A year after its unveiling, the OnePGH fund’s fate is up in the air while Mayor Gainey negotiates with nonprofits.

by Charlie Wolfson, PublicSource

A little more than a year ago, then-Mayor Bill Peduto announced what he hoped would be a triumphant milestone in his yearslong quest to get tax-exempt nonprofits to contribute more to the city. The OnePGH Fund would be the financial solution Pittsburgh had been waiting for.

The future of OnePGH was thrown into doubt when Ed Gainey defeated Peduto last May and became mayor this year. But the new administration may not scrap the project entirely: Gainey has appointed two high-profile administration officials, Deputy Chief of Staff Felicity Williams and City Planning Director Karen Abrams, to its board while he simultaneously negotiates with major nonprofits. 

“We’re in a ‘to be determined,’” said Grant Ervin, OnePGH’s board president and a former city planning resilience officer under Peduto. “The tool and the organization is there for [the Gainey administration’s] utilization. It’s incumbent on the mayor and his team to set the course on how to utilize it and what those priorities are.”

Deputy Mayor Jake Pawlak told PublicSource that the administration is looking at ways to use the nonprofit and that it will continue to exist, but they do not intend to use it as a conduit for major funding from the likes of UPMC and other large nonprofits.

“We are figuring out the right way to situate it in the city’s toolbox for seeking outside funding,” Pawlak said. “It’s fair to say we have a more limited view of that than the previous administration.”

Of the board appointments, Pawlak said they reflect the administration’s desire to have a seat at the organization’s table as the city plots its next moves. 

The OnePGH Fund was designed to work in concert with the city, but it is an independent nonprofit with its own board of directors. The Peduto administration envisioned nonprofits funding projects of their choosing, each to satisfy an identified need in the city, with little to no money ever entering the city’s purse. It was a new installment in the decadeslong struggle by city officials to get greater contributions from major nonprofits, which are largely exempt from property taxes and own a significant portion of city property

Peduto’s OnePGH model appears to be highly unusual among American cities, according to local public finance experts Adam Langley and Daphne Kenyon of the Lincoln Institute for Public Land. It could have some benefit compared with direct payments by approaching a solution that pleases both the city and the nonprofits, they said.

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