Some Pittsburgh City Council members are shelling out funds on advertisements and “self-promotion” instead of community needs, according to an audit released today by Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb.
The audit, which covers 2011 through 2013, recommends that council members develop policies regulating the use of discretionary funds, or “walking around money.” As part of the city’s 2014 budget ($480.9 million), each council member gets $8,000 in annual unrestricted funds.
According to Lamb, some council members are spending their money in ways that aren’t illegal, but cross lines.
“What we’ve seen with a lot of this money is really, some of it, just blatant self-promotion and we don’t believe [that it] is an appropriate use of city funds,” he said. “When you’re helping fund a little league, that’s one thing, when you’re paying fees to march in a parade, that’s another.”
The audit notes that Council President Bruce Kraus and Finance Chair Natalia Rudiak have appointed a Rules Committee to address the use of discretionary funds.
If it were up to him, Lamb said the fund would be eliminated.
“A lot of this money’s going into youth programing,” he said. “It’s going into other community programing, but what we want to see is that it’s going to a community benefit over self-promotion.”
Auditors also found more than $1.3 million sitting in the Neighborhood Needs account, a program that hasn’t received new funding since 2003.
The Neighborhood Needs Program was established in 2000 when each Council District, along with the Mayor’s Office, was allocated $1,000,000 in General Fund money to use for neighborhood investment. More than 10 years later, 11.8 percent of the program’s allocation has yet to be used.
To get these numbers off the books, Lamb said City Council needs to reach out to community organizations and award the funding.
“We’ve gone to council again and again asked them to take the steps necessary to identify the community groups that they’ve allotted those funds to and get them programmed into those neighborhoods,” he said.
Otherwise, Lamb said the left over Neighborhood Needs money could go toward other city projects such as road maintenance.
“Drive our streets,” he said. “You know we need those funds. It is capital dollars, so certainly there are uses for the money if council can’t find someone to use them.”