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Gainey's revised budget proposal includes money for public works, infrastructure and food insecurity

In his administration’s first budget proposal, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey on Monday laid out a back-to-basics financial plan that focuses city resources on infrastructure, public safety and public works.

“This budget we have prepared is balanced and invests in restoring core government services to our residents,” Gainey said in presenting his 2023 operating and capital budgets to City Council. The $822 million plan —which includes a $658 million operating budget and a $164 million 2023 capital plan— invests heavily in the city’s Public Works department, which accounts for about 11% of spending in the operating budget. It includes an additional $4 million to help increase public works staff and upgrade equipment. Gainey said the investment will allow the city to respond to snow storms more efficiently, and better maintain city-owned vacant lots.

Overall, Gainey's $658 million operating budget proposal envisions a 7% increase in spending over the current year.

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Almost 40% of the budget is allocated to the Department of Public Safety, which includes police, fire, EMS and animal control. Gainey has proposed that the department would also absorb the city’s Office of Community Health and Safety next year in order to improve collaboration between police and community outreach responders.

Doing so will allow that office will continue its efforts “to bring needed services and violence interventions into every public safety zone in the city,” Gainey said Monday.

Gainey’s proposal maintains the city’s police budget. It does not include expanding the force beyond the current allocation of 900 officers. The city has struggled to maintain a fully-staffed force in recent years.

He said the city would address that shortfall with two planned recruit classes — the first in two years — and pledged to diversify the force.

“We want our police department to look just like our city,” he said.

That has proven an elusive goal over the years, as previous mayors have complained about recruiting challenges. To remove some of those hurdles, Gainey recently relaxed an education requirement for new recruits that previously limited the pool of candidates eligible to apply for the police academy. Gainey said the move came after talking with officers in every police zone.

Gainey said infrastructure was the top issue residents raised during a series of public engagement sessions. His plan would establish two new divisions under the Department of Mobility and Infrastructure: one focused on landslides, and another on bridges.

The new bridge maintenance division will be able to carry out recommendations from a report about the condition of 150 city-owned bridges. That report is expected to include recommendations for each bridge, and to prioritize which structures need attention. The city said the report would be released later this month.

The walls and slopes division would allow the department to be “proactive” about landslides in the city, Gainey said. Pittsburgh’s steep hills, clay soil and narrow valleys make it a prime location for landslides, and climate change is expected to exacerbate the problem in the years ahead.

Gainey unveiled a preliminary draft of the budget in September, as a means of kicking off a round of public input. The new draft, which council must approve, is broadly similar to the preliminary draft. But the new version includes a new $3 million food justice program designed “to begin to address food insecurity so we can look for ways we can scale up our existing programs to serve more people,” Gainey said.

Food justice advocates have previously called for the city to put $10 million in federal pandemic aid toward the creation of a food justice fund. Proponents argued the fund could support efforts to expand urban farming, develop community markets with affordable produce, create nutritional education resources and expand food organizations.

The city initially claimed there were no remaining federal dollars to put toward such a fund. Pittsburgh received $335 million from the American Rescue Plan. Nearly two-thirds remain unspent, though city officials claim much of the funds are obligated toward specific projects.

On Monday, Jake Pawlak, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said the administration made an effort to consider where to move money around in the budget to free up the capital to address food insecurity.

"We did determine through the course of the overall budget process that we could free up $3 million to seed a fund to invest in food justice initiatives,” Pawlak said. "It was always a priority for the Mayor."

The proposal reduces the city's investment in the Pittsburgh Land Bank so that it could establish the new food justice program.

The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, one of the dozens of groups calling on the city to bolster programs that support the hungry, praised the change Monday.

"This level of investment in our local food system holds tremendous promise," said Karlin Lamberto, Pittsburgh Food Policy Council executive director. "We hope to see substantive community input in the distributions of these funds and that these investments are made in the areas of the city that are most in need and in the grassroots leaders that are already working to address food access issues across the city."

On Monday, Gainey took time to commend his staff for tackling issues head-on during the first 11 months of his administration. The city has faced a list of challenges since he took office, including the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge, an increase in violent crime, a purported increase in homelessness and community opposition to a shuttle program designed to link Oakland and Hazelwood Green.

“[I]n 10 months, we have tackled every issue,” Gainey claimed. “We have not kicked the can down the road at all.”

Pittsburgh City Council is now tasked with carrying out a series of public hearings to discuss appropriations with individual city departments. Council must amend and approve the budget by Dec. 31.

Those hearings are set to begin this week.

Updated: November 14, 2022 at 9:19 PM EST
This story has been updated.
Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.