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City's Capital Budget Process May Be Overhauled

New legislation before Pittsburgh City Council would require a six-year plan for capital improvement projects and create a new board of city officials and Pittsburgh residents to choose which projects to fund in a given year.

Sponsor and Council Finance Chair Ricky Burgess said the intent of the reform bill is to spell out in greater detail the city's long-term plan for infrastructure repair and construction.

"So communities can see their project listed in the five-year plan, and have some surety that that project will eventually be funded," said Burgess. "Although things happen year-to-year, it gives us very clear guidelines as to what our priorities are, and what projects need to be funded."

Projects would be chosen based on a set of guidelines. The decisions would be made by a new Capital Project Facilitation Committee, made up of 13 department heads and elected officials, as well as three Pittsburgh residents.

Last month, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority retracted its approval of the 2012 city budget. The state-appointed financial oversight board supported the budget on several conditions, one of which was the creation of a five-year capital budget plan.

Other requirements were higher yearly payments into the city's pension fund and the creation of a $2.2 million "Other Post-Employment Benefits" trust fund. The former was done immediately, while the latter is the subject of another bill introduced Tuesday.

Borrowing Decision Delayed

City Council was also set to approve $80 million in bonds for capital projects, but that decision was recommitted and may come up for a final vote next Tuesday.

"The idea is over the next three years that we would spend, I believe, $42 million this year, something like $36 million next year, and then on the third year we'll use Pay-Go," said Burgess.

Pay-Go is short for "pay-as-you-go," a system in which the city uses its own revenue to pay for capital projects, an effort to cut down on debt.

Some Council members originally opposed the decision to borrow such a large amount, but it appears as though the decision to issue a bond has been endorsed by the ICA, the administration, and a majority of Council.