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Peduto's Early Retirement Plan for City Employees Hits a Snag

A City Council vote on Mayor-elect Bill Peduto’s plan to incentivize the early retirement of roughly 400 city employees has been delayed once again, and may even have hit a major snag.

Councilman Ricky Burgess wants to tie the bill to increased funding for the Pittsburgh Summer Youth Employment Program, or PSYEP.

Burgess said it’s a matter of priorities.

“If we’re able to find this increase in money for some of the highest paid workers in our city government, then we should also find the same kind of commitment to some of those people in our city who are some of the lowest wage-earners, to the low and moderate income families,” Burgess said.

The PSYEP is geared toward youth ages 14-21 who come from low income communities. The jobs are either conservation-related outdoor work or are clerical work within both public and private offices.

Burgess said last year, about a third of the 900 applicants to the program were offered employment, and he’d like to see that increase to 100 percent for 2014. Tripling the number of youth offered jobs would also triple the price tag, which was around $600,000 last year.

“I think we can put in another $1.2 million and have a $1.8 million summer youth employment program and hire all the children who apply to the program,” Burgess said. “So they can buy school clothes, so they can learn the importance of managing their money, and so they can feel the city is investing in their future.”

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith said she is supportive of Burgess’s idea but stressed that a vote on Peduto’s bill needs to happen soon.

“It’s unfair that … people who have dedicated so much time and services to the city (are) on pins and needles for the months after an election wondering what their employment status will be,” Kail-Smith said.

The councilwoman suggested that perhaps the additional money for the PSYEP could come from foundation support.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle said he needs more information from Peduto in order to better understand the proposal. Chief among his concerns was where the extra pension money would come from.

“If we’re increasing our budget by that amount … we need to know where those dollars are coming from,” Lavelle said. “If we have the ability for $20 million, is there really $30 million sitting in that same pot? Then we can have a larger discussion about what our real priorities are in terms of funding within the city.”

Peduto’s proposal would set aside $2 million a year for ten years to incentivize the early retirement of city employees. Employees would be allowed to retire with just 70 combined years of age and city service, as opposed to the usual 80.

Burgess said most of the positions affected are “high-paying” and that the idea behind the proposal is to bring people with “fresh ideas” into city government.

Peduto’s Chief of Staff Kevin Acklin said in an earlier interview that the legislation will provide a “soft landing” for non-union employees who may otherwise face termination in the mayoral transition. Acklin said there will be a focus on changing “the way the city government does business.”

Peduto was not at Wednesday’s standing committee meeting and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.