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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Where Does A City Find $1.6 Million In The Middle Of Its Fiscal Year?

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued an executive order last month aimed at shoring up aging facilities in the city’s public safety, public works and parks departments.

Eleven projects deemed critical are expected to get underway as soon as possible at a price tag of $1.6 million.

So where does the city find that much money in the middle of the year?

Sam Ashbaugh, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has an idea.

Council gave preliminary approval to funding transfers on Wednesday to take more than two-thirds of the money from unused Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the rest from play area and sport facility improvements in the public works budget. A final vote is scheduled for next week.

“Some of these (block grants) are from as early as 2006,” Ashbaugh told City Council at the committee meeting Wednesday.

The city can’t hold on to federal funds forever, Ashbaugh said, so officials have been directed to spend it on eligible projects.

“There is still money in park reconstruction (and) play area improvements; we’re not exhausting it all,” said Public Works Director Mike Gable. “These are balances from prior years where OMB has talked with our staff, and we feel we can afford to convert this money to a better use in terms of facility maintenance.”

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith voiced concerns about the plan to take more than $100,000 from the city’s budget for slope remediation and put it into the fund for building improvements.

Kail-Smith cited problems with slope failure along PJ McArdle Roadway, Shaler Street, Noblestown Road and Kearns Avenue.

“I find it hard to believe that there’s nowhere else in the city budget to get this money,” Kail-Smith said. “I think you could have done it in a way that would have had the least impact to our residents.”

The city’s slope remediation fund will house about $2 million even after the $100,000 withdrawal, Ashbaugh said.

Gable said the city needs closer to $18 million to deal with all the city's slope failure issues, so a one-time $100,000 transfer shouldn't affect any ongoing work. And even if the full $18 million were available, he said his department still wouldn't have the staff to complete every project.

Ashbaugh assured council that “no project will not be completed” as a result of the proposed fund transfers.

“We’re simply reprogramming and prioritizing the work that needs to be done for city facilities that were identified as the most critical needs,” Ashbaugh said.

City Councilman Dan Gilman said it's council's job to make "tough choices."

“I go to meetings and I know all my colleagues do, and you hear, ‘I want more police, I want more parks, I want lower taxes, I want more fire stations, I want more pools, I want you to pave more streets, I want you to plow faster,’” Gilman said. “We all agree. Who doesn’t want that? It’s just not financially realistic.”

Gilman said decades of neglect and a lack of strategic planning prompted these discussions in the first place. He applauded Mayor Bill Peduto's administration for its commitment to creating a 40-year strategic plan for facility investment and maintenance.

Ashbaugh said the city will put out a request for proposals soon, and a plan should be in place by December 2016.