After five months of surveying city of Pittsburgh residents to gather feedback about their parks, the results are in.

Story and photo by Ashlee Green

It’s confirmed: This November, there will be a city parks tax referendum on the ballot.

Jayne Miller, president and CEO of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy (PPC), made the announcement at the “Parks Plan” meeting on August 8 at CoLab18 at Nova Place in the Northside. The meeting was a chance to share with the public the results of PPC’s Parks Listening Tour, which started in December 2018 and wrapped up in April of this year. The Listening Tour consisted of 67 community meetings held throughout the city of Pittsburgh to gather feedback on what residents love and dislike about all 165 of their parks.

According to 3,400 surveys taken by residents of Pittsburgh over a span of five months, the condition of city parks were rated with an average “condition score” of less than five, on a scale of one to 10. Survey participants prioritized park maintenance over all other investment categories, ranking rehabilitation projects second, capital projects, or major investments for total park transformations, third, and programming, fourth. A complete, detailed 95-page report on the survey results can be found on the PPC website at pittsburghparks.org.

The goal of the tax referendum is to generate money for a Parks Trust Fund by adding an amendment to the city’s Home Rule Charter. Funding would be sourced by home and commercial property owners (according to PPC, homeowners whose house is assessed at $50,000 would pay around $25 per year, or a little over two dollars per month) as well as foundations.

Here is the proposed ballot language, from the PPC website:

“Shall the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter be amended to establish a dedicated Parks Trust Fund beginning in 2020 to: improve, maintain, create and operate public parks; improve park safety; equitably fund parks in underserved neighborhoods throughout Pittsburgh; be funded with an additional 0.5 mill levy ($50 on each $100,000 of assessed real estate value); secure matching funds and services from a charitable city parks conservancy; and assure citizen participation and full public disclosure of spending?”

The PPC and the City of Pittsburgh have calculated a $400 million capital backlog across the city parks system. As it stands, Miller explained, PPC currently has 70% less staff than they need. They also need $3 million to replace outdated equipment and $4.75 million to purchase new equipment. If the referendum is passed on the November ballot, she projects that the PPC will be able to fund 45 more maintenance positions throughout the system. Park maintenance, programming efforts, and plans for new and rehab projects would start in 2020; actual construction for rehabilitation and capital projects would start the following year.