Mayor Ed Gainey released his 2024 budget proposal late Friday, and underneath a routine 3% bump in both revenue and expense are some eye-catching changes, including one in the Bureau of Police.
The budget, which will be adjusted ahead of formal introduction in November and can be further amended by City Council, includes a reduction of 50 uniformed police officers, taking the longstanding quota of 900 down to 850.
Deputy Mayor Jake Pawlak said in an interview that the decreased number does not represent a policy change, but reflects the reality that retirements and recruitment schedules will effectively make 850 the ceiling for the city’s officer count next year. He said the administration intends to work back toward 900 officers, and he expects the city to reach that mark in 2027.
In July, after a consulting firm reported to the city that it should reassign some 200 patrol officers to other roles, Gainey and Police Chief Larry Scirotto said they would do no such thing; Scirotto said he would not eliminate any patrol officer roles.
The true number of officers on the force is below 850 today, as retirements and a recruiting pause during the pandemic have taken a toll. Fraternal Order of Police President Robert Swartzwelder told PublicSource that the force totaled 777 uniformed members last week, not including 27 recruits in the training academy.
The bureau would add 12 civilian roles under the proposal, which the budget terms “Community Service Aides.”
The end result is a police budget slightly below that of 2023.
The city’s full budget proposal, encompassing dozens of departments and more than 3,000 employees, calls for about $683 million in expenses (a 3% increase over 2023) and a surplus of about $30 million at year’s end, factoring in the last of the federal government’s American Rescue Plan Act [ARPA] funds the city received in 2021.
That $30 million net gain in 2024 will sink to just $2.5 million in 2025, according to the city’s projections, reflecting the end of federal relief money and relatively high debt service. But the city projects its debt service to drop in 2027, leading again to a surplus of roughly $30 million.
Much uncertainty lies ahead, with potential major changes to the property tax revenue stream and an ongoing struggle to wring increased contributions from major nonprofits.
City Controller Michael Lamb weighed in on Friday, saying in a letter to Council Finance Chair Daniel Lavelle that while the city’s 2024 revenue forecast is reasonable, the city should “remain vigilant” of coming changes at the county level to the property tax system that could wreak havoc on the city budget.
The city felt some benefits from the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes this year. It came into 2023 expecting to receive $877,000 from interest earnings and ended up with about $16 million. Pawlak said the Fed’s inflation-fighting tactic took a toll, though, on the city’s deed transfer tax revenue, which fell 10% short of expectations in 2023 and is expected to decrease further in 2024.
Council’s wish: capital improvements
The mayor also released a $155 million capital budget proposal, including infrastructure and public works projects, largely funded by state and federal government and bond debt.
Interviews with council members show they are intently focused on capital and infrastructure projects in their respective districts.
“I requested funding for our rec center, senior center, the Spring Hill Park reconstruction and other park and playground updates,” said Councilman Bobby Wilson. “These kinds of projects are essential to all districts. It’s our job to support the community.”
The proposed capital budget includes some, but not all long-awaited construction projects for city rec centers. The Cowley Rec Center, currently condemned and shuttered in Wilson’s district, is slated for $1 million in construction costs next year, a fraction of what it will cost to rebuild the facility. The Warrington Rec Center is slated for $4 million next year, the Robert E. Williams Rec Center for $1.5 million.
It includes $3.5 million for the bridge preservation and restoration fund, $27 million for work on the closed Charles Anderson Bridge, $14 million for complete streets, $5 million for flood control, $4.5 million for slope failure remediation, $2.8 for step repair and replacement and $19 million for paving.
The budget also tees up major bridge work for future years:
- $12 million for the Swinburne Bridge in 2025 and 2026
- $6 million for the West Carson Street Bridge in 2026
- $27 million for the Swindell Bridge in 2026 and 2027
- $7 million for the Larimer Bridge in 2025 and 2026
- $3 million for the Herron Avenue Bridge in 2025.
The capital budget includes a timeline for the city’s long-planned public safety training facility, with $855,000 planned for 2024 (for “master planning”), $5 million in 2026, $12 million in 2027 and $33 million in 2029. All of these expenses will be funded by bond borrowing.
Pawlak said the planning funds are needed because the administration is totally revamping the previous administration’s plan for the site. Former Mayor Bill Peduto had proposed a comprehensive public safety campus with headquarters for police, fire and EMS. Pawlak said the current administration is seeking a scaled-down center, focused only on training, that will cost less.
“It’s not the ‘Cop City’ model that we’ve seen in other cities,” he said. He added that it will include an indoor firing range to replace an outdoor one that has drawn the ire of Highland Park residents.
Other planned public safety purchases include some advanced firefighting equipment, several fire trucks, two ambulances and a number of garbage trucks.
Next steps and ARPA’s end
The mayor’s office will collect community feedback over the next month before formally presenting a budget to council Nov. 13. Council will then hold a series of hearings with administration officials, introduce amendments and finally pass the budget in the last weeks of 2023. The last step is for Gainey to sign the final product.
It sets up the busiest month of legislation in the city’s calendar, with council members eager to pry information from department directors as they decide how much money to appropriate.
The process often provides the year’s best public view into the inner workings of city government.
“We want the city to be as stable as possible,” said Council President Theresa Kail-Smith. She said that she would advocate for infrastructure projects and obtaining private funding for city needs.
Councilwoman Erika Strassburger said she would continue to push for traffic calming and intersection revamps. Councilwoman Deb Gross said she wants the city to hire more grant writers to help bring in more funding for transportation, climate measures and city planning.
Council members are also concerned about the city’s compliance with and use of the American Rescue Plan, the 2021 economic stimulus package that delivered a historic $335 million into the city’s coffers. The money needs to be fully allocated by the end of next year, and $49 million remains to be allocated in 2024. Most of it is slated to go toward regular operating expenses.
Strassburger said the remaining ARPA money “needs to be spent right so we have a good foundation for when the funding is gone.”
Councilman Anthony Coghill sounded unconcerned about meeting the 2024 deadline: “Trust me, we will spend that money,” he said. “There are always instant infrastructure needs like public vehicles, fire trucks, ambulances, police cars.”
Charlie Wolfson is PublicSource’s local government reporter and a Report for America corps member. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Erin Yudt contributed reporting.
Through Dec. 31, the Wyncote Foundation, Loud Hound Foundation and our generous local match pool supporters will match your new monthly donation 12 times or double your one-time gift, all up to $1,000. Now that's good news! Readers tell us they can't find the information they get from our reporting anywhere else, and we're proud to provide this important service for our community. We work hard to produce accurate, timely, impactful journalism without paywalls that keeps our region informed and moving forward. However, only about .1% of the people who read our stories contribute to our work financially. Our newsroom depends on the generosity of readers like yourself to make our high-quality local journalism possible, and the costs of the resources it takes to produce it have been rising, so each member means a lot to us. Your MATCHED donation to our nonprofit newsroom helps ensure everyone in Allegheny County can stay up-to-date about decisions and events that affect them. Please make your gift of support now.
Know more than you did before? Support this work with a MATCHED gift!
Through Dec. 31, the Wyncote Foundation, Loud Hound Foundation and our generous local match pool supporters will match your new monthly donation 12 times or double your one-time gift, all up to $1,000. Now that's good news!
Readers tell us they can't find the information they get from our reporting anywhere else, and we're proud to provide this important service for our community. We work hard to produce accurate, timely, impactful journalism without paywalls that keeps our region informed and moving forward.
However, only about .1% of the people who read our stories contribute to our work financially. Our newsroom depends on the generosity of readers like yourself to make our high-quality local journalism possible, and the costs of the resources it takes to produce it have been rising, so each member means a lot to us.
Your MATCHED donation to our nonprofit newsroom helps ensure everyone in Allegheny County can stay up-to-date about decisions and events that affect them. Please make your gift of support now.