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Pittsburgh City Council preliminarily approves funding to support new police contract

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council took a key step Wednesday toward paying for raises promised to Pittsburgh police officers. Members preliminarily approved a measure to increase the budget for the city’s Bureau of Police by more than $6 million.

The increase would cover raises for officers, additional pension investment and a nearly $400,000 increase in money toward the city’s Stop the Violence trust fund. (The city puts 6% of the annual police budget into Stop the Violence initiatives.)

The transfers will not come at a cost to other city departments: officials raised tax revenue expectations and said unspent funds would cover the rest.

“We didn’t expend as much as we budgeted and we did bring in more than was budgeted for,” Councilor Dan Lavelle said during council’s standing committee meeting Wednesday. “Which is wonderful.”

Members were unanimously in favor of moving forward on the police contract.

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The city had to reopen the current budget, which was completed late last year, to pay for the raises. Some council members had hoped to transfer funds to support other departments, too.

Councilor Deb Gross had planned to propose an amendment that would add a second assistant director to the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as to make a part-time program coordinator into a full-time position. Gross had also hoped to boost the Animal Care and Control budget to better fund rodent control.

Councilor Barb Warwick brought a proposal to add a traffic engineer to the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. And Councilor Anthony Coghill had proposed a measure to transfer an additional $900,000 to the police budget for new vehicles.

Coghill argued that the department needed the money to afford the number of vehicles proposed during budget negotiations. According to Coghill, the department planned to purchase 60 vehicles this year, but due to increasing costs have only been able to buy half that.

But none of those proposals made it to the table Wednesday. Members appeared persuaded to wait after Lavelle, who chairs the city’s Finance and Law Committee, expressed concerns about what the transfers could mean for future contract negotiations.

“We're going to have to go through this process again next year regarding fire, regarding EMS. So I’m concerned about the precedent we're setting,” he argued.

Lavelle contended that though the city is underspending, any additional revenue should be placed into the city’s fund balance and not be used to rearrange the current budget. He added that members could revisit their proposals as the city begins the 2024 budget process.

“We're all about two months away from actually starting the budget process. And so I feel like doing all of this would be appropriate in two to three months from now,” Lavelle said.

Some members also worried that any substantial amendments to the current budget would require subsequent public hearings. The new police contract would be delayed as a result.

A final vote on the increased allocations for public safety is expected next week.

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.