Sunday, August 31, 2014

Is it time to consider redistricting?

In today's Post Gazette article Allegheny County school districts resize, close schools as population shifts, there is a comparison of Allegheny County K-12 schools enrollment, 2004 vs. 2013. Scroll down to the Mt. Lebanon Schools, and then scroll across to see the population shifts. Just an observation, and I may be completely wrong, but it appears that the elementary schools with increased enrollment are in areas with more apartment buildings.

Even districts with stable or growing enrollments aren’t exempt from enrollment pressures.
North Allegheny — which had similar enrollments in fall 2004 and fall 2013 — considered but decided against closing Peebles Elementary.
North Allegheny, did, however, redistrict 151 elementary and middle school students to better balance enrollment.
North Allegheny superintendent Raymond Gualtieri said redistricting takes place about every seven years to adjust to changing enrollment patterns.
“We have [housing] developments that had a lot of kids at every bus stop 15 years ago and now there are not as many kids at the bus stops. All of those families had kids go through the system. They haven’t sold their house yet,” he said.
“In other areas, we have new developments going in and there are three tricycles in every driveway.”
The county’s fastest growing district, South Fayette, grew 45 percent since 2004. It still has a lot of undeveloped land, and growth is expected to continue, said Brian Tony, director of finance.
South Fayette didn’t have a neighborhood school tradition. Its four buildings — elementary, intermediate, middle and high schools — are on one campus that used to be farmland.
South Fayette is looking at renovating its high school, built in 2002, because it may not be large enough by 2016.
Superintendent Billie Rondinelli said, “I believe that parents are coming here because they want the quality of education we are providing for the students.”
South Fayette’s new intermediate building opened last fall. Both of the other growing districts also have added buildings, Avonworth’s new Primary Center opened last week, and Pine-Richland added Eden Hall Upper Elementary School in 2008.

Mt. Lebanon did move up from #6 to #3 in total enrollment, even though Lebo's total enrollment has declined since 2004.  Yet, the board and the commission spend more and more money to attract young families. MTL's reputation for excellent schools just doesn't trump lower taxes or new housing stock on larger lots. Note: Artificial turf doesn't appear to be a draw for young families. Neither does a multi-million dollar high school renovation.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

staying informed

In the September 2014 issue of mtl Magazine, our Public Information Office has printed a very helpful guide to staying informed in Mt. Lebanon. In another article from the same issue of mtl Magazine, there is a link to Whirl Magazine for those interested broader coverage of Pittsburgh. It is available by subscriptions or on newstands.

staying informed written by Susan Fleming Morgans

We know you care about what happens in Mt. Lebanon, but we also know you’re busy—it’s hard to find time to attend a Commission meeting after a long day at work, when you’re catching dinner on the run, taking kids to sports event, helping with homework and supervising baths.

And if you don’t have kids at home, you may be at a time in life where you’re enjoying the chance to travel, do volunteer work, take long walks with your dog or try to get a handle on news that happens in the wide world beyond Mt. Lebanon.

Including busy residents in conversations about local government decisions is one of the Mt. Lebanon Commission’s and staff’s major goals. We want the “silent majority”—not just those who have an up close and personal stake in an issue—to know what is taking place before the Commission makes decisions and spends tax dollars, because decisions often set precedents and have wide-reaching implications.

So how can you keep informed and, when you wish, express your opinion? Here are some tips:

Read Mt. Lebanon Magazine in print or online.

Read other reputable local news media, including the Post-Gazette, the Tribune Review and The Almanac.

Use Mt. Lebanon’s social media. Become an mtl Facebook fan; check out the municipal homepage regularly and familiarize yourself with its search features; subscribe to LeboALERT (click on the button on the home page) for updates about meetings, events, safety alerts, traffic and road conditions and other important things.

Check out the Commission agendas for the discussion and regular meetings that take place the second Tuesday and fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 and 8 P.M. respectively. These agendas are posted the preceding Friday.

If you have questions or need clarification on issues under consideration, call or email any department head or Municipal Manager Steve Feller. (All are listed at www.mtlebanon.org; click on “Departments.” If you don’t know whom to call, Public Information Officer Susan Morgans, 412-343-3780, smorgans@mtlebanon.org, can direct you to the right person. You also may call or email your ward Commissioner or all the Commissioners.

Be sensitive about when you call them, but do not worry about “bothering” them; that goes with being an elected official.

If you have formed an opinion, use the E-comment feature of our Granicus videotaping system to share it with the Commission. Our video system not only broadcasts commission meetings in the days following the meeting but also permits you to comment on agenda items right up until the afternoon of the meeting.
e-comments

This E-comment feature has been underutilized so far, but it is a simple way to let the Commission know how you feel about an issue prior to a discussion session or a vote.

You may comment on an agenda item as soon as the agenda is posted. If you sign up under the “public meetings” category of LeboALERT, you will receive a text or email when a public meeting agenda is posted.

Talk with your neighbors. If you find you have a shared concern about a community or neighborhood issue and everyone can’t attend the Commission meeting, appoint a delegate or delegation who can attend and share the message you’ve all agreed upon. If several people are able to attend, ask each one to address a different aspect of the issue so they’re not repeating each other. If no one can attend the meeting, contact your ward
Commissioner or all the Commissioners.

Depending on your issue, attend an advisory board meeting (such as planning, parks or historic preservation) or review their agendas and minutes. Agendas and minutes are online as are videos of board meetings.

Most of these volunteer boards, which advise the Commission, meet monthly. All accept public comments that eventually may be included in a recommendation to the Commission.



Watch videos of the Commission’s discussion sessions. The discussion sessions, which begin at 6:30 p.m. before the regular 8 p.m. meetings, is where Commissioners talk about issues that may come up for vote. These meeting videos are online, permanently archived by topic. You’ll find out about evolving issues in time to share your opinion with the Commission, in person, by phone, letter or email or via E-comment.

If you really care about an issue, share your opinion at a Commission meeting. (Don’t assume that just because a lot of people are talking about an issue someone who agrees with you will show up!) Public comment is always at the start of the regular meeting, and you are free to leave as soon as you have spoken. If you want to speak, sign the sheet at the back of the room and remember that comments are limited to five minutes per speaker. And comments are preferable to questions, although depending on the time available, Commissioners may be able answer a question.

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Friday, August 29, 2014

BTW, we want artificial turf for the Rock Pile

The commissioners filled a vacancy on the Environmental Sustainability Board (ESB) on Monday evening. Not sure of the circumstances for this new appointment, I asked during Citizens Comments for more details. Apparently, the school board directors no longer want to be a part of the ESB.

The following is a letter to Kristen Linfante and Steve Feller, from school board president, Elaine Cappucci:

On Jun 11, 2014, at 4:34 PM, Elaine Cappucci <ECappucci@mtlsd.net> wrote:
Kristen and Steve,

As you know, there is currently one open position on the Environmental Sustainability Board, and the School Board is slated to select a candidate.

In past years, there have been two open seats at a time, and the municipality has advertised the openings and accepted resumes and applications which were then sent on to us after the commission chose a candidate.  Unlike the commission, the School Board does not operate any other volunteer boards like the ESB.  We do not have any applications for the currently open seat.

When the ESB was formed, its purpose was to gain local government approval of the Mt. Lebanon Climate Action Plan, which was prepared by a group of resident volunteers interested in reducing energy use in Mt. Lebanon.  Both the commission and the School Board approved the plan and formation of the ESB.  The goal of the Action Plan was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy consumption, a goal the School District continuously works on.  Since that time the ESB has expanded their role, but the majority of their work has been on issues pertaining to the municipality, not the School District.  Our role in the ESB is limited to projects within our buildings, while the commission’s responsibilities are more far-reaching. 

We would like to ask the commission to appoint a new ESB member to the open position this year and for the next two open School Board positions since you have the pool of candidates for volunteer board positions.  At the end of that process, the ESB would be a board of the commission.

Respectfully,
Elaine
So the school board wants to back out of the ESB. This move falls in line with the school board's desire to tear down Building C, built in 1972 and supports their future capital project of artificially turfing the Rock Pile.

The commission president blindly honored Elaine Cappucci's request and never realized that it was a violation of the Municipality of Mt. Lebanon Administrative Code

140.2 Membership and Term. The Environmental Sustainability Board shall consist of seven (7) members each appointed for a three (3) year term. The initial terms of board members shall be one (1), two (2) and three (3) years. No more than three (3) members’ terms shall expire in any one year. Three (3) board members shall be appointed by the municipality, three (3) shall be appointed by the Mt. Lebanon School District and one (1) shall be selected by the six (6) seated members.
I asked if the ordinance needed to be amended, and the solicitor's response was, "Yes."

Additionally, I asked for the list of unassigned funds discussed at the Commission Discussion Session. Kristen was referring to items by letter, instead of explaining what each line item was for the public's benefit. That list has been posted on the municipal website. I could not find it on the website, so Steve Feller sent this to me this morning.

The link is: http://mtlebanon.org/DocumentCenter/View/10437
It was posted the next morning under finance dept.with a paragraph stating: 
Finance Department 
Documents
  • The Commission had a public hearing on June 23, 2014 to consider projects for the unassigned fund balance and received comments at that hearing. Since then there have been a few additions. Here are the most recent items that are being considered, all of them under the general categories that previously were discussed. 2014 Capital worksheet
Thanks.
Steve 
Kristen would not approve items O and P, feeling that there was a statement being made. She went on to say that it had something to do with those opposed to artificial turf. Unfortunately, there is no statement being made. I can vouch for the need in Rockwood Park. The black rubber sidewalks are a perfect palette for sidewalk chalk drawings during cool weather like we had yesterday, but the children cannot walk on the black rubber in hot weather, let alone sit on the walk while creating their masterpieces. Unfortunately $1,500 is money not well spent, in Kristen's mind. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

This could have been in Mt. Lebanon

Today, famous skateboarder Tony Hawk is coming to Carnegie's new skatepark, built in memory of Mary Pitcher's two sons. Carnegie firms up arrangements for Hawk appearance

I am so happy for Mary; her vision has become a reality. Mary had come to Mt. Lebanon when Dave Brumfield was president in 2012. The deal was a sweet one. 85% of the cost of the $600,000 project was donated.

Pitcher Park going to...

Unfortunately, Dave's arrogance and desire to concentrate on field sports, enabled Mary to make an easy decision. I am thankful, however, through discussions between Dave and my son, skateboarders are now permitted to skateboard on sidewalks or streets in Mt. Lebanon.

Congratulations, Mary Pitcher and Carnegie!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

We just worry about chickens here UPDATED with new comments

On Monday evening, Commissioners will be talking about the birds and the bees, no cats. On the Commission Discussion Session Agenda, Item Number 6 is Animal regulations - bees and chickens.

Video: Nearly 100 sick cats removed from Mt. Lebanon home

PITTSBURGH —

Nearly 100 cats were taken from a Mt. Lebanon home on Friday.

Many of the cats removed from the home on Pennsylvania Boulevard were very sick and had to be euthanized.

“We heard there was a tenant evicted and left behind 70-100 cats,” said a neighbor.

The landlord told Channel 11’s Cara Sapida that he tried to get help but in Mt. Lebanon, there are no laws against hoarding cats.

“In Mt. Lebanon, we don’t have an ordinance about cats and the number of cats you can have in a residence and cats roaming freely in the neighborhood,” said Aaron Luth of the Mt. Lebanon police department.

The landlord paid an outside company to remove the cats.

Sapida was told only two of the cats they removed were healthy. Some cats were missing eyes and covered in fleas.

There were no litter boxes inside the home, Sapida reported.

Neighbors want the evicted tenant to be charged.

The healthy cats were taken to Animal Friends.

Update August 28, 2014 8:01 AM Deaths of cats prompt review in Mt. Lebanon

A thoughtful response from a commissioner

Lebo Citizens reader, Richard Gideon, recently sent these questions to the Commission. Commissioner Fraasch's answers are in red.

Commissioners:
After listening to the last commission meeting on 12 August 2014 I have a few questions that I'd like to ask your Honors:

  • A resident asked Commissioner Bendel if he thought artificial turf was "an essential need."  Mr. Bendel replied that "it's a need."  May I conclude from that exchange that the commission agrees that it is not part of the core responsibilities of Mt. Lebanon to provide artificial turf to the community?  
  • I would agree that it is not a core responsibility.  However as I look back these last three years, we do a lot that isn't our core responsibility whether still in the community's best interest or possibly not.  The conversation with Mr. Bendel and the resident was about essential need vs need.  I personally believe that we have need at maintaining the fields we have and if the opportunity arises to add a field to do so, as you know, I don't think that I would have done very well in the debate because I don't see turf as an essential need or even a need.
  • Earlier in the meeting (if I remember the timeline correctly) Mr. Bendel told the same resident that one of the benefits of artificial turf is that it would eliminate the necessity of our field sports teams to occasionally play or practice on fields located outside the municipality.  Why is playing on a field outside the boundaries of Mt. Lebanon a bad thing?  If venues are available and nearby, what difference does it make where they are located?   Some of the venues are not nearby and I think that is the concern.  I agree with Mr. Bendel that it would be optimal to have some of these teams play here in Mt Lebanon, but I also agree with you Mr. Gideon if you can't what's the big deal if it's nearby (30-40 mins).  
I don't want to put Mr. Bendel on the spot, so any one of you who is so inclined may answer those questions as well. In addition to the above, I have been wrestling with a couple of other issues related to field turf, but not necessarily exclusive to it. It has been stated that placing artificial turf on our Cedar Boulevard fields will attract new, young families into the municipality. With that in mind, I have the following questions:
  • What constitutes the demographics for a "new, young family?"  It certainly can't be Millennials (18 to 29); a recent survey by the Reason-Rupe Poll, in cooperation with the Pew Foundation, shows that most Millennials are unmarried (71%), only 19% currently own a home or condo, and what's more important, most Millennials don't have the money it would take to live In Mt. Lebanon.  I assume you are targeting the over 30 crowd.  I read that poll as well and I think even more so that age group is looking at condo and townhouse living with move-in ready and you are right we don't have a lot of that housing stock here.  That is why SF, Peters, and others are booming.  I am not sure what demographic the Commission is looking at specifically because I don't think it has ever been discussed.
  • Since Mt. Lebanon is (almost) completely built-out, and a large percentage of homes (probably more than half) are older, post WWII vintage houses with limited floor space, it becomes rather apparent that attracting "new, young families" will be a zero sum game; i.e., some person, couple, or family in a desirable house will have to "go away" for the new young family to move in.  Of course this is not 100% correct, but I think you would all agree that the amount of space available for new construction is severely limited.  It also becomes rather obvious that the people who will have to go are elderly couples or elderly singles, "empty nest" families, or families consisting of only one child.  Does the commission have a plan to encourage these people to go away?  (By the way, I'm not being "flippant"; these are questions that other communities are debating!)  I understand your question and the answer is no I don't believe we do.  We also don't have a comprehensive plan if they stay and I mean our public transportation isn't there. We don't have sidewalks everywhere either and we are currently working on our accessibility practices for buildings/roads. 
  • Should you achieve your goal of attracting moderate to large numbers of new, young families into Mt. Lebanon it will undoubtedly put a strain on field services - we're assuming these families want their kiddos to play field sports - and the school district.  This, in turn, will necessitate increased spending on the part of both the municipality and the district (for example, the artificial turf will experience more use due to the increased number of kids using it).  Spending comes from revenues, and revenues come mostly from real estate and earned income taxes.  If the number of new families is limited by the availability of desirable housing, then these families will perforce have to be very high income earners (probably duel-incomes). Given these things, what constitutes the profile of your target family?  In other words, what should they have in terms of net income (because real estate taxes are paid out of net income, not gross); ideally, how many kids should each family have; and what would be the typical value of a home they would purchase?  In a community, and especially a "built-out" one, there must be an optimum ratio between the under 18 population and non-essential services provided to them by taxpayers.  This is my personal opinion, not the Commissions.  We highly rely on our families to do volunteerism in the schools which almost requires a stay at home parent.  Our school system is making some headway, but still relies/assumes that most students have one parent that stays home so we already have a disparity, because our taxes almost require dual income.  Most families in the country, cannot afford one parent staying home and affording our cost of living in Mt Lebanon for purchasing real estate but also times are changing and both parents are becoming more ambitious about their careers and don't want to take time off to raise the children.  So our school district still lives in part in the days where "Johnny" could come home for lunch or expect Johnny's mom to do the PTA/Science group and Writing Lab.  When we begin looking at this shift as a community/school we will see full-day Kindergarten, comprehensive after school programming for all kids, and maybe some school programs eliminated.  I think we would see major differences in school/community if we became more dual parent focused.  Until then, I believe that is why we are seeing more rentals and that will continue to grow.  Young families, single moms want to have their child attend a safe school/live in a safe neighborhood and they pull the funds together to rent.  I also see many retirees or recent widows that want to live in a safe area but don't want to be responsible for the daily care of a house so they rent. Ward 5 continues to grow in rental living every year and some properties do take decent care of the rental, others most definitely do not.  To answer your question in a number ratio, I am not sure, but I understand your question and see the issues every time I talk to residents.
  • What is your estimate of home price inflation that will be required to sustain a growth of, say, 10% in the under 18 demographic over a period of eight years (I chose eight years because that's the replacement time for artificial field turf) - keeping in mind that the total population of Mt. Lebanon would not rise by the same amount?  Same question, but with an increase of 20%?  To guide your thinking on this, consider a hypothetical town with two families, A and B, each consisting of five "under 18" kids and two adults.  The total number of kids is 10, and the total population is 14.  Family B moves away and is replaced by family C, consisting of six kids and two adults.  The number of kids in total has increased by 10%, but the total population has increased by seven percent.  That additional kid, not being a producer, will put additional strain on the municipality and school system, thus raising the costs for both.  I am not sure.
  • Finally, what is the criteria for public financing of special interest entertainments?  (Again, I'm not being flippant.  Each organized field sport, such as baseball, football, lacrosse, etc.,  is a special interest.  That does not mean field sports are bad things; it simply means they are not "essential needs" and do not serve over 50% of the community.)  As a private pilot I'd love to see an airfield in Mt. Lebanon - it would save me from driving to the Allegheny County Airport (if I were still flying, that is!).  I am sure other Mt. Lebanon pilots would agree.  Now that may be a little grandiose, so how about a zip-line facility - perhaps in Bird Park?  That would be fun, and it would certainly attract the more adventurous types of young families and their kids.  So, hypothetically speaking, if I were to provide a quarter of the costs for a zip-line could I depend upon the municipality to fund the rest?  There isn't a criteria.  Anyone could come to us and if a Commissioner or staff person has an interest in moving the idea forward it can be possible.  Zip line, Denis Theater, Horsing facility, airport,  what have you.
I hope this information helps.  I can definitely expand my personal thoughts, opinions etc by phone or over coffee as well.

Thanks Mr. Gideon.
Kelly

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bendel on historic preservation

At the last commission meeting, John Bendel was the only commissioner opposed to replacing bricks with asphalt on Rae Avenue. His reason? He was concerned about preserving the integrity of that neighborhood.

In the Trib's article Mt. Lebanon residents opposed to loss of brick roads, Bendel was quoted as saying, “The brick streets, they give our neighborhoods character, and preserving them is key to preserving the historical nature of those neighborhoods.” What a hypocrite.

A few months ago, I contacted the Mt. Lebanon Historic Preservation Board regarding the fields in the historic district of Mt. Lebanon. See Dear Mt. Lebanon Historic Preservation Board.

Recently, I had sent this to the Historic Preservation Board. 
My frustration is that you are speaking to the Commission and asking them to spend $140,000 more for bricks on Rae Avenue, in order to preserve the integrity of the neighborhood, while looking the other way while the Commission spends $800,000 to destroy the integrity of our historic fields, one of the last green spaces in Mt. Lebanon, as you described in your application. You could have had a portion of the unassigned funds for bricks, had you gotten involved. Do you even know how Wildcat got its name? I lived in Mt. Lebanon most of my life and have a passion for preserving the integrity of our community. Where's your passion?
After further communication from Historic Preservation Board member Bill Callahan, I questioned their silence concerning preserving the historic fields on Cedar Blvd.
Your commission liaison, Mr. Bendel, has not informed you of these plans. Why is that?

The Parks Advisory Board and the Environmental Sustainability Board has weighed in on the artificial turf, yet the Historic Preservation Board has been silent. Your chair person has gone to the podium on several occasions concerning bricks, yet never once commented on the removal of one of our last green spaces in Mt. Lebanon. Surely, you have seen the signs all over Mt. Lebanon about artificial turf. Have you even questioned your municipal liaison, Susan Morgans or your commission liaison, John Bendel about this project? Why is that?

I have sat at Commission Discussion Sessions where you and the Board Chair have discussed the application for the National Register. I have seen your picture with Dan Miller, but never once has the subject of artificial turf changing the integrity of our historical fields been brought up. Why is that?

Again, I ask you folks, where is your passion to preserve the integrity of these historical grass fields on Cedar Blvd.?
This is another example of commissioners' friends staying quiet on the artificial turf project. We have a bunch of "sheeple" on our Boards now.

Update August 21, 2014 7:58 AM Meanwhile, players are threatening legal action over artificial turf at the 2015 Women's World Cup.

Players threaten legal action over artificial turf at Women's World Cup Consigning women to a second-class surface is gender discrimination that violates European charters and numerous provisions of Canadian law.”

Players retain legal counsel in fight against artificial turf at 2015 Women's World Cup
“We’ve worked so hard as female athletes – not only here in the United States, but internationally – to grow the game and in my opinion I think this is taking a step back. All of the men’s international players around the world would argue the same point. A lot of these guys will not play on an artificial surface because it is an injury-prone surface and I don’t blame them.”

Sports Illustrated: Top women's stars mobilizing for legal bout vs. FIFA over World Cup turf

Update August 21, 2014 10:48 AM A Lebo Citizens reader sent me this photo and note:


These injuries are from playing soccer on turf. This women is a World Cup player. Men World Cup players won't play soccer on turf because of this type of injury. Can you imagine if kids came home with these types of injuries from Lebo turf






Update August 24, 2014 4:20 PM 
Alex Morgan upset about 159 degrees temps on turf field

From Twitter: 159 degrees on soccer field 
Alex Morgan (@alexmorgan13)
The temperature of the Turf field today. How is this healthy for us??? #Grass2015#GrassNotTurf pic.twitter.com/YEnnVApra3

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Want to know about flooding in Mt. Lebanon?

A few people have asked me how to find archived Lebo Citizens posts about flooding in Mt. Lebanon. There is a small search box located in the upper left hand corner of Lebo Citizens. By entering the word "flooding" in the search box, these articles pop up. http://lebocitizens.blogspot.com/search?q=Flooding

Hope that helps, Folks.

Next up: Kristen Linfante

Next up: Kristen Linfante


KristenLinfante
What does a week in the life of the Executive Director of Chamber Music Pittsburgh (CMP) look like (and what book is currently on her nightstand)? Fresh off the heels of performing at the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Kristen Linfante shares her plans on and off stage. Linfante, who began her music performance (viola) studies at age 14 at Juilliard, resides with her two sons in Mt. Lebanon, where she also serves as President of the Mt. Lebanon Commission.
Monday, August 18
Fighting a bit of jet lag after returning from performances at the Grand Teton Music Festival in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. (This was my 19th year at the festival.) Wade through messages and my “to-do” list at the CMP office in Oakland. On this particular day I will spend much of the day prepping for the season opener in September. Arrive home about 6 p.m., and make dinner for me and my boys. An evening stroll with my boys, Hale and Cameron, in Uptown Mt. Lebanon, where we live. A stop at Betsy’s Ice Cream parlor is a must! The flavors are unique and amazingly delicious. The Baklava is indescribable! Close out the day with a “date” with my beloved—my viola! We’ve been “together” since 1989. It was a very special gift from my teacher upon his death back when I was a student at Juilliard. Practice a bit in my studio at home. Put my boys to bed. Crash!
Tuesday, August 19
“Lunch date” with Quickbooks—lunch provided by Little Asia on South Craig Street in Oakland. Take a walk down the street to Carnegie Music Hall to check out the location of CMP’s new season poster outside of the venue. Back to the office to work on instrument inventory for our Poco a Poco music program at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School. Drive to a 5:30 p.m. guitar lesson for my son at Empire Music in Mt. Lebanon. Next, hop on the T with my boys and go back into town for the Pirates game against the Braves! Go Bucs!
Wednesday, August 20
Morning meeting in Squirrel Hill with the President of the CMP board, Bill Lafe. Lunch at Legume on North Craig Street in Oakland. A short brisk walk around the PITT campus around midday to keep me moving! Back home by 5:30 p.m., quick dinner with my boys and then on to a 7 p.m. meeting of the Mt. Lebanon Democratic Committee at the Municipal Building on Washington Road. Back home, put the boys to bed, and listen to some gorgeous music by Bertali before lights out. If you’ve never heard of Bertali, here’s a sample: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyNXCDGo4L0.
Thursday, August 21
Morning meeting with the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust Downtown, in preparation for Arts Day of Giving. A stop at PPG Plaza to check out one of the Laurel Foundation’s Plein Air Art Sessions at the Seward Johnson Sculpture, Turn of the Century—A Dance at Bougival. Phone meeting about a special surprise event planned for season ‘15-16. Dinner at Jade Grill on Washington Road in Mt. Lebanon. It’s a phenomenal restaurant where they make handmade noodles. Then off to a meeting of SHACOGSouth Hills Area Council of Governments. As a member of the board of SHACOG, I represent the local government of the municipality of Mt. Lebanon.
Friday, August 22
Early to the CMP office in Oakland, and a short lunchtime trip to Carnegie Museum of Art to check out their exhibit, Small Prints, Big Artists: Masterpieces from the Renaissance to Baroque.
Saturday, August 23
Morning trip to the Mt. Lebanon Farmers’ Market on Washington Road. Afternoon at home cooking. Some late evening work related to my commissioner job. On Fridays, I receive a packet of documents from the municipality of Mt. Lebanon. I’ll spend time tonight studying the documents in preparation for our next meeting on Monday, August 25th.
Sunday, August 24
Watch the Pirates game on TV with my boys. Final prep in the evening for commission meeting the next day. Read a bit of the book on my nightstand—Arianna Huffington’s On Becoming Fearless. Lights out early after a busy weekend of activities. Zzzzzzzzzzz …

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How low can we go?

I found the 2010 lean and clean and smart annual report produced by the Public Information Office on the municipal website. So many changes since 2010!

Concerning the cover of the report, the PIO writes: "What better symbol of Mt. Lebanon’s clean, transparent government than water splashing from the fountain at Clearview Common, a popular Uptown gathering space." I don't think I had submitted any Right To Knows for the municipal side of our government at that point. Former commissioner Dan Miller took pride in sharing documents with residents.

In 2010, our municipal government was tightening its belt. Manager Steve Feller writes: "Kept the undesignated fund balance at above 10 percent, the amount recommended by rating agencies." This year, as a result of our greedy Commission, Moody downgraded our ratings. Moody's reports challenges to be:

CHALLENGES:
Below average fund balance
Large overlapping debt with local school district
The spending of $800,000 on artificial turf violates the terms of the ordinance established by the commission.  The ordinance states that unassigned funds Cannot be used for regularly scheduled and reoccurring operational expenditures. The artificial turf is to be replaced every eight years.

Recycling is up, "increased participation over two years by 89 percent." Now we are faced with another hidden tax a.k.a. "Pay as You Throw" next month, to encourage more residents to recycle. 

Look at the partnerships:
"Share services, form partnerships; right-size and reduce redundancies
This is just good common sense. Here are a few examples:
• Signed a new two-year agreement with the school district
and the Youth Soccer Association for continued maintenance
of school athletic fields.
• Implemented the “Go Zone” uniform signage program with
the school district.
• Decided to consolidate parking authority operations into
municipal government by December 31, 2011.
• Developed a retail management and promotions strategy for
Uptown in partnership with Duquesne University."
The two year agreement with the school district and the YSA (Youth Sports Alliance, NOT the Youth Soccer Association) was a disaster. Now, the commission has chosen to enter into another maintenance agreement with the school district for Middle and Wildcat Fields.

The "Go Zone" is a disaster and has been discussed here on Lebo Citizens.

The Parking Authority was consolidated, but I'm not clear on how the funds are being spent in regard to the latest bond issue.

Retail management and promotions strategy: We couldn't have a finer manager of the Commercial Districts Office, but the TOD is going nowhere, thanks to our commission.

"Coffee with the Manager, a community relations board program that invites residents to discuss issues with the staff informally at a coffee house." and "People don’t always have time to attend public meetings, so they appreciated Coffee with the Manager, a community relations board program that promotes transparent government by inviting residents to meet informally with Manager Steve Feller and other staff members at a local coffee house." Coffee with the Manager is history. Susan Morgans said that it was not well attended. I believe the last coffee was concurrent with the Candidates Forum. 

Changes include the power structure of our municipal government. For instance, the organizational chart shows the Boards are higher on the organizational chart than staff. Now, the staff tells the Boards "how it is." 

An interesting read on undesignated funds:
The total fund balance is the difference between assets and liabilities in a specific fund of the municipality. The undesignated portion of the fund balance represents expendable available resources that can be spent for emergencies and future uncertainties. In the General Fund, the municipality’s primary operating fund, the undesignated fund balance decreased by $487,434 from 2009 to 2010. This decrease was caused by use of fund balance in the 2011 budget and a designation for 2012 to help with pension contributions. The municipality has worked to increase the General Fund’s undesignated fund balance from a low of 4.1 percent of operating revenues in 2004. Rating agency and industry standards recommend an undesignated fund balance in the General Fund to be 5 to 15 percent of operating revenues. At year-end 2010, the General Fund undesignated fund balance was 11 percent.
Newcomers should read about real estate trends.
While the real estate market has significantly declined in other areas of the country, the values in Mt. Lebanon have not been as vulnerable. After a dip in average sales price in 2008, the prices in Mt. Lebanon showed recovery in 2009 and remained steady in 2010. The average sales price increased a mere 0.1 percent from 2009 to 2010. The number of properties sold has been constant in the past, but in the last few years has been far more market sensitive.
We are moving in the wrong direction. There is less transparency, more debt and wreckless spending, lower fund balance, poorer ratings, and the staff is out of control. Have I missed anything?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fraasch on Flooding UPDATED 2X

During the Commission Discussion Session on Tuesday, Commissioner Kelly Fraasch gave a jaw dropping presentation on the flooding issue in Mt. Lebanon. Kelly included photos of the devastation our neighbors are expected to endure. Her presentation was uploaded to her blog and can be seen in her post, Stormwater in Mt Lebanon.

Sadly, some of this year's photos were from Castle Shannon Blvd., in Dave Brumfield's ward. His constituents addressed these issues a year ago, during Citizen Comments at the August 13, 2013 Commission meeting.  Did anyone see Castle Shannon Blvd. stormwater listed in the new bond issue? I didn't. At that same meeting, I talked about our aging infrastructure and how the unassigned funds should not go toward turf, at that time, for Mellon Field.

It is also sad that Dave Brumfield has not fought for relief for his constituents on Castle Shannon Blvd. He would rather put the money into turf. You are a real piece of work, Dave.

Please listen to the August 13, 2013 podcast here. Mr. Ellis' comments begin at the 00:31:00 time stamp.


The Gateway update on flooding is on the municipal website here or listen to the podcast here. The Ellis property was discussed and Dave Brumfield was a part of that discussion. Here's an idea, Dave. Instead of spending $800,000 on toxic turf, take that money and put it in the stormwater fund so that people like the Ellis family, can go back to living normal lives.

Update August 14, 2014 6:43 PM Mt. Lebanon commissioners hear flooding concerns, approve storm sewer project (Saved in Google Docs)
Elaine Gillan also criticized the board.
“You have no business paying $800,000 for a turf field and then issuing a bond on stormwater management infrastructure (and collecting) a million a year in stormwater fees,” she said. “Moody’s downgraded us (to AA-2). You guys have really lost it.”

Also
“It flooded nine days ago as well ... what would happen if there’s an emergency and someone needs to get to the hospital?” Elaine Gillan, of 735 Vallevish Ave., asked. “With the construction going on there, we should have a temporary exit strategy.”
Our Chief of Police, Coleman McDonough, assured residents that the police department has keys to the gates and would be able to open them in an emergency.

August 14, 2014 8:41 PM A little fact checking. We were told by Gateway that Middle and Wildcat are 2 feet higher in elevation. Here is what Google Earth says about that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mt. Lebanon leaders approve borrowing $4.2M

Mt. Lebanon commissioners approved borrowing $4.21 million a week after Moody's downgraded the municipality's bond rating, a change that could lead to slightly higher interest payments for the municipality.
The commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved issuing the bond with the intent of spending the largest share, $1.66 million, on repairs to two municipal parking garages. The rest will go toward roof repairs on municipal buildings, three storm water projects and equipment purchases.
Moody's Investors Service last week downgraded the municipality's bond rating from Aa1 to Aa2, moving it from the fourth-highest possible rating to the fifth, citing Mt. Lebanon's declining fund balance.
Finance Director Andrew McCreery said the drop from a $10.86 million fund balance in 2011 to $5.41 million in 2013 happened mostly because of changes in bookkeeping.
“ ‘Downgrade' has such a bad connotation, but it's a slight downgrade,” he said, and Moody's adjustment could mean an extra $15,000 in payments over the 15-year life of the bond.
McCreery said Mt. Lebanon's fund balance previously included about $3.84 million that the Mt. Lebanon Parking Authority channeled through the municipality.
When the municipality absorbed the parking authority in 2012, that money — which the municipality couldn't spend, but which showed up as part of its fund balance — shifted to a dedicated parking fund, McCreery said.
In last year's budget, the municipality spent about $1.4 million of its fund balance on recreation improvements such as upgrades to its ice rink and tennis center.
The Moody's rating did not account for $162,600 the commission approved in July toward a $1.05 million project to replace two grass fields in the municipal park with artificial turf. The municipality is paying $800,000 for the project out of its reserves and money it had budgeted, but not spent, on other field improvements.
Some residents questioned why the commission was borrowing money for infrastructure when part of its budget surplus is going toward the turf project, or why the bonds were funding storm water projects when Mt. Lebanon already charged property owners a special fee for dealing with rainstorm runoff.
“Are these things essential needs that you're going to bonds for? Is artificial turf an essential need?” resident Kimberly Schevtchuck asked.
“It is a need,” Commissioner John Bendel said. Commissioner Dave Brumfield said a bond was funding the storm sewer projects for Marlin Drive, Mapleton Avenue, Lindendale Drive and Longuevue Drive — expected to cost about $1.5 million — so they could be built right away. Part of the storm water fee revenues would go toward paying back the borrowed money.
“You have no business spending $800,000 on turf when you're taking out a bond,” resident Elaine Gillen said.
Municipal Manager Steve Feller said the parking garage projects are under way, having been funded in part by parking money in anticipation of the commission approving bonds for the rest.
Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or msantoni@tribweb.com.



Monday, August 11, 2014

This is what I am dealing with UPDATED

Through the Right To Know which I am still working through, I found Kristen's letter where she told fellow commissioners how the ESB Chair had Kristen "insist" on artificial turf. I posted it here and also sent it to the ESB, minus the ESB Chair, since I had an old email address of hers and did not have her new one. I sent further communication to the entire ESB concerning the RTK, including the ESB Chair, after I had a current list of emails.

I had a feeling that Kristen Linfante would weigh in on this email exchange, so I filed a Right To Know asking for all emails to or from Kristen Linfante concerning the ESB Chair, Elaine Gillen, Lebo Citizens from August 1, 2014 to and including August 3, 2014.

I love how Kristen still thinks I ran against her. I'm flattered that she would think that I would remove the word "organic" myself. I'm good, Kristen, but I'm not THAT good.

I don't see the humor in the ESB Chair's statement that Autocorrect suggested that igniting me is the only way to deal with me. I also don't appreciate the libelous statements made about me.

Here is the email exchange from my latest RTK.

Update August 19, 2014 7:31 AM After the ESB Chair joked about igniting me, she asked about Kristen's trip out west. Here ya go, Kathy. NEXT Up: Kristen Linfante Third summer that my commissioner has been MIA. By the way, no apology from the ESB Chair or Miss Kristen. Oh, how some women are permitted to behave around here.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Moody's Downgrades Lebo's Rating UPDATED

Assigns Aa2 to $3.9M 2014 bonds; municipality has $31.9M outstanding post-sale

New York, August 05, 2014 --

Moody's Rating

Issue: General Obligation Bonds, Series 2014; Rating: Aa2; Sale Amount: $3,900,000; Expected Sale Date: 8/13/2014; Rating Description: General Obligation

Opinion

Moody's Investors Service has downgraded the Municipality of Mt. Lebanon, PA to Aa2 from Aa1, affecting $28 million of outstanding General Obligation debt. Concurrently, we have assigned a Aa2 rating to the municipality's $3.9 million General Obligation Bonds, Series 2014.

The bonds, including the municipality's guaranteed parking revenue and sewer revenue bonds, are secured by the municipality's general obligation, unlimited tax pledge.

Proceeds of the current issue will be used to fund seven capital projects, including improvements to municipal-owned parking garages, work on the municipal building's roof, and stormwater projects.

SUMMARY RATING RATIONALE

The downgrade to Aa2 incorporates the municipality's declining fund balance, which is now lower than average for the Aa1 rating category. The rating reflects the municipality's moderately sized and affluent tax base in suburban Pittsburgh (rated A1 stable), a favorable income tax trend, and a modest debt burden.

STRENGTHS:

Affluent tax base in strong regional economy

Favorable income tax trend

CHALLENGES:

Below average fund balance

Large overlapping debt with local school district

WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING - UP:

Increases in fund balance to levels more consistent with higher rating categories

WHAT COULD CHANGE THE RATING - DOWN

Further declines in the General Fund balance

Reversal of recent favorable income tax trend

Update August 9, 2014 10:57 AM From the August 12, 2014 Agenda, here are the seven projects to be funded from the bond issue.

Change Orders for August

From the August 11, 2014 School Board Discussion Meeting Agenda:

Change Orders for High School Renovation Project – The list of change orders for the month of August totals $74,761 from the contingency fund, $42,847 from the Capital Fund and $27,846 from soft costs. The recommended change orders are as follows:

a. GC-104-239 to Nello for $56,811 for modifications to stairs, bathrooms, ceilings, ducts, posts, doors and floors,

b. EL-64-240 to Farfield for $10,654 for power to fans, building circuits, elevator work, plaster and fiber optic lines,

c. ME-26-241 to McKamish for $7,296 for HVAC and duct work,

d. IN-03-05 to Nello for $3,311 to repair broken glass windows,

e. IN-04-06 to Vrabel for $2,172 is to repair toilet fixtures,

f. IN-05-07 to Farfield for $4,005 to repair lights and power,

g. IN-06-08 to McKaqmish for $3,539 to repair leaks and water heater controls,

h. PL-33-242 to Vrabel for $29,820 to modify railing at pool, and

i. EL-65-243 to Farfield for $27,846 to add power for computers in Library.

The superintendent recommends approval of these change orders.

Way to go, MTLSD. You are now breaking this down into three funds. Which goes to which? The only one I can figure out is soft costs for Item i. Do I start a new total for soft costs?