A few years ago, 2009 to be exact, the County’s tangled web of relations between itself and UPMC, the County’s role as the body that assesses property value and certifies that parcels exempt from real estate taxation really should be, the County’s role as promoter of economic development and leaning heavily on "eds and meds", and the County’s role as viewing itself as needing to intervene in matters such as UPMC’s decision to shutter the hospital in Braddock all intersected at one Council meeting, one that we wrote about then. That’s because on the same night that County Council decided it wanted to explore what UPMC owned and whether everything was deserving to be exempt (presumably as a tactic to scare UPMC into changing its mind) it had to decide whether the County-acting through its related Hospital Development Authority-would issue $1 billion in bonds on behalf of UPMC.
The issue of the Authority acting as a debt issuing vehicle rose again in 2011 when the UPMC-Highmark battle was at its apex. Again, we wrote about that debate and the $330 million borrowing request that, in case the County wanted to exert influence by not issuing the debt, another state level authority stood ready. The County did not issue the bonds.
So why bring these instances up? Because at the end of 2012 County Council held a hearing on UPMC which it promised would be the first of many on finding out if property owners classified as charitable and exempt really deserved all their exemptions. As an article today pointed out, the classification system the County has on exempt property is a mess, but tomorrow night the Council will take up business deciding whether its Higher Education Building Authority should issue over $80 million in debt for two private universities in the City of Pittsburgh and, after that, whether the Authority needs a new lease on "municipal" life, which amounts to fifty years additional. The County does not pledge its revenues or the state’s by issuing the bonds but it has the opportunity to make plenty in fees and payments. That’s the decision point it has to deal with when deciding if it wants its instrumentalities to help the institutions it is trying to get to act a certain way.