Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald gave his quarterly budget address to County Council Tuesday evening, touching on subjects from transit cuts to Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
Fitzgerald said the county had just $6 million in its fund balance when he took office, but he pledged not to raise taxes. Instead, Fitzgerald said he instituted a hiring freeze. County Council raised the county's property tax millage by 21% in December, just before Fitzgerald took office.
However, when asked if he couldn't save money by reining in spending, Fitzgerald defended his decision to go through with infrastructure repair projects.
"We own hundreds of buildings that we're responsible for, over 12,000 acres of park land, and we've got to continue to invest, and make sure those buildings and the facilities that we own basically don't fall apart," said Fitzgerald. "There's been a lot of deferred maintenance that we've got to catch up on."
Fitzgerald said he's still in negotiations with state elected officials and with the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 to try to solve the Port Authority of Allegheny County's $65 million budget deficit.
"[The union] is willing to put those savings and givebacks on the table if they know the state, particularly the governor and the Department of Transportation, come forth with a long term revenue source," said Fitzgerald. "From the other side, the governor seems to indicate that he would like to see long-term savings from the workforce and from the employees."
However, if a lasting funding solution isn't found for PAT, then Fitzgerald said he'd task the Authority Board with finding a way to spread out the 35% proposed service cut better than the current plan.
Fitzgerald also said he's still receptive to the idea of drilling for Marcellus Shale natural gas on county-owned land, but he said he wouldn't go through with the plan without public support. Fitzgerald said the option is open in county parks, on the campus of the Community College of Allegheny County, on the Kane Hospital site, and at the Pittsburgh International Airport.