City Council Approves Budget That’s Balanced With $10M From Rivers Casino

Dec 20, 2016

Pittsburgh City Council members give one last review to the 2017 budget before taking a final vote on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016.
Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh City Council gave final approval to a 2017 budget Tuesday that’s balanced by $10 million in casino revenues.

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court ruled a $10 million casino tax – one city leaders relied on in budget planning – to be unconstitutional, leaving a hole in the budget. Though, Mayor Bill Peduto said Rivers Casino agreed to pay the city $10 million, even if the law does not ultimately require it.

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, who chairs the budget and finance committee, said she has not seen the agreement but believes the administration will find a solution.

The budget also shifts $90,000 from street paving to an account known as Unspecified Local Option, or ULO. The money restored the amount of ULO in each council district to the 2016 level of $75,000 from the $65,000 originally proposed by the Mayor’s office. 

The ULO money can be spent however each councilmember sees fit for their district. It’s an important use of funds, Rudiak said.

“This is money that goes to fund food banks in the district, it goes to fund senior activities in the district,” she said. “In many cases in my district, this is the only funding that food pantries have.”

The lone “no” vote on the budget was cast by Councilwoman Darlene Harris who said it’s too “top heavy” with managers. She said the budget needed to account for more “frontline” employees to work on small community projects.

“Streets being paved and things happening as far as garbage pick-up and everything else,” Harris said. “The bodies aren’t there.”

Harris said the city is expecting to hire more police officers in 2017, which is something she pushed for throughout the budget process. The city expects to employ 892 officers.

“The budget, for the first time in many years, allows for a full complement, full strength, for city police officers,” Rudiak said. “So we have a couple of recruiting classes going on now.”