The budget proposal is the first window into the mayor’s priorities for next year.
Increased infrastructure spending, expanding city departments to improve services, and planning for future debt payments are some key elements of Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey’s proposed 2024 budget.
While still subject to change through City Council amendments, the budget proposal released late last month is the first window into Mr. Gainey’s priorities for next year.
“Our budget is a reflection of the values of our city,” Mr. Gainey said in a statement. “We are committed to doing all we can to provide truly excellent core services while protecting our bridge infrastructure, and furthering our work to make Pittsburgh the safest city in America.”
Next year is the last that Pittsburgh will have federal pandemic relief funds to help support operational costs. The Gainey administration is expecting 2025 and 2026 to be difficult budget years with the loss of that funding and a looming increase in fixed debt service payments.
The mayor’s proposed 2024 budget wouldn’t increase taxes. After Mr. Gainey’s budget address in November, City Council will have until the end of December to make amendments.
Highlights from the capital budget
The proposed 2024 capital budget totals about $155.5 million, compared to $168 million this year, and looks to invest in areas like bridge infrastructure and traffic calming.
In the wake of the 2022 Fern Hollow Bridge collapse, which occupied much of the start of Mr. Gainey’s term, there has been renewed urgency around bridge infrastructure. Multiple bridge projects are would receive funding in 2024 under the mayor’s budget.
The city’s Bridge Preservation and Restoration Fund would see about a $1.2 million boost from 2023 under Mr. Gainey’s budget, up to about $3.6 million. Budget projections look to allocate $1.7 million in 2025 and 2026, but after that there is zero dollars in allocations to the fund for 2027-2029.
There is no money allocated to general bridge upgrades, despite a nearly $4.8 million investment last year. But the budget does have about $1.5 million left over from previous years.
The Charles Anderson Bridge in Oakland, which has been closed since February when an inspection showed the need for immediate repairs to the 85-year old steel deck truss bridge, is slated to receive $27 million, some of which would come from the state.
After some controversy over funding for the bridge, the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure worked with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, an intergovernmental agency, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to delay other projects so Charles Anderson could receive funding sooner.
A report commissioned by the city last year found that 32 city-owned bridges were rated poorly. Six of those bridges — the 28th Street bridge, the Larimer Bridge, the Maple Avenue Bridge, Elizabeth Street bridge, the Corley Street Bridge, and the Calera Street bridge — are all slated to receive funding in 2024.
Other poorly rated bridges such as the Swinburne and Swindell Bridges are slated for large investments in 2025.
Big infrastructure projects, particularly bridge renovations, are chosen based on criteria such as safety implications but also project readiness. Many of the bridges scheduled to receive funding in 2024 already have contractors in place to begin the work.
Throughout the spring and summer, the mayor’s office held community listening sessions about what investments residents want to see in the next budget. Much of that input involved more traffic calming programs
As a result, about $14.5 million would be doled out to the complete streets program, which focuses on improving intersections and adding pavement markings and signage.
“A complete streets network will increase the mobility options available to residents of Pittsburgh resulting in lower greenhouse gasses, more affordable transportation options, healthier residents, and increased revenue for neighborhood businesses,” the administration said in its budget proposal.
The city also has close to $10 million in unspent funds from prior years for this project
That money would go to projects such as adding lighting inside the Armstrong Tunnel and traffic light replacement at Muriel and 10th Streets on the South Side, as well as adding traffic calming measures like speed humps to various roads around the city.
The capital budget also includes $855,000 to explore “the design and site for a new public safety training complex.” The current public safety training facility is located in Highland Park, and residents have taken complaints to the mayor about noise from its outdoor shooting range.
Officials have indicated it would take millions of dollars to renovate the shuttered Veterans Affairs hospital in Lincoln-Lemington to make it a new training facility — former Mayor Bill Peduto’s plan for the site. Mr. Gainey has not committed to using the former hospital as a training facility.
Jake Pawlak, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, recently told WESA that Mr. Peduto’s plan had been scrapped.
The capital budget also allocates about $1.8 million for the demolition of condemned buildings and about $1.3 million for the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority to offer grants to homeowners and developers.
Highlights from the operating budget
The city’s overall budget would be about $839.2 million, $39 million higher than this year.
The budget could change next year even after City Council approves it. Multiple contracts with unionized city workers expire at the end of 2023, and the budget proposal doesn’t include an increase in those salaries.
Multiple departments, including City Planning and Permits, Licenses and Inspections, would see their workforces grow under the budget.
And after much talk over the last few months about the ideal number of police, the budget calls for a decrease in the number of uniformed officers.
In previous years, the city has budgeted for 900 officers, but the 2024 budget is for 849 — which it says “reflects the anticipated strength of the Bureau in 2024 with planned recruit classes and anticipated retirements.”
Robert Swartzwelder, president of the local police union, said his group wasn’t consulted about this change, but that the “theory is [the city] isn’t going to be able to get to 900, so they’re lowering it to shift the funding somewhere else.”
The city has started holding recruitment classes again, but is still struggling to fill empty positions. Officials have indicated that they intend to return to a full compliment of 900 officers at some point, but Mr. Swartzwelder remains skeptical.
”Until they make the salaries competitive, that’s when they’re going to be able to have competitive staffing,” he said.
The department has already been below its fully-budgeted complement of 900 officers since before the pandemic. As of Friday, the force was staffed at about 775 officers, including command staff, “which puts patrol force everyday rank and file to just over 300 officers spread across six patrol zones,” said Mr. Swartzwelder.
The budget would also add 12 new Community Service Aides to the police budget to “begin civilianization” — the process of hiring civilians, not uniformed police, to perform specific functions currently done by officers.
Civilianizing part of the bureau is a goal that new police Chief Larry Scirotto outlined when he was hired in the spring.
View the full article at post-gazette.com