the courts approve annexation of the township to McKeesport, Van Kirk will still be living in a separate entity.
It all began in 1938 when the McKeesport school board bought 38 acres of a 40-acre plot of ground owned by the Van Kirk family. The school land became part of the city of McKeesport but the Van Kirks on their two acres chose to remain in Versailles township.
A year ago when the township's third precinct became Eden Park borough Van Kirk's voting privileges were shifted from that district to District Four. Yesterday, with the borough petition and the First district annexation already hanging fire, the Fourth district petitioned for annexation to McKeesport. McKeesport council immediately gave preliminary reading to the ordinance and indicated approval of the move to annex the only remaining township area under the annexation program.
Wants His Own Township
This would liquidate Versailles township --- except for Van Kirk's two acres. State law prohibits the inclusion of Van Kirk's "little world" in any of these petitions.
One solution --- annexation to McKeesport --- has been turned down by Mr. Van Kirk. He said that McKeesport would not tolerate his pistol range.
Last night, while officials declined to suggest a solution to the problem, the bewildered Van Kirk had a statement to make:
"You can say, I guess, that I'm still a resident of Allegheny county in a state of confusion. To solve the problem, I will probably ask permission to form my own township --- Van Kirk township."
Category: News || By
Did you ever hear the story of the house that moved from White Oak to McKeesport without budging an inch?
The O'Neil Boulevard home of Rich Tyree and Carol Scott next to Founders' Hall Middle School and the old Vocational-Technical High School is a tiny island of old Versailles Township that was never officially annexed to the city before the incorporation of White Oak Borough in 1948.
Though surrounded by the city on all sides and about a half-mile from the White Oak border, the former Kemp mansion was therefore still legally part of Versailles Township and was long treated as a part of White Oak.
Now, the U.S. Census Bureau and Allegheny County want the home annexed to the city of McKeesport --- and Tyree told city council last week that it's not fair.
"Respectfully, when you buy into a community, you buy into a community," Tyree told council.
Although the city and White Oak share a school district, sewer system, post office and other amenities, Tyree pointed out that payroll taxes are higher in McKeesport (1.2 percent vs. 0.5 in the borough), and city residents must pay extra to use White Oak's Heritage Pool.
. . .
But a few city officials are already smarting over what they perceive as a snobbish or patronizing attitude from some White Oak residents. Several White Oak council members last year suggested dumping the name of the McKeesport Area School District because of what they called the city's "bad image," and at least one member of White Oak council was a vocal proponent of changing the name of Penn State's McKeesport Campus.
(One city councilman has started referring to the borough as "Upper St. White Oak," in reference to the South Hills township regarded as an enclave of the well-to-do.)
That's why tempers quickly flared and Mayor Jim Brewster and some councilors took offense to Tyree's remarks that he doesn't want to live in McKeesport.
A few pointed out that when the Tyree-Scott house caught fire in November 2007, McKeesport firefighters extinguished the blaze.
"I don't think the city initiated the (annexation) process," Councilman Darryl Segina said. "It's a freak thing that happened. There's no reason why (the house) can't be part of McKeesport."
"You would feel different if it happened to you," Tyree replied.
. . .
So-called "county islands" are common in western and southern states where unincorporated communities become part of the larger county, and municipalities grow up around them by annexing surrounding land.
Some states also allow non-contiguous annexations --- unincorporated land that becomes built up can be annexed to a nearby city in order to receive city services, even when it doesn't touch that city's borders.
But Pennsylvania law does not allow unincorporated land or island annexations and discourages creation of municipalities without "adjacent," "compact" and "contiguous" borders. This raises the question why the old Kemp house was left out of the city of McKeesport when the surrounding land was annexed.*
. . .
The paperwork to move the parcel formally into the city limits has been pending since 1999 --- before the 2000 U.S. Census --- but officials said the administration of former Mayor Wayne Kucich failed to take any formal action.
The county has now apparently moved forward in anticipation of the 2010 Census. The decennial federal Boundary and Annexation Survey is already underway.
The parcel's status has apparently been in legal limbo for some time. On county records, it's numbered in sequence with the city's deeds, not White Oak's, and state officials consider the house part of the city; an official state map of White Oak issued in 2004 shows no sign of the parcel.
But the parcel is still shown on a White Oak zoning map last updated that same year.
It's also not the only parcel stranded inside the city of McKeesport by past annexations, according to City Administrator Dennis Pittman. A piece of vacant land near Route 48 was legally part of Versailles Borough but also was surrounded on all sides by the city limits; it's also been annexed to the city.
Scott bought the home from the Kemp heirs in 2002 for $135,000, according to county tax records.
Those same records indicate that the Scott parcel is legally part of the city of McKeesport.
. . .
Tyree said he and Scott object to what he called a lack of due process, and a lack of notification before Scott bought the house that its legal status as part of White Oak was in question.
Segina called for all sides to work together and move forward. "It was the federal government that initiated the process," he said. "So all I can say is, 'Welcome to McKeesport.'"
There was no word on whether Scott or Tyree might pursue further legal action. An attempt to reach them by telephone this week was not successful.
. . .
UPDATE: (Updated Friday morning, Feb. 13, 2009.) Upon further review, nothing in the state borough or township codes seems to expressly forbid creation of a municipality without contiguous borders.
In fact, White Oak is not the only Allegheny County municipality divided into more than one section. O'Hara Township is in three different pieces separated by Blawnox and Fox Chapel boroughs.
According to state law, if "the lands of any person" of a township or borough are cut off by annexation of the surrounding territory, the surrounding municipality may annex the orphaned piece.
Before it can be annexed, however, a petition has to be filed in "the court of quarter sessions," and it has to be signed by "a majority in number of the freeholders in the territory to be detached" from the original municipality.
That suggests that this dispute deserves an airing in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, the successor to the court of quarter sessions. (Disclaimer: Nothing in Tube City Almanac is to be construed as legal advice.)
Category: News || By
Don't think that you have anything affected by a nationwide recall of peanuts and peanut butter? You may be surprised.
An amazing number of products that may contain peanuts or peanut butter contaminated with salmonella bacteria could have been sold through Mon-Yough area supermarkets, including many (like ice cream) you wouldn't suspect.
A check of the Food & Drug Administration's website reveals that ice cream, for instance, sold through Giant Eagle, Shop 'n Save and Foodland stores and convenience stores could include ingredients manufactured in one of several plants linked to a nationwide salmonella outbreak.
The outbreak has been linked to 600 illnesses and eight deaths in 43 states. FDA officials say the contaminated ingredients came from a now-closed plant in Blakely, Ga., operated by Peanut Corporation of America.
A sampling of the products affected by the recall --- and which may have shown up in local stores --- include certain flavors or varieties of:
Category: Rants a.k.a. Commentary, Wild World of Sports || By
(Editor's Note: I will now attempt to demonstrate why I should never write about sports.)
I missed this bit from Saturday Night Live in which James Harrison (Kenan Thompson) talked about his 100-yard touchdown run during the Super Bowl.
His plans for the off season? "To lie down." Heh.
. . .
Hooprock: I may not have watched any TV on Saturday, but I was lucky enough to be in the stands at the Palumbo Center as the Duquesne Dukes upset No. 9 Xavier. I've followed Duquesne basketball since I was in high school, which meant keeping the faith through some really dismal seasons.
Watching the resurgence of that program has been an incredible amount of fun. Seeing the Duquesne kids mob the court after the final buzzer was exhilarating.
If the Steelers and Pitt Panthers keep winning, and Duquesne starts beating ranked opponents, there won't be a safe couch in any dormitory in Pittsburgh.
. . .
Fun McKeesport Trivia Fact: During the 1940s and '50s, Duquesne University's men's basketball team was so successful that its gym was too small to hold all of the spectators.
They wound up playing some home games in the gymnasium at the "Voke" --- the old Vocational High School on Eden Park Boulevard. (As they say, you could look it up.)
. . .
Meanwhile: Are you pumped up already about baseball season? If you live in the Pittsburgh area, your answer is probably a resounding "hell, no!"
I could put up with Duquesne's long string of losing seasons, but for whatever reason, the Pirates' 16-year run of complete futility is harder to stomach.
Maybe it's because the taxpayers didn't foot the bill for the Palumbo Center. I thought building a new stadium was going to save professional baseball in Pittsburgh? I guess Pittsburgh has to get a professional baseball team first.
. . .
Along the same lines, Pat Lackey of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke? has a preview of the coming baseball season which he says is from the Pirates' website.
I have my doubts, because this seems a little too honest:
Coming off of a rough
1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 20072008 season, hope still springs eternal in Bradenton. Pitchers and catchers report on Friday and on Saturday, manager Jim Leyland Gene Lamont Lloyd McClendon Jim TracyJohn Russell will hold the first practice with pitching coach Ray Miller Pete Vuckovich Spin Williams Jim Colborn Jeff AndrewsJoe Kerrigan ...
While pundits are expecting yet another losing season for the Pirates, the steady returning veteran presence of
Denny Neagle Jason Kendall Kevin Young Brian Giles Jason BayNate McLouth and Ryan Doumit along with Leyland Lamont McClendon TracyRussell's insistence that the team will stress good, fundamental baseball this spring, improving young players, and pixie dust, perhaps 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 20082009 will be the year that things finally turn around for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Category: News || By
City council will urge the state to reinvest any video poker revenue back into local communities and not into college scholarships.
On a suggestion from Councilman Darryl Segina, council voted 7-0 Wednesday to write Gov. Ed Rendell and local legislators to urge them to legalize video poker and allow municipalities to receive any tax proceeds.
Last week, Rendell recommended the state legalize video poker machines in bars and restaurants and use the resulting revenue --- estimated at $550 million annually --- to fund annual scholarships of up to $7,600 to state-owned universities.
The proposal was widely criticized by members of the state General Assembly, some of whom object to legalizing video poker and others who are afraid it would cut into proceeds from the state's recently created slot machine casinos.
State Police Commissioner Frank Pawlowski recently estimated that 17,000 video poker machines already operate illegally in Pennsylvania.
Segina said legalization of video poker has long been "one of my pet projects," but he objects to Rendell's proposal to route the money to higher education.
"We need the money for the survival of this town," he said. McKeesport last year closed a $1 million budget hole by draining its reserve fund and laying off 10 employees.
. . .
Sixth Ave. Garage Contract Let: City council unanimously awarded a $20,300 contract to U&S Construction of Etna to perform temporary repairs in the Sixth Avenue parking garage.
The work will include shoring up the first floor and reinforcing several beams now restricted from traffic. Eight contractors submitted bids.
. . .
Paper Recycling OK'd: Also approved was a contract with Abitibi Bowater to place recycling bins around the city for collection of newspaper, office paper and magazines.
Paper will not be collected from house to house, but residents will be able to drop recyclables in the yellow and green "Paper Retriever" bins.
Some bins are already in place within the city under agreements with McKeesport Area School District, the Propel charter school on Versailles Avenue, Auberle on Hartman Street, and churches like First United Methodist on Cornell Street and Rainbow Temple Assembly of God on Shaw Avenue. Similar arrangements exist in surrounding municipalities and school districts.
The city will receive between $5 and $20 for each ton of paper collected.
. . .
Shovel-Ready Projects: City officials have submitted a number of "shovel-ready" projects to the federal government for possible inclusion in the Obama administration's economic stimulus plan.
Although there is no guarantee any of the projects will be funded, the city has asked for federal funding to pay for the extension of Marshall Drive from Old Long Run Road to Route 48; improvements to City Hall (the former McKeesport National Bank headquarters on Fifth Avenue); and construction of the flyover ramp at the foot of Coursin Street between Lysle Boulevard and the RIDC industrial park.
Category: News || By
A newly retired K-9 officer assisted in 284 arrests and apprehended 40 criminals in his five-year career with the city police department.
Hari, a German shepherd partnered with city police Sgt. Tim Bliss, answered 1,486 calls in McKeesport and the surrounding communities, recovering a weapon used in a December 2004 homicide, tracking a suicidal juvenile in May 2006, and helping officers seize 25 pounds of cocaine and 17 pounds of marijuana.
Accompanied by his wife, Linda, and parents Bob and Brenda Bliss, Sgt. Bliss received a commendation at Wednesday's council meeting on behalf of Hari. The dog has retired from active service because of arthritis in his back legs, said Sgt. Bliss, who also serves as director of K-9 operations for the city police.
Mayor Jim Brewster said the statistics prove the worth of the five K-9 officers on the city's force. "I don't want to underestimate the value of these dogs," he said. "They serve a much bigger role than you might expect."
Besides their abilities to track suspects and find hidden contraband, the dogs are also a valuable community relations tool, said assistant police Chief Al Tedesco. A lot of people who are afraid to approach an unaccompanied police officer will spot a police officer with a canine partner and use the dog as a way to "break the ice," he said.
Bliss and other members of the city's K-9 unite regularly walk beats Downtown in good weather and also visit elementary and middle schools with their canine partners. Hari participated in 58 school assemblies during his career, city police said.
"It's amazing how the kids react when they see the dogs," Brewster said.
. . .
In Other Business: The city has submitted an application through Allegheny County for $2.6 million in funding from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
Bethany Budd Bauer, community development director, said part of the money would be used to demolish vacant homes.
If approved, the remainder of the money would be used for new construction in partnership with McKeesport Housing Corp.*, McKeesport Neighborhood Initiative and Blueroof Technologies.
. . .
Preliminary renderings for new street signs, lighting, wastebaskets and other new amenities Downtown have been sent to the state Department of Transportation for approval.
PennDOT must OK the renderings before Fifth Avenue can be reconstructed using $929,000 in state funding.
Brewster said the city will probably get new signage to direct visitors to landmarks like the marina, city hall, the post office and the Palisades ballroom. He said the city is moving quickly to make sure the state doesn't yank back the funding, which was authorized in 2006.
"The project is approved, but the state is broke," Brewster said. "I don't think there's any project on the table that the governor couldn't pull the money from."
Replacing all of the sidewalks between Water and Huey streets would be "cost prohibitive," the mayor said, but new curb cuts for wheelchairs and motorized scooters will be created.
The city has been criticized in the past by advocates for the disabled because many sidewalks either lack wheelchair access ramps or have them improperly installed.
Category: News || By
Presidents' Day is "P-Day" in the city. That's "P" as in "parking."
Stung by an epidemic of parking scofflaws Downtown, city officials will begin an enforcement crackdown on Feb. 16. Notices will be distributed to employers and stores in the central business district, said Bethany Budd Bauer, community development director.
"We want to encourage people to come Downtown, but we can't have people parking all over the place," she said.
On any typical weekday afternoon, cars are parked at expired meters, in traffic lanes, or left standing at yellow curbs and fire hydrants.
City officials say they want the parking problem straightened out before the reconstruction of Fifth Avenue begins later this year. And with the city recently forced to lay off 10 employees, every quarter helps municipal coffers.
Parking revenues are supposed to generate about $3,000 per week. This past Monday's collection was $475.
Compliance on Downtown streets is "a joke," Mayor Jim Brewster said. "If you ride down Fifth Avenue, you see every red flag up."
Parking in city lots or garages costs $1.50 all day, while metered parking generally runs 25 cents per hour. Few if any motorists are paying.
Brewster said failure of motorists to plug two bits into Downtown meters represents "a lack of respect" for the city. City officials also were embarrassed last month when someone stole 13 old-type parking meters in the 300 block of Fifth Avenue and are investigating more sophisticated electronic meters.
"When people say that McKeesport has declined, they need to look in the mirror," Brewster said. "It's a very serious thing, and I don't want to hear any whining from anybody."
Although parking revenues are far from the city's most important source of income, they do represent the salaries of two or more employees, he and others said.
Council President Regis McLaughlin said the city also needs to become stricter about collecting on parking tickets. Brewster said police are going to begin putting so-called "Denver boots" --- wheel immobilizers --- on the cars of scofflaws.
Besides lax enforcement, one problem may be a lack of signage. Officials admit that few motorists realize that they can pay for all-day parking --- with in and out privileges --- by stopping into the city treasurer's office. There are no attendants on duty at the Cox's Corner lot, for instance, and no signs explain parking regulations.
"We're going to get our arms around it and we're going to get this fixed," Brewster said.
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Category: Cartoons, Rants a.k.a. Commentary || By
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Category: General Nonsense, Pointless Digressions || By
We interrupt these tedious mutterings about the Mon-Fayette Expressway to bring you a story about another useless, slimy and painful annoyance in the Mon Valley --- mainly my cold.
Having migrated from my head to my throat to my chest, I thought the dreaded lurgy was on its way out until I woke up early this morning with my left eye stuck shut.
The germs decided to crawl back up my tear ducts and turn into conjunctivitis.
I never had "pink eye" when I was a kid, but now that I'm an alleged "grown-up" I've had it twice. Perhaps I'll be working through other childhood diseases soon. Maybe my crankiness is actually colic. Maybe my baldness is actually cradle cap.
I waited until 10 o'clock to call my doctor, who --- bless his heart --- called me back within five minutes. I won't mention his name, but if you're looking for a general practitioner in McKeesport, email me, and I'll recommend him privately.
He really is a great doctor, and I don't say that just because he bought my book. If you can't afford the operation, he touches up your X-rays. (Henny Youngman, 1969.)
. . .
Anyway, he prescribed eye drops and a general antibiotic. Now there's a problem.
I deal with a small, independent pharmacy that's been in business since the 1950s. They don't have stuffed animals, makeup, People magazine or ice cream. They have a prescription counter, some hard candy, a rack of sun-faded greeting cards, some pills and salve, and I think some liniment.
When I go into get my prescriptions, I deal directly with the pharmacist or his wife, and if I get a rash or a sniffle, he recommends the right pill or liniment, and he doesn't waste my time trying to sign me up for a frequent customer card, or sell me a digital camera or a Steelers bobble-head.
My pharmacy (again, recommendations available upon request) is open on Sundays, but my health insurance was recently switched. Now --- if I want the insurance to pay for the prescriptions --- I can only go to a certain, large national chain of pharmacies.
The same large national chain of pharmacies also owns the prescription insurance plan.
That doesn't seem like restraint of trade or anti-competitive behavior.
Gee, I'm sure glad we don't have nationalized medicine in the United States, or else the free enterprise system might suffer, and large bureaucracies might tell me where I can shop.
But I digress.
Here's another problem --- I've been boycotting this large chain of pharmacies ever since they filed a so-called "SLAPP" lawsuit against a group of historic preservationists in Homestead.
. . .
Normally, none of this makes a difference, because I continue to shop at my local drug store. I just pay cash. And the medications I usually take aren't very expensive (some allergy pills, an asthma inhaler, and the anti-psychotics that keep me from seeing giant fanged bats or buying Pirates tickets).
But the antibiotics were going to run over $200, so I figured I might as well stick that to the insurance company owned by the fancy-pants national drug store chain.
My doctor called the prescription into the big national pharmacy at 10:15. I drove to the big national pharmacy at 12:30.
Naturally, they still hadn't started working on the prescription --- but if I wanted to shop for stuffed animals, makeup, People magazine or ice cream while I waited, the girl told me, it would take about 20 minutes. And she tried to sign me up for a frequent shopper card.
Oh, I wasn't going to fall for their trickery. I just stood there and stared at her through my one good eye.
Why does a drug store chain get to own its own insurance company? And why wasn't my prescription ready when I got there? Because they wanted me to spend more money in the store.
The whole thing bugs me. But I'll get even with them. For one thing, I'm going to continue my boycott.
Also, I coughed in their ice cream case and rubbed my eyes on the stuffed animals on the way out the door.