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Wilkinsburg Moves Closer To A Vote On Merging With The City Of Pittsburgh

WILKINSBURG, Pa. (KDKA) -- Could Wilkinsburg be annexed by the city of Pittsburgh at the end of this year?

That's a question residents and officials in the borough are debating right now.

A 1903 state law allows residents of a municipality to petition the Court of Common Pleas to allow a merger with a neighboring community. If the council of that neighbor -- in this case, Pittsburgh -- approves, Wilkinsburg residents will vote on whether to join the city this November.

"Over the weekend, there were people coming in, so we've reached the initial threshold of 640, I believe it is." Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation, told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Monday.

With signatures from 640 residents, supporters of the merger will ask the court in July to instruct Pittsburgh City Council to vote on adding 15,000 people to the city's declining population.

"Because of how close and intricate our borders are, a lot of people think Wilkinsburg is a part of the city already. You have the Penn Avenue corridor," says Wilkinsburg Mayor Marita Garrett.

Garrett supports annexation, saying fire and waste management, along with the middle and high schools, are already city-run, and a merger would lower Wilkinsburg's taxes.

"Low-income homeowners pay 32 percent more in Wilkinsburg than they would in the city," said Evans.

"Wilkinsburg would be destroyed," said Wilkinsburg councilwoman Denise Edwards.

Wilkinsburg's borough council, which does not get a say in the process, has voted 2-1 against a merger with Pittsburgh.

Edwards says this is all about controlling gentrification and development.

"Wilkinsburg has new businesses and new residents as a result of people being run out of East Liberty and Lawrenceville or other locations. The issue is, who is going to control it and who's going to be winning and losing?" said Edwards.

Edwards says local control of local services is also important.

"We have a police department, and residents can actually go down and talk to the chief," Edwards said. "Can they do that in the city?"

If Pittsburgh City Council votes to annex Wilkinsburg, then Wilkinsburg residents get the final say in a referendum. City residents do not get a vote.

It's not clear that a majority of city council members support a merger, but the lobbying is just beginning.

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