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Politics & Government

Personnel Additions in Building Inspection, Solicitor’s Office Pass City Council

With three weeks left before Pittsburgh City Council must approve the 2015 operating and capital budgets, the nine-member body considered four additional budget amendments Wednesday.

One amendment would create the position of government and community affairs coordinator in the new Department of Permits, Licenses, & Inspections.

“This would be the main point of contact so that inspectors are still on the street inspecting homes and doing their jobs rather than always being in these meetings,” said Councilman Dan Gilman, who introduced the amendment. “There would actually be a more public face for the bureau as a liaison.”

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak supported the initiative and said it would be appropriate for other departments, such as Public Works, to have such a liaison as well.

“I think it’s a lot to ask of our employees to not only be building inspectors, or public works employees or supervisors, but also attend community meetings … and I think in order to build that public trust we need to have these kinds of liaisons,” Rudiak said.

Councilwomen Darlene Harris and Theresa Kail-Smith both voted against the amendment, which ultimately passed. Kail-Smith said staff from the newly created Bureau of Neighborhood Empowerment should take on such responsibilities.

“They said they would be the voice from … the community to the mayor’s office to all the departments and they would coordinate those conversations,” Kail-Smith said. “To me, this is just an added burden on the budget that we just can’t afford at this time.”

Another successful amendment would create a full time position within the City Solicitor’s office dedicated solely to prosecuting building violations.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle, chair of the public safety committee, sponsored the amendment.

“This came up because one of my constituents reached out to me and the solicitor upset at a verdict that occurred within the court system, and that’s when I learned we only had one person working on these cases on the entire city, and they were part-time,” Lavelle said.

Councilman Dan Gilman said there are some landlords who are chronic offenders and know how to work the system. Additionally, he said having only one part-time assistant solicitor on staff means that not every case in housing court will be prosecuted with a city attorney present.

“I have had cases this year that we did not win, where a landlord came with an attorney and we didn’t have an attorney present,” Gilman said. “The building inspectors do the best they can, but we can’t expect our building inspectors to be trained legal professionals at the same time.”

Another amendment from Councilman Lavelle also dealt with housing. It would have taken $250,000 from the demolition budget of the Department of Permits, Licenses, and Inspections and put it toward Economic Development and Housing at the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

That amendment spurred a discussion about the pros and cons of demolition, but ultimately failed.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle said he was opposed to demolition as a solution for urban blight, especially in his district.

“There will actually be legislation coming forward, probably next week, regarding Uptown, where we’re going to … impose heavier restrictions for tearing down property, as Uptown will soon, hopefully, be on the verge of really turning that corner,” Lavelle said.

But Councilwomen Deb Gross, Harris, Kail-Smith, and Rudiak all expressed concern about cutting the demolition budget and voted against the amendment.

Harris said the URA could look inward to try to raise the additional $250,000.

“I wonder if they’re getting pay raises this year or cost of living increases,” Harris said. “If they need the money over there, let them take it out of their salaries.”

What's at stake and candidate profiles for statewide races and competitive primaries in Allegheny County.