City views from Emerald View Park. BC photo.

Since its founding in 1996, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy has raised $118 million and led the restoration of 20 public parks around our city — from the grand fountain at Allegheny Commons to August Wilson Park in the Hill District.

To expand its work, and address the city’s massive budget shortfall for new infrastructure projects, the nonprofit is seeking help at the ballot box.

This week the Conservancy, in collaboration with Mayor Bill Peduto, launched a campaign to amend the city’s Home Rule Charter to create a trust fund dedicated to maintaining and improving our city’s parks. The fund will be supported by an increase in real estate taxes (about $43.75 for each $100,000 of assessed real estate value) and matching funds from the Conservancy.

“Now, more than ever, it’s critical that we secure a funding stream for our parks that allows us to go above and beyond what the city can do on its own,” said Mayor Peduto in a release about the effort. “I can’t wait to see this new dedicated fund help parks and, more importantly, help Pittsburghers in every corner of the city.”

The inspiration for the fund grew out of a series of community meetings between Conservancy staff and local stakeholders.

“We’ve spent the past six months visiting nearly every Pittsburgh neighborhood, speaking with residents about the changes and improvements they’d like to see in our parks,” said Jayne Miller, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, in the release. “Their overwhelming concern is to make our parks safer and better maintained.”

The first step in making it a reality will be collecting 12,500 signatures from Pittsburgh residents. If that effort succeeds, the second step will be a citywide vote on the amendment this November.

“The Parks Conservancy has a proven track record,” said Miller. “We are positioned to help ensure that every city neighborhood has a great park or parks in which the community can be proud.”

This ballot measure, she added, “is the best way to ensure the parks we pass along to our children and grandchildren are the gems that they were created to be, and what they once were.”

Residents have until August 6 to add their signatures, though details on how residents can view and sign the petition were not yet available as of Thursday morning.

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.