The city of Pittsburgh is one step closer to approving its third Act 47 Recovery Plan, after City Council on Wednesday presented and gave preliminary approval to 17 amendments.
“They don’t impact anything financial,” said council president Bruce Kraus. “They really are more philosophical in nature, more or less, about how we want to plan the next five years.”
Council’s amendments fall into five categories: financial management, capital budget, public works, revenue initiatives and administration of the plan.
One amendment recommends the implementation of a resolution passed by City Council in April, allowing for a contract agreement with Silicon-valley based company OpenGov to put city budget data online.
A related amendment recommends that the city purchase and implement software that allows for complex budget analysis. City Council budget director Bill Urbanic said currently, the analytical support staff that help city lawmakers make budget decisions have to rely on a mix of “outdated and cumbersome tools.”
“As a result, analysts spend most of their time chasing down numbers, reconciling these numbers and filling out spreadsheets, rather than doing the analysis that adds value to the decision-making process,” Urbanic said.
Other financial amendments include the implementation of a cash management policy, analysis of the current payroll tax and delinquent property tax collection systems, and an initiative for the city to finally accept credit card payments in all departments.
“There are two entities in downtown Pittsburgh that do not accept credit cards: Zorba’s Gyros and the city of Pittsburgh,” Urbanic said. “There is ample anecdotal evidence that contractors and permit-seekers do not travel downtown due to the hassle entailed in procuring licenses and permits. This is an easy initiative and should be accomplished in year one of the amended plan.”
Finance Director Paul Leger said he is meeting with one local bank on Friday to learn more about the process of accepting credit card payments, but that he could not publicly disclose the name of the bank at this time.
Two of the three capital budget amendments would initiate studies on building use.
One study would look into repurposing or selling the old municipal courts building next to the Allegheny County Jail, which the city spends over $200,000 a year to maintain but uses for very few city-related purposes.
Another study would investigate the possibility of consolidating of public safety offices and training facilities.
A third capital budget amendment recommends studying the possibility of purchasing or building an asphalt plant so that the city is better able to manage costs associated with maintenance of city streets.
The Act 47 recovery plan recommends what Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak called an “immense increase in the capital budget,” from $25 million in 2014 to $40 million in both 2015 and 2016.
One of council’s amendments suggesting ensuring that public works has enough project managers to actually implement the recommended improvements to roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Rudiak said not many Pittsburghers have seen firsthand the sad state of many city-owned buildings.
“Those of who have, including the thousands of public employees in this city and council members in this room, know that when we go to our public facilities, they are in dire need of attention,” Rudiak said. “We have everything from leaky roofs to floors that may be falling through. The Division 4 Public Works building has been literally condemned for quite some time.”
Council also wants to see the city’s street maintenance management plan become available to the general public.
A third public works amendment calls for a street sweeping plan using the city’s pavement management software.
One revenue initiative amendment would call for a study looking into whether the city is missing out on possible interest in its 2 percent local share of slot machine revenue.
The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority, or ICA, controls the funds, and hands them over to the city at its discretion.
“Someone is earning that interest and it is not us,” Rudiak said. “We would like to know what is happening to the interest earnings on those funds, and we’d like an investigation of that. If those funds are earning interest, we believe they should be remitted to the city taxpayers.”
Other initiatives would study the possibility of requiring deposits for city facility rentals, and expanding a pilot program on dynamic pricing of parking meters.
A lone administrative amendment seeks to codify into law best practices that have come out of the three Act 47 plans, to ensure “future compliance in fiscal practices.”
Urbanic said the Act 47 coordinators are already reviewing City Council’s amendments, and he expects them to accept, reject, or suggest modifications to the amendments by the end of this week.
Council is expected to take a final vote on the Act 47 recovery plan on Tuesday.