Identity & Representation
Many Wilkinsburg residents have spent years working with the local government, civic organizations, non-profits, and block clubs to preserve the good in our community and whittle away at the bad. This is a community with many extremely dedicated people who care.
As Wilkinsburgers, we value our identity and our community’s small-town feel. Many people like the idea that their public officials are people they know and that the Borough Building is not far away if they have a problem. While our circle of human resources is small and limits our capabilities, it also gives us a sense of safety and control.
A merger would mean changes to some of those intangible things that people love about this community. A closer look is warranted to give residents an idea of what would and would not change.
Would Wilkinsburg lose its identity if it becomes part of Pittsburgh?
Pittsburgh is a city of distinct neighborhoods, each with its own flavor and character. We all know that Squirrel Hill, Homewood, Mt. Washington, the Hill District, etc. have a unique identity, and there’s no reason to think Wilkinsburg would be any different. Our region is constantly changing, but people here don’t easily forget the past. Wilkinsburg will always be a community that maintains pride in what it was, what it is today, and the promise of what it can become in the future.
Would it be harder to interact with our government agencies?
Even those who criticize the Borough government’s capabilities admit they like knowing how to reach the Code Department, Public Works, or Borough Manager’s office. In many cases, residents know Borough employees personally, and they value that one-to-one connection.
Residents who don’t have personal connections to Borough government find that accessibility through the Borough’s website to Wilkinsburg Council members and employees is limited. Some council members provide no contact information, and it can be difficult to figure out who represents which ward.
Pittsburgh Council members and their staff are much more accessible via the City’s website. Each district has its own site that lists employee names, positions, email addresses, phone numbers, and a feedback form.
Pittsburgh also offers much more transparency in meetings and hearings through video and website technology. On the flip side, the sheer volume of meetings, hearings, and information can be difficult to navigate.
What resources are available in Pittsburgh to help residents access government services?
The City website clearly lists services, and includes accessibility features that make it easier to view and find information. Widgets allow site visitors to adjust screen contrast, text size, text spacing, and cursor style. Users can pause animations, highlight links, and select font options to accommodate dyslexia. The website also has a feature that allows users to translate site content into 20 different languages.
In addition, the City operates a 311 Response Center where residents can call with any non-emergency question and be directed to the proper place. The Center is also accessible through a smartphone app. There are other outreach efforts too numerous to mention here.
Who would our council person be?
After redistricting in the spring of 2022, Wilkinsburg residents would get to vote and decide who we want to represent us.
At present, Wilkinsburg has nine council members —three for each of the three wards—and a mayor, nine school board members, and an elected tax collector. While it is unknown how representation would be worked out with a merger, we would likely have one or two members representing us on City Council.
Wilkinsburg Council members serve in a part time capacity, they each receive a few thousand dollars a year in compensation, and have no staff. Despite best intentions, these positions are a small step up from volunteer posts. Some members are very responsive and effective, but there are limits to what they can accomplish.
There is no question that one or two well-staffed City Council members representing Wilkinsburg would have more capacity to respond to resident issues than our Borough Council and mayor. Pittsburgh City Council members receive a full-time salary and are budgeted two full-time staff. Additionally, anyone living in the Borough would have the opportunity to run for elected office in the City, including Council, School Board, or mayor.
Fewer elected officials who have far more resources and capacity at their disposal could be a net gain for Wilkinsburg residents.
Was Wilkinsburg a part of Pittsburgh in the past?
In 1873 a portion of what is now Wilkinsburg (then in Sterrett Township) along with other neighboring areas were annexed into the City of Pittsburgh1. Land owner and developer, James Kelly, fought to have that action reversed to maintain control over his 1000 acres of land. The annexation action was reversed two years later. The court ruling was based on striking the names of the women who had signed the petition, causing it to no longer meet the three-fifths requirement. Ironically, in 1879 Kelly came under financial difficulties and all of his land was sold at sheriff sale.
Wilkinsburg returned to being under the jurisdiction of Sterrett Township, which provided for schools and the main roads only. The lack of urban services and amenities including sewage and sanitation discouraged many potential residents from moving to the Wilkinsburg area. Residents discontent with this began a campaign to incorporate Wilkinsburg as a borough. There was opposition to Borough incorporation for fear of an increase in local taxes. Incorporation efforts were denied twice before Wilkinsburg eventually became a Borough in 1887.