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Report Allows Allegheny County Residents to See Where/How Money is Spent

Per capita spending in 123 of Allegheny county's 129 municipalities rose slightly in 2009. That's according to a report from the Allegheny Institute, a conservative think tank based in Castle Shannon. The average per capita amount spent was $638, compared to $629 in 2008.

The report finds that per capita spending was up slightly at a time when revenue remained flat.

"We're talking about the most recent data, from 2009, which was right smack in the middle of the recession, so that wasn't a big surprise," said Frank Gamrat, senior research associate with the Allegheny Institute.

At the highest end of the spectrum are Rosslyn Farms and Sewickley Heights, each spending more than $2,000 per capita. Ten other municipalities spent between $1,000 and $1,500 per resident, and 39 spent less than $500 per capita in their general fund budget.

The largest component of general fund spending is public safety, including payment for police, fire, code enforcement, planning, and zoning. The average amount spent on such services was $220, higher than 2008's average of $216.

On the other side, the average of general fund revenue generated in 2009 is $628 per resident. Rosslyn Farms and Sewickley Heights were at the top end of that scale as well, generating $1,784 and $2,016 per resident, respectively. The bottom five municipalities collected less than $300 in per capita general fund revenues. Property taxes are the largest source of funding for the general fund in nearly all Allegheny County Municipalities.

Is it a Fair System?

While the report highlights the disparity in collected revenue and spending between municipalities, it makes no suggestion on how to close the gaps going forward.

"The reason we have done this is just for information. This isn't meant to draw any particular disparity or disparaging remarks on any one community or another. It's meant to be informative," said Gamrat.

He said residents know their municipalities are spending money, but often don't know where or how the spending compares to neighboring areas. This gives them a chance to find out and be more informed and active in local government.

The report also includes demographic information for each municipality. It updates the population figures from 2009 estimates to the 2010 Census count. It showed that 57 percent of the municipalities in Allegheny County (excluding Pittsburgh) had an increase in their population count.

The full report is available at www.alleghenyinstitute.org