Wilkinsburg Council reacts to our story about dissolving police forces

Jan. 22, 2016: We received the following letter from Wilkinsburg Borough Council after our story, "No money, no police force" published:

On the same day as your article, “No Money, No Police Force,” was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, there was a meet and greet event to welcome six new officers to the Wilkinsburg Police Department and introduce them to the community. As they interacted with an overflowing group of leaders, residents and youth, you couldn’t help but notice the professionalism, enthusiasm and dedication with which this diverse group of youthful officers presented themselves. Joining our new officers were our seasoned veterans of the force and our chief, Ophelia Coleman.

This event, and the reality of the Borough present a striking contrast to the dismal, hopeless and inaccurately negative depiction presented in just the opening lines of your article. As the Council of Wilkinsburg, we must respond and share the thoughtful consideration which guides our efforts to lead our community and the successes that we, and our strong allies and partners - Allegheny County, Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, Wilkinsburg Chamber of Commerce and Hosanna House, to name just a few – have experienced and continue to strive for in Wilkinsburg.

Like all municipalities, Wilkinsburg’s operating expenses have increased, and our constituents look to us to keep the millage rates in check. As a responsible Council, Wilkinsburg has investigated methods to provide the highest quality service to our residents while seeking simultaneously to save costs and protect our dedicated employees. This includes contracting both our fire and refuse collection with the City of Pittsburgh. These agreements were made over time and insured the best service and resulted in significant savings for the Borough. In the case of our Fire Department, Wilkinsburg firefighters joined the Pittsburgh force. Just three weeks ago, we witnessed firsthand the quality of our public safety as the Pittsburgh Fire Department – partially housed in the Wilkinsburg Borough Building, responded to a fire on Ross Avenue, saving an elderly resident, preventing the spread of the fire and injuring seven firefighters in the process. Our Fire Department – whether in the name of Pittsburgh or Wilkinsburg – were heroes.

Let us set the record straight regarding Wilkinsburg's 2016 budget. The budget adopted for 2016 includes full funding of our police force with no reductions or contracting out of services. While your article briefly mentioned that the suggestion of subcontracting police services was quickly dismissed by Council, this article misrepresented Council and undermined our police officers and police department. Crime in Wilkinsburg is decreasing every year. Our community policing and department, 24 strong, is our biggest asset for our growing diverse community. Our fine officers are backed up by surrounding communities’ police and Allegheny County for major crime investigations. We can’t afford not to have our police force - they do an excellent job.

Most importantly, our police officers need to know how much we appreciate them. You can see them at Community Day, our rapidly expanding Block Watch meetings, Biddle’s Escape coffee shop, or Save-A-Lot always greeting residents with a smile. Simply put, they are constant fixtures – watching and protecting all of us.

Likewise, Wilkinsburg has made other changes to insure the best service for our residents and to increase revenue. In late 2014, Wilkinsburg Borough, working in partnership with the Wilkinsburg School District hired a new delinquent tax collector. Working collectively, the collections of back taxes have increased dramatically. Too, the Council and School District are seeing an increasing number of properties return to the tax rolls through a variety of programs including Tax Abatement, Enhanced Tax Abatement for Commercial Uses, Tax Compromise, and the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County’s Vacant Property Recovery Program.

Too, Wilkinsburg has realized that we must proactively address blight and deterioration that is beyond rehabilitation if we are going to attract others to invest in our neighborhoods. With a $250,000 grant of CITF funds from the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County combined with up to a half a million dollars from the Borough, Wilkinsburg will, beginning as soon as March, demolish up to 66 properties primarily along the Ardmore Boulevard Corridor leading into our downtown and make infrastructure improvements to the area.

In spite of the morbid description, you manage to highlight that Wilkinsburg’s commercial district still hosts a successful family jeweler. Kenyon Jeweler’s does not inhabit an otherwise vacant district; our downtown hosts dozens of successful and growing businesses including grocery, specialty grocery, clothing, shoes, hair salons and supply, banks, eyeglasses, restaurants, florist, paint, hardware and automotive services among other uses. Recent workshops about growing and strengthening your business, sponsored by the WCDC and Wilkinsburg Chamber were beyond capacity as entrepreneurs realize the possibility and potential in locating in Wilkinsburg.

Before your next report on the condition and direction of Wilkinsburg, please attend our Council meetings which take place on the first and second Wednesdays of the month at 7:00pm, Council Chambers, 605 Ross Avenue, Wilkinsburg, PA. If you would like to visit Wilkinsburg and discuss the many good things happening in our community and the revitalization we are experiencing, we would be glad to meet with you, take you on a tour and share the great things occurring in Wilkinsburg.

Collectively,

Wilkinsburg Borough Council
605 Ross Avenue
Wilkinsburg, PA 15221