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Sales-tax rebound lets Allegheny County asset board boost funding for parks, libraries and more

Jake Savitz
90.5 WESA
The August Wilson Center is among the institutions that will benefit from RAD funds next year.

In an era of pandemic ups and downs, the Allegheny Regional Asset District formalized its latest sign of recovery Tuesday when its board of directors approved RAD’s biggest budget ever, $126.5 million.

The vote on the 2023 budget comes toward the end of a likewise record-breaking year for the sales-tax revenues that fund the group. RAD projects its share of Allegheny County’s 1% sales tax will be more than $123 million, up 8 percent from 2021’s then-record haul of $114 million.

“Sales-tax revenue for 2022 was surprisingly above projections, which results in significant revenue for us to invest in 99 different organizations and projects for next year,” said executive director Richard Hudic.

Most RAD funds go to libraries and parks. About $39.5 million, or about one-third, funds area parks and trails, while just under one-third support public libraries. For instance, RAD funds about 70% of the budget of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

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Large cultural institutions that benefit include the Carnegie Museums, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium, Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the August Wilson African American Cultural Center, and Heinz History Museum. Other recipients include everything from the Sports & Exhibition Authority (which oversees the football and baseball stadiums, PPG Paints Arena, and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center) and Pittsburgh Regional Transit to dozens of museums and performing-arts groups of all sizes.

The new budget can be viewed here.

Capital grants in the budget include $1.2 million for a new roof and other upgrades at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum; $1 million for upgrades at the zoo, including a new roof for the education center; and $950,000 for the Cultural Trust, which is remodeling and expanding the Greer Cabaret Theater.

It’s quite a turnaround for RAD from the early months of the pandemic, when monthly sales-tax revenues plummeted. That convinced RAD’s board to take the unusual mid-year step of cutting its operating grants for 2020 by 20%.

But the funds were restored after sales taxes bounced back strongly in 2021.

Solid growth in 2022 has increased RAD’s reserve fund so much that the 2023 budget allows spending to outpace projected revenue (which Hudic said RAD expects to decline slightly, in part due to the effects of inflation). So RAD is taking steps like making a one-time additional grant of $3 million to the Allegheny County Library Association, which distributes funds to the 45 independent library systems in the county that are not the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh,.

“To have that extra infusion of money, it’s going to make a big change for our libraries,” said ACLA executive director Amy Anderson.

The funds will be distributed to the member libraries, from Mount Lebanon to Clairton, according to a new formula, adopted this year at RAD’s insistence, that provides 50 percent more funding than previously to libraries serving the most distressed communities, board members said.

Grants for connection, accessibility and inclusion were also boosted to $1 million, up $600,000 from this year’s allocations. Hudic said projects include tactile mapping to guide visitors on the Children’s Museum campus, and an upgrade to the website of Prime Stage Theatre, adding screen readers for the visually impaired.

In all, arts and culture groups will receive 15% of RAD funding in 2023; sports and civic facilities, 11%; regional attractions (like the Zoo, Phipps and the National Aviary), 8%; and, transit, 2.4%.

90.5 WESA’s parent organization, Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting, is among the organizations that receive RAD funding.  

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: