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City Largely On Track For 2019 Spending, Controller Says

Ariel Worthy
City Controller Michael Lamb shared the city's mid-year finance report.

Pittsburgh City Controller Michael Lamb said the city has largely been on budget for the first six months of the year. Two departments have overspent in their budgets though: the police bureau and the emergency medical services department. They have spent 53 percent and 54 percent of their budget, respectively. 

"We're not overly concerned about it because it's the kind of thing that they can correct through the rest of the year," Lamb told reporters Monday. "We just want to make sure they're aware of it and they're taking corrective action."

Lamb is also keeping an eye on the impacts of an increase in the realty transfer tax rate, which rose from 4 percent to 4.5 percent last year to help fund affordable housing in the city. Last July, Lamb voiced his concern that an apparent decline in tax revenues from the prior year might show the tax was hurting property sales. 

But those numbers have since recovered, he said Monday.

"We had a number of bigger sales -- commercial sales -- that kind of corrected for that" later in the year, he said. "I look at it as less of an issue because at the end of the day the number improved, the dollar value improved even though in that year we saw fewer residential sales." 

Still, he said, "I would still say, though, that in that year there were fewer actual transactions than in prior years."

Lamb also addressed a number that he gave out earlier this spring. In May, he said in 2018 the local services tax increased by $1.5 million. The local services tax is a $52 flat rate fee that every employee who works in the city pays, whether or not they live in the city. Dividing the $1.5 million increase by that fee would suggest the city added about 28,000 jobs. Lamb at the time speculated that job growth would be far smaller than that, and this week he added some context for it.

"The problem is that people change jobs a lot," he said. "So when that happens, we're getting $52 from this person and that job and then they change jobs. Then someone else comes in and they're paying that $52. It doesn't necessary correlate as big a number in jobs as that number would represent. It's an argument between the individual person and that [job] slot. There are more people working at different points in the year, but the slots don't grow as much." 

Still, Lamb said there is job growth.