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Body Cameras for Police, Loans for Childcare Facilities Among Budget Amendments

The city of Pittsburgh wants all police officers to be wearing body cameras within two years instead of six.

In the wake of civil unrest after grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in the killings of Michael Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York, the Peduto administration will shorten the timeline for implementation of such technology.

Amendments to Mayor Bill Peduto’s 2015 budget proposal that would free up money for the purchases came before City Council on Monday.

Councilman Dan Gilman expressed concern over the proposal to pay for the cameras by taking money away from splash zones, recreation and senior centers, the wall, step, and fence program, traffic signal hardware, and facility improvements.

But City Council budget director Bill Urbanic assured council members that the change still left those programs with plenty of money, and Peduto’s budget director Sam Ashbaugh concurred.

“When we put this amendment together, we made sure that we did not sacrifice any other plan or existing project, so that we were able to take a comprehensive look at the capital budget and make sure all those projects that were committed to be funded for next year will be able to be implemented,” Ashbaugh said.

Capital budget manager Jennifer Sample-Presutti said the Bureau of Police plans to buy 1,000 body cameras at the cost of $1,200 each over the next two years. The total budgeted amount for 2015 is $650,000, enough to pay for more than 500 cameras.

“Part of our approach of assembling the money is to ensure that we have money set aside should we need matching dollars for federal monies coming in, that we’re going to be one step ahead and we’re going to be prepared to this next, inevitable approach to modern-day policing,” said City Council President Bruce Kraus.

Council also considered an operating budget amendment from members Deb Gross, Natalia Rudiak, Darlene Harris and Theresa Kail-Smith that would set aside $250,000 for a loan program for childcare facilities.

“So many of our constituents express a lack of quality care as being one of the impediments to the livability of their neighborhoods and is one of the things they struggle with the most as they’re trying to build wealth and vitality,” Gross said.

A bill to assess childcare needs in the city has already been approved by city council. Rudiak said this bill would provide small loans to childcare providers to make improvements to their facilities and curricula.

“We’re putting it out there for the childcare facilities that are operating in homes. We’re putting it out there for larger nonprofit facilities,” Rudiak said. “We really want the full spectrum of childcare facilities to take advantage of this program.”

She said the goal is to help all childcare facilities in the city of Pittsburgh achieve 3- and 4-star ratings, the highest rating possible from the state of Pennsylvania’s childcare accrediting body.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle introduced two capital budget amendments for his district. $50,000 will go to resurface the basketball courts and replace the bleachers at Kennard Playground in the Hill District. Lavelle said the court is used regularly though it is cracked and decaying, and that the wooden bleachers are splitting and sharp enough to cut someone.

Lavelle also proposed setting aside $140,000 to rehabilitate Freedom Corner, a Hill District monument to Civil Rights leaders.

An operating amendment, also from Lavelle, would fund an additional fire inspector. Fire Chief Darryl Jones had previously told City Council he needs five fire inspectors and currently only has one on staff. Public Safety chair Lavelle said he’d like to hire one additional fire inspector each year for the next four years.

A capital amendment from Peduto’s office sets aside $1,000,000 every year for five years to address flood control at Streets Run in Hazelwood, as mandated by the state of Pennsylvania.

An operating amendment from Harris would create an assistant supervisor position in the Bureau of Animal Care and Control. She said the supervisor currently does not have an assistant and is essentially on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Other amendments from the mayor’s office made minor changes to job titles, employee compensation, and various funds such as fuel for vehicles in the Office of Management and Budget.

All amendments were passed by City Council, though the body has not yet set a date for final approval of the 2015 operating and capital budgets.

Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority has yet to approve the budget proposal. The mayor’s office on Thursday sent the ICA nearly 1,000 pages of financial documents “showing the sound assumptions” behind the budget proposal.

Liz Reid began working at WESA in 2013 as a general assignment reporter and weekend host. Since then, she’s worked as the Morning Edition producer, health & science reporter and as an editor.