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Pittsburgh residents express concerns, give input on 2022 city budget

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Dozens of Pittsburgh residents called in to address the city's 2022 spending plan during a City Council budget hearing on Monday morning. Many said the city should give more support and grants for food assistance and housing. One of the most common complaints, though, involved an increase to the police budget even after months of protests over police misconduct and calls to reduce police spending.

Friendship resident Jennifer Lines, for one, said such concerns landed close to home: She said she lives only a few blocks from where Jim Rogers was Tased by city police and later died.

"There is really no justice that is going to be served for Mr. Rogers, his life isn't going to be restored," she said. But the increase to the budget, she said, would "add insult to injury" by "rewarding the police for their years of inaction" on calls for reform.

Lines urged council to invest in health, housing and education rather than police.

The city's proposed police budget for 2022 is over $120.5 million. That's an increase from the nearly $115 million the city estimates it will spend this year, but less than the $125 million it actually spent in 2020 (though the city had originally budgeted $114 million that year).

Another resident, Matthew Rubin, said more money should go to social services like legal assistance, rental assistance, food accessibility, and alternative responses to emergencies rather than police.

"This council needs to think seriously about passing some amendments on this budget, and not just rubber-stamping Mayor [Bill] Peduto," he said. "Nearly doubling the police budget in the past eight years is not a good direction to go in."

Prior to Peduto taking office in 2014, the police budget was in the low $70 million range. The force has grown by roughly 100 officers since then, which has increased costs along with wage hikes under union contracts and other expenses. City officials have said that after years of financial austerity, the police force has returned to a healthy size.

Council President Theresa Kail-Smith said she is not in favor of defunding the police.

"My concern is we're hiring, and screening officers that understand the value of our residents," she said. "I'm not in favor of defunding, but I am in favor of hiring quality people."

Many residents also revisited a longstanding concern that the city did too little to solicit public feedback on spending plans. They noted that Monday's hearing — which was convened after weeks of discussion with city department heads — took place on a weekday morning, and called for the meeting times to be when more people are available without having to take off work. Similar grievances followed from council's plans to spend federal coronavirus relief aid this past summer.

Councilor Ricky Burgess said that next year they plan to expand the process of citizen participation and have a "more robust public participation process with council."