Informational canvassing set for Allegheny County referendum

The Almanac – In Allegheny County, not everything on the ballot for the Nov. 6 general election involves politicians.

“I like to say kids are our candidate,” Bethel Park resident Dave Coplan explained about his support for the referendum question that voters will consider. “It’s not a Democratic issue. It’s not a Republican issue. It’s a kids’ issue, and we should all care about kids.”

A majority of votes would amend the county’s home-rule charter to establish a Children’s Fund, to be financed by a .25-mill real estate tax increase generating an estimated $18 million in annual revenue. And as executive director of the Turtle Creek-based Human Services Center Corp., Coplan is a firm advocate of the initiative, dubbed “Our kids. Our commitment.”

“Ten nonprofits came together to basically drive this campaign to try to make a difference for kids in our county,” he said. “We did the research that about 30 other counties across the country have a children’s fund like this.”

Ballot Question
“Shall the Allegheny County Home Rule Charter be amended to establish the Allegheny County Children’s Fund, funded by Allegheny County levying and collecting an additional 0.25 mills, the equivalent of $25 on each $100,000 of assessed value, on all taxable real estate, beginning Jan. 1, 2019, and thereafter, to be used to improve the well-being of children through the provision of services throughout the county including early childhood learning, afterschool programs and nutritious meals?”

The effort addresses the priorities of increasing access to after school programs, early learning opportunities and nutritious meals.

“We picked those three because the statistics tell us that they’re three areas that have gaps in Allegheny County,” Coplan, who serves on the initiative’s steering committee, said. “People need this assistance.

The fund, which would cost the average homeowner about $30 per year, is for one specific purpose.

“It cannot be moved from kids to say, potholes in the street or some other purpose,” Coplan explained. “It will be there for kids, and we’ll have certainty of that.”

Brian Magee, chief executive officer of PUMP – the organization started in the mid-1990s as the Pittsburgh Urban Magnet Project – represents another group of firm supporters.

“From the very, very start, it always had a pretty strong footprint in the advocacy world,” he said. “The organization was founded to see if we could build a network of young people who could be involved in helping foster change where change needed to happen, to see that Pittsburgh and the region were the kind of place that all would want to call home.”

Toward that objective, PUMP has developed an advocacy and public policy agenda based on promoting four key themes: a diverse and connected region, equitable opportunities for success, active and engaged residents, and equitable access to health and wellness.

“So we were early supporters of the initiative because it perfectly aligns with the change we want to see in the county and in the region,” Magee said. “Our constituency identified these issues on their own prior to this initiative even coming about.”

The initiative, he explained, affords another opportunity for those affiliated with PUMP.

“Really central to our work is engaging young people in the process of the change, and at the very heart of a referendum is people stepping forward and being a part of the change they want to see.”

Volunteers can participate in an upcoming canvassing effort in three South Hills municipalities: Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair on Oct. 13, and Bethel Park on Oct. 20.

“If people feel passionate that this is a good thing for kids, we’re asking them to give three-and-a-half hours of their time,” Coplan said, with an hour’s orientation followed by knocking on doors to provide information and answer questions.

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