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Chelsa Wagner: With the Distribution of Gaming Funds, Not Everyone is a Winner

County Controller Chelsa Wagner is calling for more transparency in the distribution of Allegheny County’s gaming funds.

Wagner’s office audited the distribution of casino monies to the Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund (CITF) and the Gaming Economic Development Fund (GEDF) from 2010 to 2013 – totalling $28.2 million.

The Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County (RAAC), an independent board appointed by the County Executive, is responsible for choosing which applicants receive funds from gaming: ranging from municipalities to non-profits to hospitals.

But Wagner said this board doesn’t have access to all applications.  Instead, she said the county’s Economic Development Department is choosing which applications the RAAC sees.

“This is a clear problem with both accountability and transparency,” Wagner said. “And the board that should be independently responsible for ensuring how these grants are awarded is not, in fact, even getting to see who the applicants are, because they’re already predetermined.”

The RAAC has never rejected a funding recommendation from Economic Development, according to Wagner.

She said this creates “winners and losers” with less than 25 percent of applicants receiving awards.  She said one of the big winners is McKeesport, which has received about $1 million of the $12 million total CITF funding.

She said there is also no evidence as to how the applications are analyzed and the awards are given.

“What we found was the fact that…the redevelopment authority and the department of economic development do not use any sort of objective criteria to award these,” Wagner said. “So they cannot say why one entity got a grant and another didn’t.”

She recommended a rating system be implemented to make the process more accountable.

“This entire process needs to be turned over,” Wagner said. “When a municipality or another entity applies for a grant, they need to understand that that board (the RAAC) is, in fact, seeing and vetting their application.”

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.
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