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Gainey's 2024 budget envisions infrastructure investments, changes to police staffing

A man in a suit stands at a podium.
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey answers questions from the media after presenting his 2024 budget address on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023.

In his second state of the city address, Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey painted an optimistic view of the city’s future, touting his administration’s plans for public safety and infrastructure.

“I come before you to say that our city is even stronger than it was a year ago [and] that we have made important progress on the path to our goals,” Gainey said. “Our future is brighter than ever.”

The speech also marked the presentation of his 2024 budget proposal, which calls for continued investment in the city’s infrastructure and staff to manage the bridges and roads. Gainey's plan calls for hiring four new bridge maintenance workers and a 136% increase in traffic-calming projects across the city. Those projects could include speed bumps, signage and other measures intended to slow the flow of traffic.

Gainey said the city quadrupled funding for bridge maintenance over the last year, one of his administration’s proudest achievements.

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While much of the mayor’s 2024 plan reflects a draft released last month, Gainey said he valued the input he received from city residents during community meetings about the city budget during the past few weeks.

“We heard from thousands of our residents about what is most important to them and what keeps them up at night,” Gainey said.

The $842.2 million plan — $684.5 million in operating expenses and $157.7 million in capital expenses — does not envision a tax increase. Gainey’s final proposal is a $3.2 million increase compared to the earlier draft version of the plan. But the city’s Office of Management and Budget said most of the changes reflect technical adjustments rather than additional spending.

One of the most notable things about the budget is what it doesn't include: any new major capital projects in 2024. In his address Tuesday, the mayor said the city will instead focus on completing a years-long backlog of capital projects.

“We have dozens of important capital projects underway already financed and in most cases months, if not years, behind schedule,” Gainey said. “This backlog grew over the past decade as the very real urgency of reinvestment in our facilities and infrastructure ran into the weak state of our project delivery capabilities after years of cuts.

“Next year we'll embark on a focused sprint on completing these projects we have underway before adding additional projects,” he pledged.

The city will need to be frugal in the years ahead, according to budget projections for 2025 and 2026. The Office of Management and Budget estimates the city will bring in just $3 million more in revenue than it spends during those years. That's a narrow margin: By comparison, the budget estimates that next year, the city should reap $29 million more than it spends.

The conservative outlook stems from a one-two financial punch. The city will allocate the last of its federal pandemic aid next year, while payments on existing debt are scheduled to rise in 2025 and 2026 before subsiding.

Despite the tough circumstances, the city is ready, said Jake Pawlak, the director of the Office of Management and Budget.

“We're confident that we've adequately prepared for those circumstances,” Pawlak told reporters after Gainey’s address. “We have a temporary challenge based on the very particular timing" of the scheduled debt payments.

In the meantime, Gainey’s plan directly responds to a recent audit of the city’s Bureau of Environmental Services. The audit found that a shortage of city refuse workers often delays curbside recycling pickup. The mayor’s proposal adds 15 positions to the city’s Bureau of Environmental Services: The city hopes to hire 11 drivers and four loaders to improve curbside trash and recycling collection.

In other departments, the city will continue to build on its 2023 priorities, which include civilianizing parts of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. The city plans to hire 12 “community service aides” to take over lower-priority calls, such as parking violations and minor property theft reports, from uniformed officers.

Meanwhile, the city will budget for 850 officers in 2024, 50 fewer than in previous years. But the Gainey administration argues the loss exists only on paper. For years the city has been well short of the 900-officer force envisioned in previous budgets. And while the city hopes to recruit more officers, officials say that in the meantime, it wants to free up money that had been earmarked for salaries.

“It didn't make sense to budget for 50 officers that we knew we wouldn't have in this budget year and leave those funds stranded,” Pawlak said. “We produced a realistic projection of what we could get to with the classes we have coming on.”

Public safety in Pittsburgh, particularly Downtown and in the South Side, was a focus of this fall's local elections, even though Gainey himself wasn't on the ballot. District Attorney Stephen Zappala’s bid for re-election focused heavily on criticism of Gainey’s policing policies.

Speaking to reporters after his address, Gainey responded to questions about whether he will work with the District Attorney, despite Zappala's repeated pledges to weaken Gainey's hold on the city's Bureau of Police.

Gainey said he intended to extend an olive branch to Zappala’s office.

“We’ve always been open to working with anybody and we will continue [to be],” he said.

Gainey said his office wants to work with Zappala to close a nuisance bar downtown believed to be contributing to certain crimes. Gainey said he’s also requested the District Attorney assign a special prosecutor to target gun violence Downtown.

Much of Zappala’s successful re-election campaign played up criticism of the mayor’s policing strategy Downtown and in the South Side. But Gainey has repeatedly characterized Zappala’s criticism as a campaign stunt.

“We ain't out here pointing fingers,” Gainey said. “We go out there and do the work. You’ve got to stay focused on doing the work.”

The plan is now in the hands of City Council, whose members will discuss it with individual departments before giving final approval. A new budget must be approved by the end of the year.

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.