In a Fragmented Region, Big Problems Encourage Cooperation
Few regions have as many disparate local governments as southwestern Pennsylvania. While that is not likely to change soon, recent approaches to several chronic problems suggest an era of cooperation is rising among cities, boroughs and townships that lack the means to solve them on their own.
In Allegheny County, nudging some 83 municipalities to join in finding a solution to their aged, overburdened sewage systems resulted in several modest, yet noteworthy, results—not the least of which was the first comprehensive inspection and mapping of the 4,000 miles of sewer pipe that runs beneath every municipality in the Alcosan system.
Last year, three councils of government in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh drafted a business plan for a land bank, which has emerged as a promising legal tool for reclaiming vacant and blighted property on a large scale. The jurisdiction of the land bank includes 41 municipalities.
And through the five-year-old Congress of Neighboring Communities, Pittsburgh officials are working with 37 municipalities that touch city borders to address common issues ranging from economic development to public transportation.
Such initiatives belie the fact that the region is ruled by no fewer than 900 local governments—a level of fragmentation that invites inefficiencies and complicates broad collaboration. Only St. Louis among the 15 Pittsburgh Today benchmark regions has more local governments.
Creditworthiness & transparency
Bond ratings are a key indicator of a government’s creditworthiness. Southwestern Pennsylvania earns relatively low marks in that regard among the benchmark regions. Our Regional Bond Rating Index based on Moody’s Investor Services rating scales shows only Philadelphia and Detroit with ratings lower than the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area. On a scale from 0-20, Pittsburgh’s score is 16, which is slightly below a benchmark average driven upward by perfect scores earned by Boston, Charlotte, Denver and Indianapolis.
Pittsburgh does better on measures of government transparency among the benchmark cities. Only Baltimore, Cincinnati and Denver were more open in matters related to spending public dollars, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The city scored well above the benchmark average of scores based on the range of spending-related information available to the public and how easy it is to access.