White Oak council has passed the borough's 2018 budget with no tax increase --- but with the caveat that it may re-open the spending plan next month.
And they did so without Council President Ron Massung, who resigned from borough council after 26 years.
At a special meeting Thursday, council voted 6-0 to accept the $5.4 million budget, which fixes real estate taxes at 6.66 mills. Borough Manager John Palyo said the total spending plan is roughly the same as the 2017 budget.
But, Palyo said, with new council members being seated on Jan. 2, they may exercise their prerogative to re-open the budget. Under the state's borough code, they would have until Feb. 15 to do so.
"Being a reorganization year, the new council is going to want to look at everything that has been proposed," Palyo said.
Allegheny County Health Department has issued a warning to residents of the Wilmerding area after a cat suffering from rabies was found in the 400 block of Orient Avenue.
“We strongly urge all residents to avoid any kind of contact with a wild or stray animal, particularly those in Wilmerding, where the rabid cat was found,” Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the health department, said in a statement. “If any animal appears to be acting strange or becomes threatening, residents should notify their local animal control service, the police or the Pennsylvania Game Commission immediately.”
A woman who was scratched by the cat has been referred for treatment, Hacker said. The cat also was exposed to other animals, including pets, in the Wilmerding area.
(This story will be updated as additional information becomes available.)
Two people are dead following a house fire in the 3000 block of State Street in White Oak.
Matt Brown, chief of emergency services for Allegheny County, said the fire was reported at 3:44 a.m. Thursday. Upon arrival less than five minutes later, White Oak police and firefighters found the house fully engulfed by flame, Brown said.
Firefighters entered the house and found two people dead on the first floor, Brown said. Their names have not yet been released pending notification of next of kin, he said.
A Duquesne-based company that bills itself as one of the largest manufacturers of pillows and bedding accessories in the United States will receive a grant that could clear the way for future expansion, according to a state senator.
State Sen. Jim Brewster said American Textile Co. is receiving a $1.5 million grant to allow it to remediate part of the former U.S. Steel Duquesne Works, where its headquarters and a factory that employs more than 200 people is located.
Both part of the existing factory space as well as part of the neighboring property will be cleaned and cleared of contamination left over from steelmaking operations, Brewster said in a prepared statement.
Two people, including a teen-ager charged as an adult, face preliminary hearings next week on charges they shot at a security guard at a McKeesport apartment complex.
Dailan Smith, 26, of McKeesport and Jahi Rox, 17, of Duquesne are each charged by McKeesport police with attempted homicide, aggravated assault, criminal conspiracy, making terroristic threats and reckless endangerment. Both also face additional charges.
They are being held in the Allegheny County Jail in lieu of $100,000 cash bond.
McKeesport police said a security guard was on duty at Hi-View Gardens on Dec. 6 when a car slowly approached him from the 700 block of Sixth Avenue just before 9 p.m. Police said the car stopped and someone inside the vehicle yelled, "I'll smoke you (expletive)" and began shooting.
(Above: McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, Big's Sanitation president Joe Eori Jr., and Matt Gergely, assistant to the business manager at McKeesport Area School District, load Christmas hams for delivery to local families on Wednesday. Photo special to Tube City Almanac)
More than two dozen McKeesport families received surprise gifts of Christmas hams on Thursday thanks to a gift from a Rostraver Twp. business.
Joe Eori Jr., president of Big's Sanitation, donated the 28 hams "because I just wanted to give something back," he said.
"My dad was born and raised here and graduated from McKeesport High School," he said. "All of my relatives are from around here. If you have the means to give something back, then everybody should do so."
(Above: Members of the Mon Yough Chorale perform during a holiday concert Sunday at Sampson's Mills Presbyterian Church in White Oak. Photos special to Tube City Almanac.)
In the 19th and early 20th century, singing for fun and public entertainment was a common American pastime.
Companies and ethnic clubs like McKeesport's Swedish Singing Society and the Turners (originally known as the Turn und Gesangverein --- the "Gymnastics and Singing Union") sponsored choruses, concerts and even competitions.
Over the years, public singing faded away, and so did most of the community singing groups. But in McKeesport, the Mon Yough Chorale keeps the tradition alive.
The chorale --- now comprised of 35 to 40 volunteer performers under the direction of Ben Filippone --- recently completed a busy December schedule with a concert this past Sunday at Sampson's Mills Presbyterian Church.
Portions of that concert will be broadcast at 8 a.m. Dec. 24 on WEDO (810) and WZUM (1550/101.1), and the full concert will be broadcast at 3 p.m. Dec. 24 on Internet station WMCK.FM.
Members of the "Mad Hatters," a group of knitting enthusiasts that meets at Carnegie Library of McKeesport, visited the city's Kane Regional Center on Monday to share more than 100 pairs of handmade leg warmers with residents.
The group also read a holiday story to residents and served refreshments.
The hatters meet Thursdays and took their name from the hats they knit for chemotherapy patients who have lost their hair.
For more information about the group, call (412) 672-0625.
(Submitted photos: Mary Rose Bendel, Carnegie Library of McKeesport)
McKeesport City Council has extended its contract with Big's Sanitation through the end of 2018.
But Mayor Michael Cherepko said that his administration is exploring whether the city should purchase its own trash trucks and perform the work with its own employees.
"We've talked about it before, and I think we will finally be in a position to do that in 2019," he said.
McKeesport has used private contractors for trash collection since at least the early 1980s. Big's, located in Rostraver Twp., Westmoreland County, has been collecting the city's trash and recycling since January 2015, and also holds refuse collection contracts in neighboring Port Vue, White Oak and North Versailles Twp.
Above: Signing the paperwork completing the sale of McKeesport's sewerage authority are Jeffrey McIntyre, president of Pennsylvania American Water; McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko; and Dale McCall, chair of the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport. (Submitted photo)
Pennsylvania American Water Co. today completed its purchase of the assets of the Municipal Authority of the City of McKeesport.
The sale, valued at $159 million, includes wastewater treatment plants in the city's lower 10th Ward, Duquesne and Dravosburg, sewer lines and infrastructure serving 64,000 people in those three communities as well as East McKeesport, Elizabeth Twp., Glassport, Liberty, North Versailles Twp., Port Vue, Versailles and White Oak.
After all of the debts and obligations of the sewerage authority were satisfied, the city netted more than $40 million, officials said Monday. The money is already in a city account, though portions of it must be escrowed while the authority's remaining business is wound down.
What it means for consumers:
Continue to pay your MACM bill as scheduled. Pennsylvania American Water will begin sending bills Jan. 1.
Sewerage rates will not increase for at least one calendar year and rate changes will have to be approved by the state Public Utility Commission.
Customers who pay in person at the office in Christy Park may continue to do so. A collection box is also available at McKeesport City Hall.
The same phone numbers may continue to be used until customers are told otherwise. The MACM billing department may be reached at (412) 673-0850.
In a scathing report, Pennsylvania's auditor general this week said he would refer a complaint to the state Ethics Commission about the Duquesne City School District.
But the state-appointed receiver for the district said the practices flagged by state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale have now been "prohibited" and that the problems have not affected "instruction, programs and services" provided to Duquesne's 331 students in kindergarten through sixth grade.
"Full funding has been maintained for all student instruction, programs and services," Paul B. Long said Thursday in a letter to parents and the district's elected school board.
At issue in the 42-page report released by DePasquale this week were payroll advances that administrators --- including a former school superintendent --- made to themselves without any oversight from the elected school directors or Long.
DePasquale said the advances amounted to "personal no-interest loans" and called the practice "total insanity" and "outrageous."
Free tax preparation services are being offered to Duquesne residents who qualify, beginning next month, Mayor Phil Krivacek said. The service is sponsored by United Way.
A workshop to help residents prepare their taxes is slated for Jan. 16 through April 17, he said.
Beginning Jan. 10, appointments can be scheduled for Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. by calling 2-1-1.
Additionally, a free Duquesne tax clinic will assist residents in filing their 2017 taxes. Those with a total household income of up to $45,000 or an individual income of $25,000 are encouraged to take advantage of the service from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. either Feb. 23 or March 23, Krivacek said.
Penn State Greater Allegheny will hold community fitness classes at its new McKeesport Community Center, 410 Ninth Ave., Downtown, a spokeswoman said.
Zumba classes with Tiffani Hurt will be held from 11 a.m. to 12 noon on the following Saturdays: Dec. 16; Jan. 13, 20 and 27; Feb. 3, 10, 17 and 24; March 3, 10, 17, 24 and 31; April 7, 14, 21 and 28; and May 5, 12 and 19.
Yoga classes with Anne Mason will be held from 1 to 2 p.m. on the following Mondays: Jan. 8, 15, 22 and 29; Feb. 5,12, 19 and 26; March 5, 12, 19 and 26; April 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30; and May 7 and 14.
The center is located in the former YWCA building, just off of Walnut Street.
Demolition of the vacant George Washington School in the Seventh Ward will begin soon and take about a month, weather permitting.
That's the word from David Seropian, business manager for McKeesport Area School District, who said demolition crews are going to try to preserve some items from the 1928-vintage building, which closed in 2014.
"I don't know specifically what's being saved, but there are some things we want to try to save," he said Tuesday.
McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said the demolition is a positive step forward for the school's neighbors on Sumac and Freemont streets.
A former state representative from White Oak who pleaded guilty to his role in a video poker ring has been sentenced to 18 months of electronic monitoring.
Marc J. Gergely, 48, also was sentenced Monday to two years' probation after pleading guilty before Allegheny County Judge Ed Borkowski to violating state election laws and conspiracy to violate state gambling laws, court officials said.
Work will be performed on two area roadways on Monday, weather permitting, the state Department of Transportation has announced.
In North Versailles Twp., crews will be restricting Foster Road to one lane of alternating traffic between Crooked Run Road and Diane Drive so that drainage pipes can be replaced, a district spokesperson for PennDOT said.
The work will be done from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and is scheduled to wrap up Jan. 31.
Crews from Allison Park Contractors Inc. in West Deer Twp. are performing the work, the PennDOT spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, in Elizabeth Twp., Route 48 will be restricted to one lane of alternating traffic near Swiss Alpine Village on Monday and Tuesday as workers conduct drilling tests.
Drivers who need handicapped accessible parking for McKeesport's 32nd annual Festival of Trees are encouraged to use the spaces in the circle around Jacob Woll Pavilion, a spokeswoman said.
Parking for other motorists is available in the lots near the Renzie Senior Center and the Jakomas Blue-Top Pavilion.
Sleigh-hay rides will take visitors from Jacob Woll Pavilion to the McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center and the Garden Club of McKeesport, the spokeswoman said. The wagon runs approximately every 15 minutes.
Arboretum Drive in Renziehausen Park is closed between Sycamore and Tulip drives so that the road can be used for the sleigh-hay rides.
(Above: Click to download McKeesport's 2018 budget. PDF reader required.)
There are few surprises in McKeesport's 2018 budget, which holds the line on taxes while increasing spending on capital expenses.
At Wednesday's meeting, city council passed the budget on a 7-0 vote. Property taxes remain at 6.26 mills on buildings and 18.5 mills on land.
One mill represents $1 in taxes paid for every $1,000 for which a property is assessed. Land is typically assessed at a much lower value than buildings.
While calculating a so-called blended millage can be tricky, a house assessed at $48,000 by Allegheny County would pay approximately $300 in city property taxes in 2017.
Council President Rich Dellapenna Jr. said Wednesday night he's "very pleased" with the $23.1 million spending plan. "I give the mayor, the administration and (Finance Director) Tasha Phelps a lot of credit for all of the hard work they've put into it," he said.
McKeesport officials will embark on an ambitious plan to demolish 150 to 200 homes and pave long-neglected streets, Mayor Michael Cherepko said Wednesday night.
Addressing city council before it voted on the 2018 budget, Cherepko said the "McKeesport Rising" project is intended to leverage the proceeds of the $159 million sale of the city's sewerage authority to Pennsylvania-American Water Co.
"I think it's only appropriate to manage that money as carefully as possible to last as long as possible," Cherepko said, but added that next year's budget also includes $2.5 million earmarked toward capital projects, including blight removal and street paving.
(Tube City Almanac file photos by Denise L. Ritter)
The ornaments are being hung and the lights are being tested at Jacob Woll Pavilion in Renziehausen Park as preparations come down to the wire for McKeesport's 32nd annual Festival of Trees.
A celebration of the holidays --- and the creativity of local groups and churches --- the festival opens at 12 noon Thursday and continues through Monday, with more than 80 Christmas trees on display, mostly featuring handmade decorations honoring a variety of themes.
Admission is $2 for adults. Children age 12 and under are admitted free with one canned good for a needy family.
Local Girl Scout troops will sing carols and hymns at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday when McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko and other city officials hold a tree-lighting ceremony near the intersection of Sycamore and Arboretum drives in the park, a spokesperson said. Santa Claus is scheduled to arrive on a city fire truck.
(Above: Elected officials led by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald enter McKeesport during a tour of the Great Allegheny Passage in September. Tube City Almanac file photo)
A biking-hiking trail like the Great Allegheny Passage is an economic development opportunity for the communities it passes through --- but only if those towns capitalize on it.
And, said David Kahley, president and CEO of the Greensburg-based Progress Fund, McKeesport hasn't exploited the Great Allegheny Passage to its fullest potential.
The Progress Fund runs the Trail Town Program, which over the past 10 years has invested in 65 small businesses employing 250 people along the "GAP" trail between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, Md.
"McKeesport has been problematic for us," Kahley said during an interview for Tube City Community Media's radio show, "Two Rivers, 30 Minutes," which airs Sundays on WEDO (810), WZUM (1550) and Internet station WMCK.FM, and is also available as a free podcast.
A contractor has wrapped up the replacement of a fishing pier along the Youghiogheny River at Gergely Park, and next year, city officials intend to move ahead with reconstruction of the adjoining amphitheater.
McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko said Monday that the pier, located along the Great Allegheny Passage hiking-biking trail near the foot of Ninth Avenue, was recently completed by Lutterman Excavating of Salem Twp., Westmoreland County.
Port Authority of Allegheny County is continuing to accept comments on its proposal to create a bus rapid transit, or BRT, loop between the downtown and Oakland sections of the city of Pittsburgh.
The project would speed access through Pittsburgh's congested Fifth and Forbes avenues corridor, with buses on dedicated bus lanes running every three to five minutes during peak hours.
But the plan would result in serious changes to the 61 A, B and C bus routes that serve Homestead, Braddock, Duquesne and McKeesport, as well as to the 71-series buses to Wilkinsburg and Point Breeze. The 61C route, which currently connects McKeesport with downtown Pittsburgh via Homestead and Squirrel Hill, would terminate in Oakland, and riders would transfer to the BRT loop for the rest of their journey.
With Phase 1 of a makeover of the McKeesport Transportation Center complete, officials at Port Authority of Allegheny County are making plans and raising money to begin Phase 2.
The first phase included demolition of the dilapidated and mostly unused combination bus and train station, addition of 36 new park-and-ride spaces, and new sidewalks, curbs and bus lanes, says Adam Brandolph, spokesman for the agency. It also included new comfort stations --- restrooms --- for transit operators, he says.
"Phase 2 is going to focus on site improvements and is supposed to be much more expansive than the first phase, but we just don't right now have specific details, or a cost estimate," Brandolph says.