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A distressed municipality for nearly 30 years, Duquesne is hoping to be self-sufficient in the near future.
At last week's council meeting, the city's Act 47 Coordinator, George Dougherty, reported that Duquesne is coming to the end of its final five-year Act 47 plan.
“Beginning in 2020, we have to get the finances and management in a place where the city will be able to float on (its) own and come out of Act 47 status,” said Dougherty, who was appointed by the state in October to represent the community. “I’m really hoping to see Duquesne move forward in becoming self-sufficient.”
Dougherty has been working to develop a budget for Duquesne, which has been an Act 47 municipality since 1991. Recently, he began drafting an "exit plan" from the assistance program.
A preliminary draft plan will be submitted to the state and the city of Duquesne and will be available to the public in the city manager’s office beginning Jan. 28.
Dougherty will take public comments on the plan, on improvements and things residents would like to see to see from then through Feb. 12, when an Act 47 hearing is slated for 6 p.m. at City Hall for residents to come in and make comments on the plan. Dougherty also may be reached at email@example.com.
The Municipalities Financial Recovery Act, known as Act 47, was established in 1987 by the Department of Community and Economic Development to assist municipalities experiencing severe financial difficulties.
Many Pennsylvania municipalities have a wage tax of 0.5 percent. Duquesne levies a wage tax of 1.15 percent under a special exception given to distressed communities.
“The Exit Plan is a three-year plan,” Dougherty said. “During which time the city will have to change its tax structure in such a way that it is no longer dependent on earned income tax.”
Dougherty said he is trying to make sure the plan that is developed is "very readable and understandable" and said he's willing to consider "any ideas from council or residents.”
Mayor Nickole Nesby said she is confident that the City of Duquesne will exit Act 47 within the required timeframe.
“I am excited about the potential community and economic developments in the works,” she said. “My vision is to revitalize the community, where residents will have a better quality of life --- a place for residents to work, play, enjoy entertainment, walk, shop, bike, higher quality schools, and reinvestment opportunities into the community by volunteering and homeownership.
"I remember a time when we had furniture stores, shopping centers, appliances store, small businesses, and restaurants. I remember a time when race, color, gender or creed didn’t matter," Nesby said. "I remember when we treated each other with respect and worked together to get the job done. That’s my vision for the great City of Duquesne.”
In 2014, the Act 47 law was amended to impose a five-year time limit for a municipality to remain under Act 47 with an option for a coordinator to ask for a one-time three-year extension.
At the end of the three-year plan, if the city cannot stand on its own, Dougherty said there are three options for Duquesne.
One would be receivership --- essentially a form of bankruptcy --- where the state would appoint someone to come in and run the city. A second option would be disincorporation, where the city would cease to exist and would be run by Allegheny County. A third would include some other form of continued state aid.
“My hope and plan is to have a city that is financially self-contained,” said Daugherty, who added that over the last five years it seems as if the city’s finances are moving in the right direction.
“For the longest time the general fund was supporting the water fund,” he said. “In this case, it’s best to keep the tax base and the rate base separate. People should be paying for their water services and they weren’t doing that before.”
Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer who covers municipal news from Duquesne, White Oak and other subjects for Tube City Almanac. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published January 27, 2019.